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

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Sha-nay-nay and Joe Six Pack some jobs. Instead of adding pain to pain by trying to cut social services, the American government should focus on jobs. 3) Get the big corporate money out of politics. Rich people are free to buy yachts, but Congressman should not be for sale. Just those three ideas alone unite most Americans.

EBONY.COM: The NAACP has recently claimed to uncover voter suppression, a charge that's been leveled at the Republican Party before. What's at stake for the 2012 presidential elections? Will we see more of these kinds of desperate tactics?

V.J.: Oh, we haven’t seen anything yet. Over the long term, the demographics favor progressives. This growing wave of young people and Latinos give the Democrats a growing edge. The only way for the GOP to win is to push more people out of the process and pull more corporate cash in. Anything they can do to hurt us—like telling students that their college ID cards are not enough to let them vote—they will do.

EBONY.COM: There are Democrats who support the President but believe that him letting you go opened the door to the kind of bullying by his opponents that's largely defined his Presidency. Do you think he made a mistake in "allowing" you to resign? 

V.J.: Politics at that level is like “speed chess” meets “Mortal Kombat.” When the bad guys start shooting, the White House team has a very narrow timeframe. You have to make a decision. You make your best call, under the circumstances. Then you move on. That’s it. There are no do-overs.

Back then, the main thing we were trying to do was re-set the conversation regarding the health care fight. The Tea Party had spent all of August disrupting Congress’ Town Hall meetings. They were screaming about death panels. They were screaming about socialism. They were screaming about czars.

I was the perfect target for all their venom and hatred. Here I was, a guy who has always been very honest about the fact that my political views, when I was in my 20s, had been on the left side of Pluto. By the time I got to the White House in my 40s, I had evolved to a different outlook—but just the fact of my history made me the perfect talking point and attacking point. My superiors were willing to fight for me. They knew it was all bogus. I had been doing a great job.

So it all came down to me. I had to make a decision. Do we waste bullets trying to defend, explain and contextualize everything in my colorful past—day after day, for weeks and possibly months? We knew they were going to keep trying to make “Van Jones” the issue. Or should I quit so the team could put 100 percent of the focus back on getting doctors to babies, doctors to families—you know, fighting for America’s future? To me, that was a no brainer. I didn’t go there to fight for myself; I went there to fight for other people. The White House didn’t call me and ask me to resign; I picked up the phone and told them. We had the first Black president, trying to bring home a victory on health care. I didn’t want to be a banana peel for him.

It is easy to say, "Oh, you should have just fought until the bitter end." But what if that distraction had cost us the health care victory?  You only have so many battles you can fight, even in the White House—especially in the White House. Like I said, you make the best call you can. And then you move on. No do-overs. 

In the end, it worked. We won. And I lived to fight another day. It was an awful experience. But faced with the same situation today, I would do the same thing.

EBONY.COM: OWS has insisted on horizontal, distributive models of leadership, even as they were constantly called upon to identify leaders in their movement. What are the benefits in divesting from the persona lead movements and politics we've practiced thus far? Is America ready for nameless leadership?

V.J: Well, some people thought that Obama was going to be the messiah. He turned out to be just a head of state in a troubled world and a divided country. So now there is a rebellion or a reaction against the idea of individual leaders. You can take that too far, but I do think it is healthy, overall. It is the swarm model, versus the wolf pack model. When you are fighting a swarm of bees, it is not like fighting a pack of wolves. There is no one “alpha male” wolf at the head of the pack that an enemy could knock out. There is no HNIC, as we say. There is no single individual