Van Jones, Green Jobs, and Health Care

If you are like me, you were angry when Glenn Beck started attacking Van Jones, worried when the White House voiced only tepid support, and horrified when Van offered his resignation over the Labor Day weekend. From my perspective, it all seemed to happen so fast. In reality, Beck had been attacking Jones for nearly a month. However: 1) I don’t watch Glenn Beck and only know what he’s saying when others tell me; and 2) My attention had been distracted by the health care “debate” being waged across the country – from angry crowds to painted swastikas to congressmen hung in effigy to guns being publicly brandished where the president is scheduled to speak.

Right now, I kind of feel like the clueless tourist who gets her pocket picked because I was too busy gawking at a staged diversion that I failed to mind my purse. Let me elaborate on this analogy:

  1. It would be a mistake to view the health care debate and the climate change/clean energy/green jobs debate as two separate issues. They are both part of a larger struggle.
  2. It would also be a mistake to think that our victories cannot be subsequently taken away from us if we do not remain vigilant.

The billions of dollars in funding for green jobs as part of the stimulus package is one such victory. Van Jones coming to DC to oversee how the money is spent was icing on the cake, but the most important thing was and is the green jobs themselves – the audacious plan to combat global climate change while at the same time providing pathways out of poverty for lower-income class families.

Ultimately, that is what we are working for – economic justice, “REdistributing the wealth” back to the middle and lower classes after decades of it being accumulated in only a handful of the wealthiest households – what Van Jones during his Ware lecture called “the Green New Deal.” Although it is not explicitly “green,” health care reform is part and parcel of the Green New Deal, as it would be a similarly significant move towards greater economic justice. And whether it’s the oil industries or the insurance industries or the stock-holders to whom they are accountable, they are united in opposing our success.

In the wake of Van Jones’ forced resignation, we can talk about the role of racism, we can talk about how Glenn Beck targeted Jones as revenge for Color of Change’s effective campaign against Beck. We can talk about a lot of personal motivations for what happened and we may be correct. But as much as Unitarian Universalists adore Van Jones and take a personal interest in his well-being (I know I do), we cannot make the mistake of focusing just on Van. The attack on Van Jones was but part of a larger attack on green jobs, and ultimately on the economic reforms which we seek. If you don’t believe me, read for yourself the words of the man responsible for Van’s departure (and I don’t mean Glenn Beck):

“Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through with two critical policy victories. First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these green groups trillions, and second repeal the unspent portion of the stimulus bill, which stands to give them billions. ” – Phil Kerpen, Fox News, Sept 6th

So what do we do now? There is a danger that the Senate may be so absorbed by health care reform that it will drop climate change/clean energy legislation. Some voices have even suggested that pushing for a climate/energy bill might jeopardize health care, intimating that we must choose one or the other. What we must do now is remember that the distraction going on over there is actually related to the pickpocket over here. We can’t let the spectacle of “astroturfers” or hate-spewing talking heads distract us from the real goal, the struggle for economic justice. For those of you who are as mad as I am about what happened to Van, the sweetest revenge that we can take is to pass meaningful climate change/clean energy legislation that funds green jobs.

Right Speech When So Much is Wrong!

We’re all buzzing about the resignation of Van Jones from the White House over the Labor Day weekend. For those of us who spent time with Van last year at General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Van became something of a hero. I was privileged to spend a fair amount of time with him and was impressed (as I have been every time I’ve seen him) with his combination of intelligence, insight, and ability to cast a compelling vision. He had UUs ready to receive him in a mosh pit in our often-staid Ware lecture setting. (If you weren’t there, you can watch it online…)

People are posting all kinds of stuff on blogs, facebook, and in private emails. Some folks are mad at the President for not demanding that Jones stay, for not standing up to the attackers. Some people are mad at Jones for going to the White House after a career as an edgy leftist activist, leaving the door open for attacks. Pretty much everyone is furious at Glenn Beck for the scurrilous attacks, filled with lies. Tim Wise is urging Jones to sue for slander.

