EBONY.COM EXCLUSIVE VAN JONES: Former Obama âGreenâ Advisor Talks OWS, Jobs and Why He Really Left the White House

Photo by Daryl Peveto for Time

In 2009, Van Jones became one of the early tests of President Obama's leadership—and one that many believe he failed. The President initially did the right thing when he created the "Green Jobs” advisor position for the ‘Green for All’ visionary Van Jones. However, after charges flew that Jones had been connected to a radical 9/11 “Truther” movement, among other things, Obama capitulated to pressure that lead to Jones' resignation—and consequently opened the flood gates to first term bullying from the Right.

Of course, Van Jones' story neither began with the current administration nor ended there. In his college years, he was what he now describes as to the left of radical, or as he also sometimes puts it, “to the left of Pluto.” But that was then. Today Jones, 44, is one who stands firm in his progressive politics—he does the work that makes changes in real people’s lives. Of course, he has never joined a coven like Tea Partier Christine O’Donnell, but the Right, with their newfound love of witch hunting, continues to paint him as a Communist. Their proof? He named one of his sons after Amilcar Cabral, the anti-colonialist Guinea-Bissuan who lead his country to independence.


Jones’ 2008 New York Times best-selling, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, does indeed read like a manifesto—but a completely rational one that provides a blueprint that pushes America towards a responsible future.

As President of “Rebuild the Dream,” a hub for exchange between and action by progressive organizations, Jones has been fortifying the progressive Left for years, long before the movement spilled out into the street. His newest book, also called, Rebuild The Dream, out this March, imagines an America that makes good on its best promises.

Here, in an EBONY.com exclusive, the indefatigable Jones speaks more candidly than he has ever before about his White House departure, Occupy Wall Street and how his relationship to land guides his principles.

EBONY.COM: As Occupy Wall Street movements were facing eviction you wrote an essay that circled the web defending them. Now, OWS activists are showing up to intervene in eviction/home seizures across America. What are your thoughts about the ability of the movement to be effective long term? 

Van Jones: Sometimes when you try and “wipe something out,” you end up just spreading it around. I think that's what the establishment did when they evicted the Occupiers last year. As they say, you can't evict an idea. You can't evict the 99%. All they've really done is ensure that this movement has to innovate, spread out, be creative. But the establishment can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. I see OWS as a modern version of SNCC—the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee. The SNCC youth were the most courageous and audacious of the civil rights forces. They "occupied" the lunch counters. They "occupied" the buses for the freedom rides.

But you still had to have the NAACP and CORE and Dr. King and other forces to orchestrate the legislation and litigation. One group or one force is not usually enough. SNCC by itself might have produced more protests than progress. SNCC created the space for the other groups to get more done. SNCC was key to having a dynamic, powerful movement able to capture the imagination of the world.

EBONY.COM: In Iceland, bankers were arrested for the casino like banking that collapsed that economy. Why hasn't that happened here?

V.J.: There should be hundreds of [American] bankers in jail, period. With the SNL [Savings & Loan] situation in the 1980s, bankers went to prison. Pundits keep saying that what Wall Street bankers did this time was wrong but not illegal. Oh, really? How do they know that? I mean, there has been no serious investigation of what happened. I am glad that New York’s Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is calling for a real investigation—and holding out for some real accountability. So is California’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris. We know for a fact that at the very least, there's been consumer fraud. In our neighborhoods, people get sent away for decades for doing less harm—and based on far less evidence of wrong-doing. It is crazy.

EBONY.COM: You've said The Tea Party represents 20 percent of the population and the ‘Rebuild The Dream’ movement the other 80 percent. What would you say are the unifying principles 80 percent Americans can agree upon and organize around? What are your demands?

V.J.: It is simple. We act like this is some real mysterious stuff, and it is not. 1) Everyone knows that rich folks need to pay a bigger share in taxes. People who've done well in America should do right by America. And they shouldn’t whine and cry about it. Even the majority of Republicans favor boosting taxes on the super-wealthy. 2) Jobs. We've got to get Pookie and