Monday, November 02, 2009

A betrayal of hope

My father wrote this letter to various media outlets, and I thought it was better than my previous post about Van Jones.

The Attack on Van Jones—a Betrayal of Hope

The first time I met Van Jones he gave a talk to my group of high school students. His talk, accompanied by a video about the way black youth are systematically treated, was addressed to a group of young white kids at an environmental action weekend in Marin County, California. The kids found him exciting and inspiring. You may be wondering what the question of black youth has to do with environmental action. To Van, the connection was complex but clear: In order to effectively address one critical issue we could not simply ignore another, equally critical one. The Environmental and Civil Rights movements are two of the most vital, powerful forces in the US. Imagine what could be accomplished if they worked together. True, not all black kids see the point of environmentalism—they are often more concerned with police harassment and their chances of having a meaningful career. And not all white kids understand racial profiling and injustice, what might be called the Skip Gates factor. White people just don’t have to deal with that, at least not directly.

Van saw, continues to see, the urgency of connecting the two. That is exactly what the “Green Economy” is: an attempt to solve both the economic crisis, which was already severe in the inner city before the current recession, and the environmental crisis, which threatens to drown us all in climate disaster. Train young people, including a fair proportion of those traditionally left out of these opportunities, as green collar workers. Produce and set up wind turbines, solar panels, composting systems, comprehensive recycling, local food production. Train and hire urban youths to carry out the jobs that will save both their communities and the planet.

Van’s vision is clear and compelling enough that it got the ear of Senator Obama, and once the Senator was elected President it got Van a job as White House Green Jobs advisor. His vision is clear and compelling enough that the Green Party co-leader of New Zealand—halfway around the world—raised it as an inspiration in his address last summer (US winter), mentioning Van by name.

Now Van Jones has resigned, in order to avoid becoming a distraction from the pressing national issues of climate change and health care reform. Van is a very smart man. He knows what he’s doing here. He also knows that he was the victim of a “vicious smear campaign” (his words) by the extreme right. The extreme right in this case takes the form of a national “news” program on Fox TV. Glenn Beck, the prime mover behind the campaign, fires a daily barrage of lies and hate at the Obama administration. Beck sees Obama as someone with “a deep seated hatred for white people”—this from a “news” caster who recently told a 7-year old girl to go back to Africa and offered to buy her a ticket there.

It doesn’t take a lot of insight to figure out who it is that has “a deep seated hatred”, and for whom. But it is very important that we understand: this is not just an attack on Obama. This is an attack on us. The extreme right has taken out a lead voice for both civil rights and the environment in one blow. And the purpose of this attack is to make all of us fear to lift our voices for social justice and the environment. It is wrong, very wrong, for Obama not to have stood up from the beginning and said to Fox News, over and over, as often as it takes: “You are wrong. You are a bully, and we stand against bullies. Your program is not news at all, but systematic personal attacks. Van stands for civil rights and the environment. The American people and I support him in that.” Bullies and abusers should not be ignored, because it only encourages them to more bullying and abuse. They must be exposed for what they are.

President Obama has communicated to us through his inaction that he will not provide effective leadership on these issues. But we do not require his leadership to act. The Color of Change, a civil justice group co-founded by Van Jones, has organized a very effective boycott of Fox News. Even conservative retail giant Walmart has withdrawn their advertising support for Beck’s program.

Van Jones has not resigned in disgrace. He has returned to the same civil society where he started such effective groups as Green for All and Color of Change. Van is one of us again. Let us stand with him for justice and against abuse.

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