India.Arie is angelic on stage in her white flowy ensemble while singing “I Am Light” to the San Francisco crowd. This is the kickoff “revival” for Van Jones’ #LoveArmy movement. The CNN commentator is building a #LoveArmy through his organization The Dream Corps. The event is sold out, packed with a diverse crowd of 1,500 people hoping the vitriol in the country ends. Arie’s performance moves Jones and his team to tears. I allow her soothing voice to gently rock my spirit. It’s the first time I actually felt some lightness since the presidential election. Disappointment, frustration and fear were weighing me down.
I first learned of the #LoveArmy during Jones’ speech at the Women’s March in Washington, DC. Love was farthest from my mind during the chaos, and I wasn’t sure how Jones was putting his grassroots skills to use. Does the #LoveArmy share the “give the president a chance” or “forgiveness” sentiment that Dave Chappelle and Mary Mary’s Tina Campbell expressed? Is Jones calling for tough love or, as India.Arie said earlier that night in San Francisco, is it about “love in action” and “doing the hard work it takes to create a just society?”
EBONY spoke with Jones about his strategy for using the #LoveArmy to help move the country forward.
EBONY: What is the Love Army?
Van Jones: The Love Army is a growing network of people who want to stick up for the underdogs in the red states and blue states in the era of Trump.
EBONY: What exactly are you going to do?
Jones: We’re going to do three things: teach-ins across the country so people can learn about each other’s issues and causes; parties with a purpose so we can shake our butts and not let this man steal our joy; and we’re going to do big concerts and revivals with some of the biggest artists in the world. If Trump can have 20,000 people for big hate rallies then we can have 40,000 people in arenas for love rallies.
EBONY: What will be taught at the teach-ins?
Jones: People care. Their hearts are open, but people don’t know exactly what the Dreamers are going through, or what sanctuary cities are for, or what’s positive about the American Muslim community. When you don’t know a lot, you can’t do a lot. We want to make sure people know deeply about the trans community and deeply about Black Lives Matter so that people can act in solidarity.
People will learn what organizations are out there. People will learn what bills are out there and what steps they can take to make a difference.
EBONY: Who should come to this? This is not for the choir right?
Jones: Nobody can come and be involved in the #LoveArmy unless they have a heart.
EBONY: You’re kicking off the #LoveArmy here in San Francisco, a liberal city. Are you going to have different tactics when doing this in red states?
Jones: We’ll have artists that are appropriate wherever we go. We’ll have some gospel folks. We’ll have some country folks. We’ll have some punk folks. But the message is going to be the same. It’s very simple. We’re either going to turn to each other or on each other.
EBONY: So what about people who may say, ‘Why are you doing this kumbaya stuff?’
Jones: If you think love is weak, that’s a personal problem because real love is the strongest thing in the universe. Everybody should be mad but anger only takes you so far. At some point, you’ll have outrage fatigue and burn out.
We have gotten to the point where we’re more like Trump than Trump. Trump is hateful. Now you have liberals hating on love. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. There’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes you have to fight fire with water. I’m happy to fight it either way. But we’re going to need some water. There’s enough fire. We’re going to need to some water too.
EBONY: Some Black people are frustrated because they feel we always have to forgive when we’re oppressed.
Jones: The boundless capacity of the African American spirit in this country to say Hallelujah anyhow, to use our joy as a weapon, to use our creativity as a weapon, to use our moral clarity and our deep experience as a weapon not just to save Black people but to save all of these people.
Black politics is redemption and transformation. It’s not always pretty, but it’s not always ugly either. I’ll put India.Arie up against Donald Trump any day and let the people choose.
You put Hillary Clinton up against Donald Trump, I’m scared of the choice no matter what you do.
EBONY: What do you think happened on Election Day?
Jones: The problem is that we didn’t fight the way we should’ve fought. We made it be about him and her as opposed to making it be about us. If we had said this was a fight, not about “I’m with Her” but “I’m with Us” then maybe we would’ve had a different attitude toward her.
EBONY: You became emotional during India. Arie’s performance. Do you feel like this is a new calling for you?
Jones: This is the same stuff I’ve been doing for years. I just didn’t have a platform.
I’m not going to let Donald Trump take away from our community, something that Fannie Lou Hamer shed blood to give us. Something that Ella Jo Baker braved conditions in the South and sweatshops in Harlem to give us. He’s a horrible human being, but he ain’t worse than Bull Connor. Fannie Lou loved Bull Connor and beat Bull Connor because she loved him.
There’s a level of self-hatred in giving these people too much power. They’re sorry. They’re corny. They’re hateful. They need some help. Help is on the way. We’ll help them whether they like it or not.