Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Time To Knuckle Up :: On Van Jones’ Resignation

Painting by Robert Shetterly, from his Americans Who Tell The Truth series

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, 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.

Add’l Links:

+ Van’s resignation letter

+ Van On Colbert Nation

+ RaceWire dissects Glenn Beck’s dissemblings

+ On The Lack Of Truthiness To Glenn Beck’s charges


+ Ludovic Blain asks Can white liberals keep their eye on the prize when racism comes a knockin?

posted by @ 12:20 pm | 25 Comments

25 Responses to “Time To Knuckle Up :: On Van Jones’ Resignation”

  1. Rey says:

    What can we do now to push back against this blowhard Beck???

  2. You repeatedly announce Van Jones’ intelligence and how he should be honored for the things he accomplished, but fail to mention that he made racial comments, hates police (yet contributes to writing policy [how convenient] for Obama and others) and was jailed after a series of very non-peaceful protests! He is a self-proclaimed communist and (just a few months ago) was still a 9-11 truther, which, for those of you who didn’t already know, is a person who genuinely believes that America assisted in the tragedy of 9-11. Jones (only after being found out) said he doesn’t really believe that about our country. Wow. How quickly he abandons his post and beliefs… If he is so intelligent, he would have been a better law-abiding citizen of the country he wants to improve. The Bill of Rights allows freedoms that he could have followed to achieve his goals without breaking laws! Judge a man by his character and not the color of his skin-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  3. Miss Tee says:

    Americas_Voice, you sound stupid. And you obviously know nothing about King or the speech he made. Your comment is indicative of the ignorance and stupidity that plagues this country.

  4. IamAmericas_VoiceToo says:

    The comment by Americas_Voice just shows that conservatives are just as web savvy as we are, can google a news story and make a comment on our blogs. (I highly doubt Americas_Voice can say two things, good or bad, about Jeff Chang but is all up in his blog all of a sudden…funny)

    There are some points that Americas_Voice made that are worthwhile and can’t be ignored (What can be ignored is his/her appropriation of MLK’s quote. I’m not even addressing that.)

    Van Jones is a brilliant trailblazer, no doubt about it. He also would be a political liability if the right wing (with Glenn Beck being their most vocal mouth piece) kept digging at him. If there is documentation of any sort of him hating the police, being a 9-11 truther or a self-professed communist (doesn’t really matter how long ago the statements were made), then he becomes a liability. I’m not saying that it should be that way. I’m just saying that it IS that way. We all know this, including Obama which is why Jones has left the administration. I think that it was great of Obama to appoint him in the first place and have him serve the amount of time that he did, most likely knowing that it would only be a matter of time before he would be put in a position to remove him from his team.

    that’s just me, though.

  5. callmebluegreenred says:

    Thank you for a super helpful assessment on why the Right is doing this.

    People in this country want a new economic policy & jobs. We also understand that we can’t just keep polluting and extracting and consuming the planet. Folks have caught on to the idea that a Green Economy can provide a hopeful path that Van has really helped to forge and articulate.

    After reading your piece, I can see how the Right is scared that Obama will continue to find popular success through a Green Economy program. So they’ve now tried to equate it with “communism” whatever that means in the 21st century.

    How can the people of color & white folks who won’t be race baited retake center stage is the question now.

  6. Jeff Chang says:

    America’s Voice…Van’s said that he never agreed with the position the Bush administration deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen.

    If you’re saying he’s a communist because he was a member of STORM, then you’re mistaken. Please. STORM was never a communist organization. Indeed, Van, like many of us in the hip-hop gen, came of political age long after most of the communist/Marxist/Leninist/whateverist orgs had disappeared. If you’re saying he’s a communist because of his quote in this article, you might want to go ahead and look up the word “metaphor” in the dictionary. Not even the folks at the Express think much of Beck’s charge.

    Van has worked against police brutality. So have many police, current and former. Not sure how that makes any of them or us “cop haters”.

    And you note he “was jailed after a series of very non-peaceful protests!” I’m not sure you meant it as a compliment, but many will take it as such.

  7. Jeff Chang says:

    Rey and callmebluegreenred, to your timely questions here’s what LA organizer Prosy De La Cruz had to say…

    “Start a campaign of celebrating him, speeches to university students and all, and reinvigorate civic life around green jobs and energy. The movement of global warming is greater than Van Jones and for him to recognize that makes me appreciate him even more. Have his book be well read…and the vengeance is to popularize his ideas that his existence cannot be denied even by the most vile folks.”

  8. Ricardo Bracho says:

    Well STORM wasn’t not a comunist organization. I was in an organization with Van that prefigured STORM which indeed have communists in it, myself among them. And what I am wondering is how the more liberal left in defending Van won’t also join the right in the scapegoating of anarchists and communists.

