Stand with Van Jones
"Martin Luther King didn't become famous saying I have a complaint," said Van Jones speaking to the Network of Spiritual Activists. As you have probably heard one of the most eloquent environmental justice activists in the U.S. has resigned from Obama's White House under a relentless right-wing assault of what he calls "lies and distortions." You will get some idea of what a visionary he is by watching this short video from Fierce Light
Much of the Left blogosphere has reacted to Van's resignation by blaming the Obama White House for abandoning him to the right-wing attack dogs Taking the movement out of the White House is the best of these. But Van resigned to remove himself as an irritant to a White House beset with vicious assaults on its health care agenda. In his resignation statement he says: "I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future."
So if soldarity means doing what the object of attack asks then we should be going after Fox News and the vicious tone of debate in the United States, as well as defending Van's reputation. You can do this by signing the Color of Change petition that is having some impact on Fox advertisers whose ads appear on Glenn Beck's show. Beck is the guy who started the vicious campaign against Van Jones. You can use the #supportvan hastag on Twitter or join the Facebook group or favourite and circulate the video on YouTube.
The attack on Van Jones is probably the beginning of a racist McCarthyite-style campaign to rid the White House of anyone who is on the left of the political spectrum. If you have any doubt of that read today's Wall Street Journal editorial.
I met Van Jones at Hollyhock, a beautiful environmental retreat, on Cortes Island in British Columbia. I was very impressed. He is smart, funny, an amazing speaker but what impressed me most was his ability to see underneath the surface of what was happening to get to its core. He sees bridge building as central to leadership today. His Green Jobs for All campaign brought social justice into the environmental movement at a community and national political level. Like Obama, Van is trying to promote a politics of hope and compassion in the white hot polarization of American politics. He started out as an angry militant nationalist and then a Marxist but overtime learned there were more effective approaches to change. He openly talks about his evolution In an interview in Transforming Power he says:"The question that any activist has to ask him or herself is fundamental. Am I going to burn diesel fuel or solar power inside? So much activism is fueled by anger, by alienation, by frustration, and so we have a politics of confrontation, a politics of accusation. And that can take you so far. I would submit that, just like dirty fuel, there are serious downsides and limitations. I think we need to be burning solar, in other words, not a politics of confrontation so much; although that sometimes is important, but a politics of confession, a politics of invitation, a politics that says, these problems that my community is facing are so severe and they’re an indicator for your community’s problems as well, and for your grandchildren’s problem—let’s work together to solve them."
His resignation reflects that thinking. If we are going to change the world as African American feminist Audre Lorde once said, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." But for those of us trying to find a compassionate approach to politics, Van's resignation is discouraging.It raises the question of how movement politics can influence mainstream electoral politics, when they are so far apart. I like others want Obama to fight back against the vile lies of the Right on health care. You cannot find consensus with people who lie and distort.
I frankly don't know how you can change a system as corrupt on so many level as the American political system from the inside. Obama is trying in the context of a liberal framework with some limited success until recently. Van Jones tried from a more left-wing perspective but barely got started before the Right forced him out.
Today, many activists believe that it is movements alone that will make the changes we need, and that political parties are anachronisms of a previous age that cannot adapt to the new politics of this one. However, my experience tells me that unless we change power at the top while we are building power from the bottom, the change will only be partial. I think we need to learn how power can be exercised at a government level in a manner that is dramatically different than that used today. I look forward to Van Jones reflections on his experience once the storm has subsided. As usual we will learn a lot from him.