If you were asked to name a progressive labor movement, you might automatically chime in and say, "AFL-CIO." If you were asked to name a progressive environmental movement, you might answer, "Sierra Club." If you were asked to name a left-wing women's rights movement, you could easily think of the feminist group the National Organization for Women (NOW). Now if you were asked to name a progressive economics movement, who or what would come to mind? If you are drawing a blank, that is because, at least as far as former Green Jobs "Czar" Van Jones is concerned, there isn't one. That is what he apparently hopes to change.
"And so I felt that the reason the Tea Party worked and the reason the Tea Party was so good against us was progressives are very good at building organizations around everything but the economy," he said during a recent appearance at the University of Chicago.
Indeed, Van Jones is a mobilizer. While the basis for his arguments against the right is often surface-level, he has proven to be an effective speaker among his own contingent and in his push to get like-minded people on board with his "dreams" for a new, Green Economy.
One could say that from as far back as 2007, it was apparent Jones was poised to lead an initiative whose goal would be to restructure the economy of the most powerful nation on earth. From establishing "Green For All," an organization dedicated to building "green pathways out of poverty," to serving as the Obama administration's Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Jones has, for some time, been at the epicenter of a push to establish a new economic movement in America. In fact, his 2008 book, The Green Collar Economy, was essentially a manifesto on the amalgamation of social justice, environmentalism and green jobs.
By his own admission, after years as a civil rights activist and attorney in Oakland, California, Jones began to feel as though his efforts to help the disenfranchised were for naught, as he never saw the underprivileged get a leg up -- regardless of how many welfare programs he fought for. In his book, Rebuild The Dream, Jones recalled a conversation with his father, who believed that it was only through gainful employment that the disadvantaged could gain self-reliance, and thus, self-respect.
According to his account, this realization, combined with a series of letdowns in traditional activism prompted Jones to look to the opportunities he believed existed in the newly emerging green movement, and aided Jones in stowing away some of the animus he once harbored for Capitalism, which he came to view as not wholly "evil." In his mind, Capitalism could now be used for good via leveraging business and job opportunities within the "green economy." This epiphany is what catalyzed Jones to pioneer green jobs initiatives as a pathway out of poverty for inner city communities, and would later lift him to the heights of an Obama administration "Green Czar."
While his tenure at the White House in 2009 may have only lasted a mere six months, the longtime activist continued to forge ahead, recently founding "Rebuild The Dream," a movement dedicated to "making the economy work for 100% of Americans, not just the top 1%." He also authored a book by the same name.
Since its official launch in June 2011, the movement has garnered more than 70 partners and allies "to build an active grassroots network in all 435 Congressional Districts" and claims to have more than 600,000 active members. Its official website states that Rebuild The Dream "is a platform for bottom-up, people-powered innovations to help fix the U.S. economy" by using "21st-century digital technology" and advancing "highly inventive solutions." But while Jones' resume may seem formidable, one wonders how an attorney and civil rights activist possesses the economics qualifications needed to successfully lead an economic movement.
Jones defines a "green-collar job" as a "family-supporting, career-track job that directly contributes to preserving or enhancing environmental quality," while at the same time improving the environment. Some of the roles low-income individuals could excel in, according to Jones, are in the retrofitting, weatherizing and "solarizing" of America. This is perhaps why, despite the monumental failures of solar companies that received government backing like Solyndra, Jones still believes additional investments in green companies need to be made.
Jones in his own words
In a recent lecture hosted by the University of Chicago, titled, "At Your Own Risk: What Is To Be Done?" Cathy Cohen, professor of Political Science joined Jones and performance artist Marc Bamuthi to discuss the environment, race, "social ecology" and "collective responsibility."
"This is a big problem," Jones said at one point during the panel discussion in reference to the fact that there is no progressive economic movement one can point to.
"You go the the laundromat, you go to a sports bar, you go to a house of worship, ask people what the number one concern is. The economy, jobs, economic issues. And we don't have anything to ask them to join."
"And so I say since no one seems to have built anything in this space, can we create a movement around economic justice that would be scalable to the traditionally poor and the newly impoverished on the same team?"