Here’s what I keep thinking about. At the Ware lecture, Van encouraged us to stop acting like the desperate protestors we’d been for eight years, and begin to act instead in ways that made us worthy of being respected as the people in charge of the nation. I have been wondering, given the types of behavior being encouraged by folks like Glenn Beck, full frontal assault on the legitimate governors of the nation up to and including our President, what it means to act “worthy of respect.”

I fired off a very angry letter to my local paper one sleepless night about the racism I’m seeing around me. I wish I’d decided instead to focus more calmly on what I’m seeing so that I wasn’t fanning the flames of polarization and self-righteousness. But words are hard to come by. (The paper hasn’t yet published my letter; I find I’m ambivalent about whether I want them to! Certainly I did not mention the UUA or my ministry status in it!)

The Buddhists say there are three questions to ask in order to determine if something is ‘right speech’: Is it true? Is it kind? Will it help? It’s hard to know exactly what kind of speech can help us now. But I think we need to fumble around and find it. I sat on a plane today from Minneapolis to Boston, wedged into a seat with two fundamentalist bear hunters from rural Minnesota. My braver self encouraged me to find some way to talk to them about their views of what’s going on right now, and to have a civil conversation with them about it. To act worthy of respect by being respectful.

My more scaredy cat self said, “Yeh, but you’re on the inside seat!” and put on my iPod instead. I keep wondering what would have been said if we had engaged in discourse about health care, the President’s address to schoolchildren, Van Jones’ dismissal. Could we find common ground that brought us together? What kind of language opens doors to real sharing? Without taking risks with each other to find the words, we’ll never know!

Van Jones is Our Nation’s "Green Jobs Czar"

When the President’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed last month, $500 million was allocated to funding the 2007 Green Jobs Act (an increase of 400% over the original allocation). Since the creation of green jobs was one of the UUA’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress, we were thrilled. But we also knew that getting the money was only a small part of what needs to be done. Just as important is how the money would be spent. Who would be in charge.

With that in mind, we could not possibly be happier to hear that Van Jones has been confirmed to be the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. (Green Jobs Czar has a ring to it, but that’s not his actual job title nor is it accurate.)

In our opinion, no one could be more qualified than Van Jones. Van is the founder of Green For All, an organization devoted to environmental justice with whom the UUA works in partnership. Van is author the the best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy: How one solution can solve our two biggest problems,” which the UUA has helped to promote. And UUs are still talking about Van’s Ware Lecture at General Assembly last year. Entitled Prepare to Govern, Van talked about a “Green New Deal” and challenged UUs to shift from protesters to leaders. To say that his presentation was well-received would be an understatement. The audience erupted into a standing ovation and Van ran into the crowd exchanging high-fives until he was finally engulfed in a group hug from young adult UUs.

Largely in response to Van’s lecture, Advocacy & Witness (of which the Washington Office is a part) made funding for the creation of green jobs a legislative priority for the 111th Congress. At the time when we set these priorities, we didn’t necessarily think it would be easy to accomplish, but we knew it had to be done, for the sake of the planet and for economic justice. Then Barack Obama was elected president, and the economy showed that it desperately needed restructuring… and all of the sudden, almost everyone is talking about a green economy, including the White House. When the Obama administration talked about lifting families out of poverty through green jobs, we all knew who had the new president’s ear and were grateful for it.

Now that it’s official, all we have to say is: Congratulations, Mr. Van Jones! Thanks for everything you’ve done so far. And we look forward to working with you as our nation continues transitioning towards an economy that is more just, more equitable, and more green.

Van Jones’ Green Collar Economy and What You Can Do

Even if you were not at General Assembly in Ft. Lauderdale this past June, you have probably heard by now about the Ware Lecture. Environmental Justice advocate, Van Jones, electrified the auditorium when he outlined his vision for a new America, one where governance is based on optimism and compassion, instead of fear and competition.

