van jones resigns
Anthony "Van" Jones (born September 20, 1968) is the former Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Appointed by Barack Obama in March 2009, the newly created position found Jones working with various "agencies and departments to advance the administration's climate and energy initiatives, with a special focus on improving vulnerable communities. Jones resigned from the position on September 5, 2009 amidst a controversy regarding statements he made and political activities before his White House employment.
Jones is an environmental advocate, civil rights activist, attorney and author. He founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996, a California NGO working for alternatives to violence. In 2005, Jones co-founded Color of Change, an advocacy group for African Americans. Formerly based in Oakland, California, Jones founded Green For All in 2007, a national NGO dedicated to "building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. His first book, The Green Collar Economy, was released on October 7, 2008, and reached number 12 on the New York Times bestseller list.
In 2008, Time magazine named Jones one of its "Environmental Heroes." Fast Company called him one of the "12 Most Creative Minds of 2008.
Jones and his twin sister Angela were born in 1968 in Jackson, Tennessee. Their mother was a teacher at a high school and their father was a principal at a junior high school. Jones's sister says that as a child he was "the stereotypical geek—he just kind of lived up in his head a lot. He has described his own childhood behavior as "bookish and bizarre. His grandfather was a leader of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and Jones sometimes accompanied his grandfather to religious conferences, where he would sit all day listening to the adults "in these hot, sweaty black churches". Jones was a young fan of John and Bobby Kennedy and pinned them to a corkboard in his room in the specially delineated "Kennedy Section." He used to imagine his Star Wars action figures were politicians: Luke Skywalker was JFK, Han Solo was RFK, and Lando Calrissian was MLK. He graduated from Jackson Central-Merry High School in 1986. Jones earned his B.A. from the University of Tennessee at Martin. Before entering law school, Jones worked as an intern at the Jackson Sun (Tennessee), the Shreveport Times (Louisiana) and the Associated Press (Nashville bureau). He also helped to launch and spearhead a number of independent, campus-based publishing efforts. These publications included the Fourteenth Circle (University of Tennessee), the Periscope (Vanderbilt University), the New Alliance Project (state-wide in Tennessee), and the Third Eye (Nashville's African-American community). Jones credits UT Martin for preparing him for life on a global stage:
I left UT Martin confident that I could take on any challenge and do well at it if I studied hard and worked hard and kept my nose clean. I really do think you can get absolutely anywhere from UT Martin . . . because of the quality of caring and individual attention.
After graduating from University of Tennessee at Martin, Jones left his home state to attend Yale Law School. In 1993, Jones earned his J.D. and moved to San Francisco.
Social and environmental activism
In 1992, while still a law student at Yale, Jones participated as a volunteer legal monitor for a protest of the Rodney King verdict in San Francisco. He and many other participants in the protest were arrested. The district attorney later dropped the charges against Jones. The arrested protesters, including Jones, won a small legal settlement. Jones later said that "the incident deepened my disaffection with the system and accelerated my political radicalization." Jones said he was "a rowdy nationalist" before the King verdict was announced. By August of that year, he said, "I was a communist. Jones's activism was also spurred on by witnessing racial inequality in New Haven: “I was seeing kids at Yale do drugs and talk about it openly, and have nothing happen to them or, if anything, get sent to rehab...And then I was seeing kids three blocks away, in the housing projects, doing the same drugs, in smaller amounts, go to prison.”
When he graduated law school, Jones gave up plans to take a job in Washington, D.C., and moved to San Francisco instead. He got involved with Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM), a group explicitly committed to revolutionary Marxist politics whose points of unity were revolutionary democracy, revolutionary feminism, revolutionary internationalism, the central role of the working class, urban Marxism, and Third World Communism. While with STORM, Jones actively began protesting police brutality.
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
In 1995, Jones started Bay Area PoliceWatch, the region's only bar-certified hotline and lawyer-referral service for alleged victims claiming police abuse. The hotline started receiving fifteen calls a day. PoliceWatch began as a project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. "We designed a computer database, the first of its kind in the country, that allows us to track problem officers, problem precincts, problem practices, so at the click of a mouse we can now identify trouble spots and troublemakers," says Jones "This has given us a tremendous advantage in trying to understand the scope and scale of the problem. Now, obviously, just because somebody calls and says, "Officer so-and-so did something to me," doesn't mean it actually happened, but if you get two, four, six phone calls about the same officer, then you begin to see a pattern. It gives you a chance to try and take affirmative steps.". By 1996, Jones founded a new umbrella NGO, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which "consisted of a closet-like office and a computer that Jones had brought from his apartment."
