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Van Jones is Dead. Long Live Van Jones!

Robert Shetterly

"... the 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: The growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy."  --Alex Carey, Australian social scientist 

Three years ago I traveled from Maine to the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, California, to meet Van Jones so I could paint his portrait for my Americans Who Tell the Truth series.

I had heard a lot about him & read his speeches & was incredibly impressed with his courage and articulate vision in taking on some of the world’s most serious problems: poverty, environmental racism, and climate change. More importantly, he understood the relationship between those issues, and that they could be confronted in the most efficient and just manner if seen as one problem: bring the manufacturers of green energy equipment into the poor and despairing ghetto where the jobs are most needed, educate poor minorities to do these jobs ( thus providing hope), and then construct the solar panels, windmills, and geothermal machinery that will be needed to power our future in a sustainable way. Everybody wins. Right?  Van Jones invited the people of this country to begin dreaming again --- to dream that a future based in justice and sustainability was possible. He said, “Dr. King didn’t get famous giving a speech that said, ‘I have a complaint.’”

Well, it should come as no surprise that the ‘everybody wins’ scenario is not popular with everybody. It’s a loser if you are a big oil or coal corporation that doesn’t want a lot of attention paid to climate change. It’s heresy if you don’t care about the poor and consider them the necessary collateral damage of capitalism. It’s anathema if you believe that economic justice is for socialist wimps, and sustainability is a code word for cutting into corporate profit. It’s threatening if you are corporate media supported by the dissemination of corporate friendly news.

So, when Obama invited Van Jones into the White House as his guru for green jobs and innovation, the attack dogs howled. They smelled blood.

I suspect that most Americans had never heard of Van Jones then, and were still unaware of him until he resigned. And then they probably breathed a sigh of relief that this “communist,” “racist,” “9/11 conspiracy nut,” “enemy of America” had been ratted out.

How do I know he was these things? For the past month my website has been bombarded with vicious attacks on Van Jones. How could I possibly have supported and honored this monster who is trying to poison our apple pie? Didn’t I know that this gremlin was perched on Obama’s shoulder whispering his loathing of America into his ear?

I don’t really know who writes this nasty stuff. But I suspect, like with many of the people who are shouting lies to block health care reform, that it comes from people who have been easily manipulated with fear and racism to attack those who would actually make their lives better. It’s come to that --- to advocate for the common good is to advocate for communism. To defend justice is to commit treason. To be concerned for the future is to impede progress. To feel compassion, to walk a mile in another’s shoes, is to be an pathetic idiot. To think that democracy means equality rather than domination is naïve.

One might wonder why Obama did not do more to protect Van Jones. But when Jones referred to Republicans as “assholes” as a euphemism for ruthless, he was beyond protecting. It didn’t matter that Jones said he would have to become an asshole himself to fight for his policies. The soundbite was history. Nothing to do but cut him loose. But the deeper reason he had to be cut loose was that Obama would have had to tell the truth to protect him: yes, Van Jones is for economic justice; he is for conservation and alternative energy; he’s for prison reform; he’s for a re-structured economy based in sustainability, not exploitation and profit; he’s for a serious investigation of 9/11; he believes that ‘clean coal’ is absurd, etc. Obama could not protect him, because to do so he would have had to endorse Van Jones’ beliefs. He was not about to do that.

I think it’s all for the good. I don’t think that Van Jones should have ever joined the administration. He’s much stronger on the outside organizing people to fight for the things he believes in. But he’s tainted now. He won’t be able to get grants from the status quo philanthropic organizations. He’s a mongrel with a tin can tied to his tail. That’s good. This brilliant man will now have to embrace courage, truth, justice, nature and love and start over. Leading. Organizing. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” And you can’t make demands if you hoping for crumbs while camped in the Man’s coat pocket.

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Robert Shetterly [send him mail] is a writer and artist who lives in Brooksville, Maine. He is the author of Americans Who Tell the Truth. See his website.

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