Van Jones: The Problem of Confusing ‘The Movement’ With ‘The State’

Van Jones is cofounder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change, and Green for All and a former adviser to President Obama on “green economy.” His new book, Rebuild the Dream, examines what the movement for social transformation needs to learn from the Obama campaign and his presidency.

Jones lays out the issues with the complexity that they deserve but also makes it clear why it is important for “the movement” to not confuse itself with “the State.” It’s a lesson the Jesus Movement also needs to continually reckon with. Here’s an excerpt:

In America, change comes when we have two kinds of leaders, not just one. We need a president who is willing to be pushed into doing the right thing, and we need independent leaders and movements that are willing to do the pushing. For a few years, Obama’s supporters expected the president to act like a movement leader, rather than a head of state.

The confusion was understandable: As a candidate, Obama performed many of the functions of a movement leader. He gave inspiring speeches, held massive rallies, and stirred our hearts. But when he became president, he could no longer play that role.

The expectation that he would or could arose from a fundamental misreading of U.S. history. After all, as head of state, President Lyndon Johnson did not lead the civil rights movement. That was the job of independent movement leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, and Fannie Lou Hamer. There were moments of conflict and cooperation between Johnson and leaders in the freedom struggle, but the alchemy of political power and people power is what resulted in the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As head of state, Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not lead the labor movement. That was the job of independent union leaders. Again, the alchemy of political power and people power resulted in the New Deal. As head of state, Woodrow Wilson did not lead the fight to enfranchise women. That was the role of independent movement leaders, such as suffragettes Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells. The alchemy of political power and people power resulted in women’s right to vote. As head of state, Abraham Lincoln did not lead the abolitionists. That was the job of independent movement leaders Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and Harriet Tubman. The alchemy of political power and people power resulted in the emancipation of enslaved Africans. As head of state, Richard Nixon did not lead the environmental movement. That was the job of various environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, and other leaders, like those whom writer Rachel Carson inspired. Once again it was the alchemy of political power and people power that resulted in the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The biggest reason for our frustrations and failures is that we have not yet understood that both of these are necessary-and they are distinct. We already have our head of state who arguably is willing to be pushed. We do not yet have a strong enough independent movement to do the pushing.–Van Jones, excerpted from Rebuild the Dream

Read a longer excerpt here.

Green “Super Hero” Van Jones VS the Kryptonite of the Far Right

van-jones-hog-lgI’ve been tracking former Obama green czar Van Jones since his days as founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. He’s a good guy with a good vision who is very grounded in the working-class neighborhoods of California.

Jones has got the deep West Coast understanding about environmental issues plus the analysis of race and class. It’s a very needed combination.

He and Far-Right propagandist Glenn Beck have been fighting each other since the presidential campaign. With Jones’ forced resignation from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Beck struck a blow against Obama.

I’m afraid this shows that the virulent Far-Right spasm that’s rippling across the country has got the Obama crew scared and off their game. They should have backed Van Jones up and kept moving forward.

Maybe the West Wingers need to re-read The Politics of Unreason by Lipset and Raab and Richard Hofstadter’s essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” It’s time for them to get caught up on the history of Far-Right backlash and how to handle it.

Van Jones is the kind of real “super hero” we need to organize us for the fight to save the planet. But Beck and others have the kryptonite to weaken even the best of leaders, unless we surround them with a shield of truth.

Here’s an excerpt from a commentary by Francesca Rheannon on Jones’ resignation:

Green jobs champion Van Jones was dropped from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) last week after being targeted by a conservative smear campaign. Exceeded in its shamelessness only by its dementia, the right wing attack was spearheaded by Glenn Beck, a radical racist schlock jock host on Fox News.

Beck had a personal bone to pick with Van Jones, who was a senior advisor on the CEQ. After he called President Obama a “racist” who was “trying to enact a socialist agenda“, Beck’s show became the target of an effort to get advertisers to drop sponsorship. The campaign was mounted by Color of Change, an organization Jones co-founded but is no longer associated with. Fifty seven companies have already responded by pulling their ads. The roster includes some of Amerca’s best known corporations, including AT&T, Bank of America, Best Buy, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Lowe’s, Procter & Gamble, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and Wal-Mart.

The White House didn’t show the same courage against Beck’s mendacious spew the companies did. It failed to back up Van Jones in the days leading up to his technical resignation, nor, tellingly, did the Administration urge him to stay on after he tendered it. Jones had been one of its most visionary appointments in the effort to promote green jobs and wrest the economy out of recession.

Read  Rheannon’s whole commentary here.