(If you still haven’t seen Van’s talk yet, here it is.)

During the lecture, Mr. Jones briefly outlined his vision for how two of the greatest challenges facing us can be addressed at the same time – global climate change and economic injustice. Our current fossil fuel-based economy favors the wealthy few who control these limited resources at the expense of the middle and lower classes, resulting in more and more families slipping into poverty. Van proposes that instead of an economy based on death (fossil fuels), we switch to an economy based on life (solar, wind, and water). The same people who are currently employed mining coal and assembling SUVs can be retrained to make wind turbines and solar cells. In addition, more people can be hired and trained to weatherize low income homes, which would provide jobs (that cannot be exported) to the un- and under- employed while at the same time reducing the utility bills of those who can least afford to pay them, and reducing energy consumption.

It is a bold plan to revitalize the economy and save our earth at the same time. Largely in response to Van’s Ware lecture, the UUA has retooled our legislative objectives for the coming Congressional term, in order to make more explicit our commitment to not just addressing climate change, but our current unjust economic systems. Our legislative objectives with respect to environmental justice are:

  • Mandate a reduction of U.S. carbon gas emissions, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), while relieving the burden of increased energy costs for lowincome households
  • Create millions of green jobs to transition the U.S. to a green economy and to lift people out of poverty

This week, Van Jones’ new book was released, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, where he explains the ideas and proposals that he outlined in his Ware lecture in detail.

It’s not often that we will suggest buying something as an “action” to better the world. But strong initial sales of this book will cause the media to take notice, giving it more exposure and thus generating more sales and bringing “green economy” into the consciousness of more people. Strong sales will empower our ally, Green For All, and the entire environmental justice movement to advocate for a morally just economy – one that protects both nature and all humans. So we do urge you to buy the book (if you can afford it. Read it, and talk about it with friends, family, coworkers and neighbors. And while you’re at it, Urge Both Presidential Candidates to Support a Green Economy. We have the power to make “green economy” a household term, to change the way that people think about energy and who controls it.

Ware lecture

Every year at General Assembly–the annual business meeting for the Unitarian Universalist Association–one of the highlights is always the Ware lecture. This year was no different.

The Ware Lecture began in 1920 in order to give Unitarians (now Unitarian Universalists) an opportunity to hear the prophetic voices of the day. Over the past 88 years, such voices as Jane Addams, Dr. Linus Pauling, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Kurt Vonnegut, and Mary Oliver have been heard from the Ware Lecture stage.

This year, we had the privilege to hear Van Jones, founder of several environmental and racial justice Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Mr. Jones is one of the preeminent minds in the field of environmental justice.

By focusing on environmental issues with the frame of racial and economic justice, Mr. Jones showed how we are currently living in an era of “eco-aparthied” not just in the world, but also in the United States. In other words, the people who are hardest hit by environmental degradation are the poorest in our nation and are often people of color. Mr. Jones speech last night laid his plan for a deep greening of the United States Economy.

Mr. Jones began his speech by noting that progressive Americans have become very good at protesting. But we are on the verge of screwing everything up, by succeeding. Many would agree that we are currently experiencing a cultural sea change in the United States, away from the neo-conservative/neo-liberal practices of the previous Administration, toward a culture of change and love.

But he told us we are not ready to lead. To be able to lead, we need a bold agenda and a full rejection of a policy of death and destruction.

He then gave his inspiring agenda to pull our economy out of a recession, end global warming and give millions of poor and under represented Americans a step out of poverty.

The speech was extremely moving and elicited a five minute standing ovation from the packed assembly hall.

After the lecture, the General Assembly was buzzing with excitement and energy. Van Jones had inspired us to move to a new compassionate economy.

To hear Mr. Jone’s Ware Lecture- “Prepare to Govern”, and other highlights from the 2008 General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, please visit