  9. Ricardo Bracho says:

    oops, *which indeed did have

  10. ludovic says:

    Jeff, ya left some important parts out that i cover in Can white liberals keep their eye on the prize when racism comes a knockin?

    The NAACP, Equal Justice Society and Color of Change explicitely supported Van Jones before his resignation. On the white side, Treehugger, Grist and a few other small white organizations did. But the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, and NRDC, who together must represent more than $100 million of mostly liberal and progressive foundations, big donors, and individual contributors money, were MIA. These groups either took a dive because the attacks on Van were racist, or they incompetently let the right set the terms of debate before entering. Either way America deserves better greens.

    Here’s today’s Color Line Question: are there organized white liberals that can be trusted to maintain their commitment to their issue when the right attacks with racist wedges? I appreciate white fellow travelers, like Tim Wise, and small white anti-racist organizations like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, on the racial justice path. But they seem to have no influence on larger white groups like the Sierra Club, NOW, Comon Cause, Moveon, and other staples of the white left. To be clear, I’m not discussing whether white groups will take on issues of people of color, as I’m setting the bar much lower–can organized white liberals keep their eye on THEIR prize when the right’s racism comes a calling?

    Carl Pope just apologized:

    That’s great. Now we need him to gather his white liberal and progressive organizational peers–NRDC, EDF, Common Cause, NOW, MoveOn, and the many other white left groups and preferably their funders–to promise never again. Never again will white liberals and progressives leave a progressive person of color, or issue of people of color, to hang unprotected while the right launches racist attacks at them.

    If white liberal groups can’t protect their policy initiatives from right-wing racist attacks, they aren’t good political investments.

  11. xtinaguerrero says:

    I think we’d be in trouble to aim for a movement that simply defends these attacks. We need to take the reigns and put the right on the defense. I’m with you, Jeff, it’s time to knuckle up.

  12. […] September 6, 2009 in Uncategorized I wasn’t following the story really, until he resigned yesterday.  Bay Area activist Jeff Chang has some thoughts worth considering. […]

  13. Badili Jones says:

    I think what people are saying about anti-socialism/anti-communism is absolutely correct. The U.S. is so different from Europe and many parts of the world to day. You can call somebody a socialist and its a pejorative. The Left in many other countries is perhaps a weak but viable part of the political spectrum. Defending Van Jones is one step. We must also defend a view of the future that is not dominated by the economic exploitation and oppression. I would call that socialism unless we can come up with a better name for it.

  14. Terry says:

    Yes, but this article is almost exclusively geared toward critique of the right. It’s the LEFT that is incapable of standing up to a White Supremacist argument that they themselves use at home, in the boardrooms and in the workplace.

    Barack Obama is a reflection – he is the leader of this inadequate White left that is incompetent when it comes to race.


  15. Jeff Chang says:

    Ludovic, thanks for highlighting your post, and everyone for your comments. The convo’s taken an interesting turn. And Ricardo, yeah, even if Van was a card-carrying communist, it didn’t and doesn’t even matter. It’s 2009, damn it.

    Just to build…this all got moving only after Obama’s comment on Gates, which led to Beck’s “Obama is a racist” play. It’s very interesting to see how the right’s use of race opened the gate to a larger political setback for greener energy policy.

    Their endgame, of course, was to dip into the old trick bag of fears to scare up some more things that could bring Van down.

    It sounded crazy and kinda laughable when Sarah Palin was the messenger last year, all but calling Obama a socialist and a racist. But Beck and his team worked the same line and as Ludovic points out, everyone caved. How do we allow the Right to continue to fight the Cold War like it’s 1949 or even 1989?

    We ought to be hearing the dying gasp of those kinds of politics right about now. But we keep putting it on life support.

  16. Lili says:

    Love you Van!
    Get back up, brush yourself off, get moving again. We need you! Don’t let the bullies win.Fire it up!Get ready!

  17. Makani says:

    As always, Jeff, you are on it. Thanks for doing the damn thing.

  18. 2X Standard says:

    If you question the Cheney/Bush administration, you’re a communist? Give me a break!


  19. […] Obama’s administration. Jeff Chang has the best background summary post I’ve seen online. It is no doubt that the Right appears particularly scared when African Americans earn positions of […]

  20. Lxy says:

    A few good articles analyzing Van Jones being thrown under the bus, er… resignation.

