Interview by Ana Marie Cox
It seems as if what you’re best known for, at least in pop culture, is being the guy Glenn Beck hounded out of the White House, and also for owning Jeffrey Lord on CNN. What would you like to be known for? I’m a serial, successful social entrepreneur. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about being known for something. I spend a lot of time trying to solve problems.
What you actually do — opening the solar industry to communities of color, bringing urban youth into Silicon Valley, among other things — is largely trying to tackle fairly intractable problems. Where have you seen the most growth? It’s amazing how much progress is possible if you remember that most people, on all sides, are fundamentally good. Most people spend their time defining the problem. If you start with the solution — Hey, let’s get these kids jobs! — people quickly find an enthusiasm to work together across all lines.
I also believe that people are fundamentally good, but this election cycle has tried that hypothesis for me. I have a great deal of empathy for the Donald Trump voters. When you listen to them talk about feeling hurt, scared and left behind, they sound like the Black Lives Matter activists.
How so? The elites have failed the people so thoroughly that tens of millions of people, on any side of any issue, can legitimately say they don’t think the system is working for them anymore, if it ever did. Now, I don’t like bigotry. We have to beat Trump. But hurt people holler. I will fight Trump, but I don’t want to fall into this cheap reverse-Trumpism, where liberals are just as rude toward the Trump voters as Trump is toward them.
How do you envision bipartisan respect, even in disagreement? Even while you’re trying to win on the battleground, you should be trying to figure out the common ground. Everybody’s thinking about Tuesday, Nov. 8. I’m thinking about the day after. Neither Clinton nor Trump voters are leaving the country. Liberals need to take responsibility for our role in the polarization from the left. We’re so invested in being correct, but we’re not right about everything.
A lot of people are mocking the idea that you can explain the bigotry at a Trump rally by writing it off as simply a response to economic anxiety. There are elements of racism, xenophobia and misogyny in the Trump movement, and there’s also all kinds of legitimate of anxieties. The rise of Trump is a judgment on the progressive movement that has adopted a style that doesn’t leave much room for a 55-year-old heterosexual white Republican living in a red state to feel that he has any place of honor or dignity in the world progressives are trying to create. We see the disrespect coming from them, but there’s a subtle disrespect coming from us, the NPR crowd, that is intolerant of intolerance. Nobody wants to feel as though they don’t count.
What does the left need to do to include that sort of person? In a sane world, it would be like a marriage, with respect for what each partner brings. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other, we just have to understand and respect.
I worry that if Hillary Clinton wins, she’ll think there’s no need to listen to the left, just as there’s no need to listen to the right. Do you remember that song from the ’80s, “It Takes Two”?
Sure. “It takes two to make a thing go right.” That’s my understanding of politics. It takes two kinds of leadership. It takes a president who is willing to be moved, but it also takes leadership in the streets to do the moving. This fantasy that all you just have to do is elect the right person — this is not “The West Wing.” Come on. This is reality.
I’ve read that you’re a science-fiction and comic-book nerd and that you’re close with Newt Gingrich, who has written a few novels about alternate histories. Why do you think a lot of people who love policy wonkery also have an interest in science fiction? Because we’re all nerds.
CNN contributor Van Jones went viral Wednesday night for his critique of Donald Trump’s performance in the third and final presidential debate. Jones took issue with the Republican presidential nominee suggesting that he might not support the result of the election if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins. “You can’t polish this turd,” said Jones during CNN’s post-debate analysis. “This man has demonstrated an appalling lack of patriotism.”
Later, he used pop culture to describe Trump: “I’m going to have to go all the way back to old school hip-hop and quote LL Cool J in his first album and say, ‘He lied about the lies that he lied about.’"
However, there’s more to Jones than these colorful soundbites. Here are four things you should know about him.
1. He is an environmental and human rights activist
Jones, a graduate from Yale Law School, is most known for his activism. He has founded several not-for-profit organizations whose goals range from finding solutions to improve our economy to training people for jobs in the green sector. In 2014, he launched #cut50, an initiative attempting to cut prison population in half over the next 10 years, and #YesWeCode, a national initiative that will provide 100,000 men and women from underrepresented backgrounds with the skills and training necessary to succeed in the technology sector.
2. He was an advisor for President Barack Obama
In March 2009, he was appointed Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. However, he resigned in September due to several controversies about his past work as an activist and because of his past comments about Republican lawmakers.