The "language" and "rhetoric" of such a movement, according to Jones, would "shock the hard-core liberals and the people in the college towns and the coasts," but would be the "unifying common ground on the economy." It is at this point Jones admits that he has in fact launched such a campaign and called it: "Rebuild the Dream."
"We now have 600,000 people," he added.
"We're in every congressional district. Growing like wildfire. The book came out. I think we can put up a positive Tea Party. I think we put up at Tea Party movement that's just as passionate but not spreading fear -- spreading hope, spreading love, spreading solidarity. But it has to be taken seriously as a new project. Get the traditionally poor and the newly impoverished on the same page."
The Shareable Economy
Jones' push to build an economic movement seems to stem from a broader progressive initiative dubbed "the shareable economy," or the "access economy." In its most rudimentary form, this simply means an economy based on bartering, loaning, and re-selling used, refurbished or otherwise "sustainable" products.
In an article for the far-left publication Alternet, Gar Alperovitz talked about this "New Economy Movement," writing that "activists, theorists, organizations and ordinary citizens are rebuilding the American political-economic system from the ground up."
"Thousands of real world projects -- from solar-powered businesses to worker-owned cooperatives and state-owned banks are already underway," he wrote before explaining the movement comprises Occupiers, student activists, and “people in their 60s from the '60s.” Alperovitz continued:
The “New Economy Movement” is a far-ranging coming together of organizations, projects, activists, theorists and ordinary citizens committed to rebuilding the American political-economic system from the ground up.
The broad goal is democratized ownership of the economy for the “99 percent” in an ecologically sustainable and participatory community-building fashion. The name of the game is practical work in the here and now—and a hands-on process that is also informed by big picture theory and in-depth knowledge.
Now weigh the above passage with the stated mission of Jones' Rebuild The Dream movement. In fact, in his most recent book, Jones calls for the formation and promotion of an alternative, “sharable economy” based on a book entitled, "What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption." To this end, Jones claimed that if his "steps for success" are enacted, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would indeed be “proud.”
At the end of the day, Jones believes that no one can mobilize better than progressives when it comes to marching, registering to vote, organizing, rallying, protesting, petitioning, and so on. This is perhaps one reason why conservatives, Libertarians, Independents and disenfranchised Democrats alike must be proactive in their voting efforts this election cycle -- especially if they are to impede the arrival of a new, "shareable economy."
Conversely, Jones believes that progressives “spent two years unilaterally disarming on the things that we know how to do better than anybody in the world" -- and that's march.
"I mean, if it come down to marchin', how we get beat on marchin'? Derivatives reform? Okay, that's hard. Marchin'? Basic stuff.”
He continues, “track me – we could win politically in November but lose economically in December. The Bush tax cuts will either be gone or renewed. A 'grand bargain' could decimate Medicare, decimate Medicaid, destroy the safety net, let the rich off the hook when it comes to tax policy [or not]. You could win in November, and you could lose in December."
Jones is afraid that everything the early generations from the segregation days fought for is in danger of “getting decimated" by the less-diligent generation of today. He uses this critique to spur further support from his adherents.
Matter of finance
In terms of funding his new movement, Jones, in the same University of Chicago panel discussion, announced that he would rather Rebuild The Dream members fund their own initiative than have the "wealthy donors from the 1%" do so.
Thus far, Jones believes that conservative "kingpins" like the Koch brothers are responsible for holding up energy (and what he later cryptically calls "democracy") reform. Never at any time does Jones acknowledge that the reason for the "hold up" is more likely due to the fact that green energy products are technologically unsustainable at this point. He argues that “there will be millions of green jobs on planet earth, they'll just be in Asia,” yet fails to mention that these are artificial jobs in an artificial industry propped up by a Chinese government with almost unlimited resources, attempting to skew global petroleum markets in its favor.
Still, Jones is relentless. He argues that what is broken is “the social contract that says that the wealthy in America pay America back.” All the while he fails to mention that the wealthy are already paying a disproportionate share of the taxes, and are disproportionately donating to charitable causes, and that if the government were to confiscate their wealth, it wouldn't even constitute a drop in the bucket relative to our national debt.
When accused of waging class warfare, Jones simply replies that he’s waging “warfare against people who have no class.” For a large contingent, that is "cause" enough in itself to rally behind.