THE HOUNDING OF A GREEN ACTIVIST
By Jeff Chang of cantstopwontstop.com
Tuesday, September 08, 2009.
So let’s get into another media controversy, this time one that has serious national and generational implications, shall we?
Last night, Bay Area organizer/activist and White House green jobs advisor Van Jones resigned from his post in the Obama Administration after a high-tech Fox News lynching led by Glenn Beck, he of the “Obama Is A Racist” fame.
Beck had Van in his sights before he made those comments, which referred to Obama’s initial reactions to the Skip Gates incident. Blowhard Beck said it proved Obama “had a deep-seated hatred of white people”. But the success of a Color Of Change petition calling on advertisers to drop Beck’s show kicked the attacks into high gear. After tens of thousands of signatures were gathered, major advertisers left the show. Color Of Change, those of you who have been following this blog will remember, was founded after Hurricane Katrina to become the Black online equivalent of MoveOn.org, and is best known for helping mobilize the demonstrations around the Jena 6. Van was one of its founders.
By this morning, one Fox News commentator was crowing that “(t)he Van Jones affair could be an important turning point in the Obama administration if we use it as a window to understand the structure of the left and to stop the huge power-grab now taking place in the name of green jobs…The Van Jones affair is, as President Obama likes to say, a ‘teachable moment,’ and we need to put not just him but the whole corrupt ‘green jobs’ concept outside the bounds of the political mainstream.”
It’s an unusually frank statement of what Beck and Fox were up to–an effort to derail the progressive green agenda, one that Van had helped to shape with his best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, a bold, important hip-hop generation approach to thinking about race, the environment, and the economy. It’s an agenda that even many in business support.
But the right is not interested in having any real discussion over ideas. They want to demonize and dissemble and play the politics of fear. In the process, they are developing a whole new set of ways to mix fears of race, youth, and left politics together for political advantage in a new era.
Van was one of the few in the White House who could strongly articulate what a new energy policy needed to mean for the hip-hop generation, and especially inner-city youths. At the Ella Baker Center For Human Rights, he and the brilliant organizers there helped develop the model project in Oakland that linked green job training to unemployed inner city youths, rethinking the links between the hip-hop activism, racial justice, and environmentalism movement. This idea became the core of Obama’s green jobs proposal.
So when the right-wing is talking about killing green jobs, they’re talking about eliminating opportunities in the new economy for youths already locked out or locked up, at a time when teen unemployment is reaching record numbers every summer.
Angry yet? You should be.
There’s another story here: no hip-hop head who cares about changing the world is going to be safe from personal attack in the coming years. We’re coming into power now, and that means we’ve got to knuckle up.
Over a decade ago, Van had been involved with an activist collective called STORM, a group that did important work in building the Bay Area youth movement. That movement expanded and transformed, and helped make the Bay a center of hip-hop activism during the 90s, directing attention to police brutality, the prison-industrial complex, youth unemployment, and neighborhood violence in new ways.
In the past several years, Van’s main work has been around green jobs and energy policy. He has largely been working in and with mainline environmental organizations, “safe” organizations, in other words. He even appears as a core figure in pro-globalization writer Thomas Friedman’s new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America. Van was building national networks and a bipartisan, multiracial consensus. He was a hip-hop gen success story, and when he was appointed to the White House, many of us cheered.
But when Beck came hard, the Obama admin caved. The argument will rage on–and should–over what the Obama admin could have done. The bottom line now is that we’ve raised the stakes. We’ve begun impacting national debates on some of the most important issues of the day. So we’ve definitely got to begin to think about how best to defend each other.
Jeff Chang is a writer and social commentator. He blogs at http://cantstopwontstop.com/