3. He made the TIME 100 list in 2009
“A pioneer in fusing economic opportunity and social justice with environmentalism, Jones, 40, represents an important progression in our country’s perception and thus our approach to combatting global warming,” wrote Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio about Jones in 2009 when he made the list. “Steadily — by redefining green — Jones is making sure that our planet and our people will not just survive but also thrive in a clean-energy economy.”
4. He has published two New York Times best-selling books
Jones is the author of 2008’s The Green Collar Economy, which puts forth a plan to save both our economy and the environment, and Rebuild the Dream (2012), his memoir about going from an activist to a White House policy advisor.
(via Entertainment Weekly)
It was quite a week for our fearless leader, Van Jones. He took courageous stances on the national stage and stood up for progressive causes we care about. Here are a few of the hits:
Van Takes on Rape Culture:
Van speaks out against police brutality:
Hillary notices Van's support:
And he kicked off the week with a Facebook Live video -- now at 10 million views and counting!
We are proud to have a leader like Van -- not just for our organization, but for our nation.
Keep doing what you are doing.
All of us at The Dream Corps are behind you.
Van launched the Dream Corps to provide a home for changemakers. We are focused on bringing Americans together to solve our common problems. Sign up to join us
When I was introduced to the concept of environmental racism in college, it helped me understand the importance of including equity when forming environmental policy. I’ve read about how poor, minority neighborhoods in major cities, like Oakland and New York, were decimated under the guise of “urban development”; whole communities were economically devastated by the highways cutting through them to convenience wealthier whites commuting from the suburbs. I’ve read about low-income people being forced to choose between their health and earning a living, such the coal miners in the East and those working in the plastic manufacturing plants in the South.
What can I do? This is a question most people have after learning about the injustices happening in the world. It is a question I have had after seeing and experiencing the obstacles people of color and the poor have in our struggle to live a life with dignity. What can I do to help bring about a more equitable and just society? It turns out that I can make a difference through nonprofit fundraising. As a development associate for Green For All, I support a team dedicated to bringing equity to the forefront of environmental policy, and to making polluters pay for the damage they cause.
I always thought fundraising was just about, well, raising money. I knew it was an essential part to the efficacy of a social justice organization. Programs that serve the public good need funding to make an impact. Whether it’s a program to teach people to code, provide reentry services to the formerly incarcerated, or push politicians to ensure their constituents have clean water and air, they need money to function. It’s not enough to be the change we want to see in the world. We must invest in it.
It was Dream Corps’ Director of External Relations, Nisha Anand, who taught me the power of fundraising as an organizing tool. A tool to strengthen and grow movements. I never thought about it that way before. The idea that people who donate, however much they are able, feel more empowered in their activism inspired me. Donors become investors in the causes they care about and are affected by. But a good investment produces solid returns. Dream Corps is an investment in the just future we hope for.
The Dream Corps has concrete steps to address different social problems that also recognizes how they intersect. Cut50’s plan is to decrease the incarcerated population by 50 percent. Many people affected by mass incarceration are from low-income, minority communities who will need economic and rehabilitative opportunities. Green for All aims to include low-income communities in the nascent green economy and make sure racial and class equity are a priorities in the environmental movement. Yes We Code is preparing young people of color for careers in the tech sector, giving them the skills to create solutions for their communities. Dream Corps brings these different movements together to create a stronger, collaborative front against injustice.
I don’t think this is the only answer to the question what can I do. There are multiple forms of activism and everyone has something they can contribute. Small donations from caring people are as important and impactful as large grants. Volunteering one’s time is also an honorable and valuable contribution to social justice movements. Dream Corps’s mission is just one of many answers that I believe makes sense and will build a foundation for improving society. As a development assistant, I play a role in organizing the movement for an equitable and sustainable future. Empowering communities through fundraising is something I can do.
Dream Corps Stands in Solidarity with the Black Community
“Yesterday’s indictment of the Betty Shelby, the police officer who killed Terence Crutcher, is an important step towards healing and justice.
No human being should play the roles of judge, jury, and executioner in one moment.
The violence against black communities in the last week only deepens the pain and frustration African Americans have with our biased criminal justice system.
Good people on both sides of this divide have legitimate fears and frustrations. We cannot let the reservoir of empathy run dry in this country. We must find a way to work together to stop this madness.”