    The dismissal of Van Jones

    Van Overboard: Obama’s Problem With Strong Black Voices

    Van Jones and the Fraudulence of the “Left”

  21. EA says:

    some of y’all are missing some points which have emerged in the wake of all this. as someone who once put words into Van’s mouth–i wrote quotes for his press releases–i feel i have as much insight, or more into him as those who only met him briefly or only know him from his speeches and writings.

    first let’s call it what it is: a blatant attack on the progressive left by a right-wing media hack supported by BigOil.Was the threat green jobs in principle, or Van’s frequently-stated plans to use green jobs to redistribute wealth to black,brown, native, and yellow communities? while you’re mulling that one over, consider that Van had no budget approval powers. So it’s not like he was in charge of disbursing funds to eco-Commies, as Beck would have you believe. In fact, few up on the hill seem to have a grasp on what he actually did do in his official capacity.
    second, let’s look at the way the race card was played by all three major entities: Obama, Beck, and Jones. Barack is still recovering from the dings his healthcare agenda took from the Skip Gates incident, not to mention the J.Wright controversy. Beck made a point on several occasions of linking Wright to Jones to Obama. Jones played the race card almost exclusively up until his appointment. He’s got literally thousands of quotes demanding “racial justice” with respect to environmentalism. That goes directly against Obama’s tactic of trying to bring about equal justice by desensitizing race (at least that’s how i see it) as an issue. He dropped Wright, he dropped Jones rather than take a position which could easily backfire. Does that mean he doesnt care about us, as Davey-D claimed today? I dont think so. The brother’s in a tough position; he’s getting it from both sides on this one. But what do progressive gain by attacking Obama? and isnt that level of discord and confusion just what Foxistas want?
    Third, and this is a question very much open to debate, is Van Jones a martyr, or did his own words do him in? Sure maybe there’s a double standards, but are we defending van the concept or Van the man when we rush to be in solidarity with him. The guy made some mistakes, can we at least agree on that? He may have been the victim of an orchestrated smear campaign, but his own words became the petard on which he was hoisted. This is a point worth marinating over for more than a minute or two.
    Fourth, in the greater scheme of things, how important is this, really? Sotomeyer’s confirmation was probably a bigger deal. Van already has a new gig, at a DC think-tank with close ties to Obama. And Beck continues to be on the warpath, but will his puerile tactics work again the same way?
    Fifth, the race card is a political albatross for Obama for obvious reasons. I dont like Beck’s watermelon reference either, but i think Obama made the right call. Jones can have more influence outside the white house on moving a green agenda forward. Obama can say he toed the Democratic line. Beck can go…who cares?
    Sixth, in the long run, I dont think this means anything for environmental discourse. Now Obama is free to get someone for green jobs czar who may have better qualifications than Van. and Van is free to be a leader his way without being told what to do. For progressive visionaries with radical ideas who want to get close to the power structure, it means you have to be careful what you say. No new news there.
    Seventh, “speaking truth to power”, as embodied by Jones, really isnt how government works–and if you’re the only dissenter, one really is the loneliest number. you can be an advocate for change all you want, but you’ve gotta make sure you’re in line with political realities.
    Eighth, all these shoulda, woulda, couldas really go back to Van’s statements in the first place. Had he not said so many flameworthy things on record, he might have been easier for the Dem/liberal establishment to defend before the situation became critical. But that’s not Van’s style. Van may not be a card-carrying Communist, but without a socialist system in place, it would have been difficult for him to shove some of his ideas under CEO’s noses, as he would have had to do.
    At the end of the day, Jones isnt a failure as an ideologue, just as a Presidential advisor. Obama might seem like he caved, but it was the politically-expedient thing to do. and Beck needs to be careful about overdoing it–his apparent victory could well turn out to be short-lived. i think progressive green social justice types will learn from the lesson here and knuckle up with more substance, less rhetoric, better initiatives and policies which are flame-proof.

  22. […] President Obama’s administration. Jeff Chang has the best background summary post I’ve seen online. It is no doubt that the Right appears particularly scared when African Americans earn positions of […]

  23. drydock says:

    It’s too bad that Van Jones got punked by a clown like Beck, but he threw himself under the bus when he signed that stupid 911 petition. So the cost of defending him (or his career) means spending political capital during this critical juncture in the health care debate. I’m very glad that Obama didn’t defend him.

    “99% of the police (in the bay area) are doing a great job.”
    Van Jones on TV the day he got appointed as green job czar

    While I think crime is a much much bigger problem than police abuse for urban communties like Oakland, I’m not centrist/naive enough to believe that 99% of the police are doing a great job. Perhaps one of Van’s comrades can ask him about that comment.

  24. Lxy says:

    Barack Obama is ultimately a DLC creation and a triangulator cut from the cloth of Bill Clinton and Dick Morris.

    The Van Jones affair is Obama’s very own Sista Souljah moment.

    What will be really interesting is how long Obama supporters can continue to promote the big lie that Barack Obama is some kind of political “progressive.”

    Throwing Van Jones under the bus is only one minor example of the broader Right Wing political policies that the Obama regime has implemented since taking power–from trillion dollar Wall Street/corporate bailouts to the expansion of American militarism in Southwest Asia.

    Hope and Change?

    More like, lies and deception.

    The Van Jones Affair: An “Unfriendly Environment” for Progressives at the White House

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