Greening the White House: Van Jones takes the green-collar initiative to Washington, D.C.

Have you ever noticed that the healthiest lifestyles are found in the wealthiest communities? The organic markets, bike paths, and hybrid cars are luxuries for the privileged, though value is universal. Enter social activist Van Jones. A graduate of Yale Law School and author of the bestseller, The Green Collar Economy, Jones is on the bullhorn calling the world to recognize the value of green within reach—and he’s taking his message straight to the White House.

“When the White House and the campuses are speaking the same language, you know the country is ready to do something special,” Jones said in a recent blog post. “America is ready for the 21st century. It's ready for good, green jobs that provide pathways out of poverty while protecting and restoring the planet.”

Jones discovered his passion for justice as a law student in New Haven, CT. Stung by the widely publicized police beating of an African American resident of Los Angeles, CA, Rodney King, and shocked by the racial bias in the United States criminal justice system, Jones set out to kick open a few doors as a young leader with a new perspective.

This drive took Jones to San Francisco, where he cut his teeth in civil rights as the founder of the Bay Area PoliceWatch, the only legal-referral service and hotline for victims of police misconduct. His carefully waged wars against racial inequality and police brutality lead to the creation of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (EBC) in 1996, an organization that continues to relentlessly and creatively advocate for juvenile justice and law enforcement reform.

Under Jones’ guidance, the Ella Baker Center grew in size and influence, and launched several campaigns in the Bay Area that successfully championed human rights. Together, they prevented the construction of a “super-jail” for youth offenders, reduced California’s juvenile prison population by 30 percent, and started Books Not Bars, an initiative that promotes education over incarceration.

Jones’s mission was clear and succeeding. And one day a chance encounter with an activist of another stripe changed his direction. He was introduced to the work of Julia Butterfly Hill, the passionate environmentalist who spent two years atop a redwood tree protesting the destruction of its forest. Jones was humbled by her insight, and inspired to extend the fight for justice to the quality of our urban environments.

Fulfilling a commitment to “greening the ghetto,” Jones co-founded a national campaign to pull low-income workers out of poverty with jobs that benefit the planet. In 2007, Jones’ Green Job Corps proposal was passed in Oakland, giving at-risk youth, former felons, and low-income workers an opportunity to undergo skilled training in the clean energy field.

His plan to improve the earth, the community, and the economy at the same time gained momentum when the Green Jobs Act of 2007 was passed with the help of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. This groundbreaking legislation allotted $125 million to train thousands of workers to gear up the nation for a greener future. Fueled by the gains of this new mission, Jones founded Green for All, an Oakland-based organization that takes the idea of green-collar labor to the mainstream.

By the looks of it, Van Jones’ vision became clear at just the right time. In early 2009, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced Jones’ new position in the Obama administration as the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation.

According to a statement issued by CEQ chair Nancy Sutley, Jones will embark on a new path helping to “advance the President’s agenda of creating 21st century jobs that improve energy efficiency and utilize renewable resources.” This position will allow Jones to continue his goal of an inclusive green economy by furthering the administration’s “energy and climate initiatives with a specific interest in improvements and opportunities for vulnerable communities.”

What do you think?

Green for All was instrumental in securing $500 million for green job training, as part of the Obama Administration’s $48 billion recovery package for job training and education. With so many facets of the green industry, from solar energy to green construction, which area do you think commands the most pressing need?

Post your comments below:

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Comments

Mon, 07/13/2009 - 11:57

Finally, we have an administration that puts some priority on the environment and understands that the economy and ecology can be advanced together, rather than in competition.  I think the temptation, the easy thing to do would be to use the stimulus money to hire low-income youth and other workers for "clean-up" type projects.  While these types of projects are useful, they don't do much to further the basic transformation that we need to a greener economy.  Training people to do energy efficiency audits and upgrades could have a nice impact on inner-city environments.  I would also like to see some of the money used to inspire more people to think systemically about our environmental problems.  We could use more people who want to be environmental regulators, lawyers, engineers, architects, teachers etc.  Another good use of the funds would be to invest it in social businesses (a la Muhammad Yunus) with "green" ideas, allowing innovators to drive change and create jobs, with the possiblity the government could later recoup the money for additional uses.