From 1996-1997, Jones and PoliceWatch led a campaign which was successful in getting officer Marc Andaya fired from the San Francisco Police Department. Andaya was the lead officer accused of the in-custody death of Aaron Williams, an unarmed black man. In 1999 and 2000, Jones was a leader in the failed campaign to defeat Proposition 21, which sparked a student movement that made national headlines. In 2001, Jones and the Ella Baker Center launched the Books Not Bars campaign. From 2001-2003, Jones and Books Not Bars led a campaign to block the construction of a proposed "Super-Jail for Youth" in Oakland's Alameda County. Books Not Bars later went on to launch a statewide campaign to transform California's juvenile justice system.
Color of Change
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Jones and James Rucker co-founded a Web-based grassroots organization to address Black issues called Color of Change. Color of Change's mission as described on its web site is as follows: "ColorOfChange.org exists to strengthen Black America's political voice. Our goal is to empower our members—Black Americans and our allies—to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone. Within two years of co-founding the organization, Jones moved on to other pursuits, but remains listed on the Color of Change website as "Former Staff".
Shift to environmentalism and Green for All
By 2005, Jones had begun promoting eco-capitalism. In 2005 the Ella Baker Center expanded its vision beyond the immediate concerns of policing, declaring that "If we really wanted to help our communities escape the cycle of incarceration, we had to start focusing on job, wealth and health creation." In 2005, Jones and the Ella Baker Center produced the "Social Equity Track" for the United Nations' World Environment Day celebration, held that year in San Francisco. It was the official beginning of what would eventually become Ella Baker Center's Green-Collar Jobs Campaign.
The Green-Collar Jobs Campaign was Jones' first concerted effort to meld his desire to improve racial and economic equality with his newer desire to mitigate environmental concerns. It soon took as its mission the establishment of the nation's first "Green Jobs Corps" in Oakland. On October 20, 2008, the City of Oakland formally launched the Oakland Green Jobs Corps, a public-private partnership that will "provide local Oakland residents with job training, support, and work experience so that they can independently pursue careers in the new energy economy.
In September 2007, Jones attended the Clinton Global Initiative and announced his plans to launch Green For All, a new national NGO dedicated to creating green pathways out of poverty in America. The plan grew out of the work previously done at local level at the Ella Baker Center. Green For All would take the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign mission — creating green pathways out of poverty — national.
Green For All formally opened its doors on January 1, 2008. In its first year, Green For All organized "The Dream Reborn," the first national green conference where the majority of attendees were people of color. It co-hosted, with 1Sky and the We Campaign, a national day of action for the new economy called "Green Jobs Now." It launched the Green-Collar Cities Program to help cities build local green economies and started the Green For All Capital Access Program to assist green entrepreneurs. As part of the Clean Energy Corps Working Group, it launched a campaign for a Clean Energy Corps initiative which would create 600,000 'green-collar' jobs while retrofitting and upgrading more than 15 million American buildings.
In reflecting on Green For All's first year, Jones wrote, "One year later, Green For All is real – and we have helped put green collar jobs on the map... We have a long way to go. But today we have a strong organization to help get us there.
Jones has served on the boards of numerous environmental and nonprofit organizations, including 1Sky, the National Apollo Alliance, Social Venture Network, Rainforest Action Network, Bioneers, Julia Butterfly Hill’s "Circle of Life" organization and Free Press. He was also a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress and a Fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He was a key speaker at the youth conference PowerShift 2009 in Washington, D.C.
During the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, Jones served as Arianna Huffington's statewide grassroots director.
On October 7, 2008, HarperOne released Jones's first book, The Green Collar Economy. The book outlines Jones's "substantive and viable plan for solving the biggest issues facing the country--the failing economy and our devastated environment. The book has received favorable reviews from Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Laurie David, Paul Hawken, Winona LaDuke and Ben Jealous.
In the book, Jones contended that invention and investment will take us out of a pollution-based grey economy and into a healthy new green economy. Jones wrote:
[W]e are entering an era during which our very survival will demand invention and innovation on a scale never before seen in the history of human civilization. Only the business community has the requisite skills, experience, and capital to meet that need. On that score, neither government nor the nonprofit and voluntary sectors can compete, not even remotely.
So in the end, our success and survival as a species are largely and directly tied to the new eco-entrepreneurs — and the success and survival of their enterprises. Since almost all of the needed eco-technologies are likely to come from the private sector, civic leaders and voters should do all that can be done to help green business leaders succeed. That means, in large part, electing leaders who will pass bills to aid them. We cannot realistically proceed without a strong alliance between the best of the business world —and everyone else.
Jones had a limited publicity budget and no national media platform. But a viral, web-based marketing strategy earned the book a #12 debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Jones and Green For All used "a combination of emails and phone calls to friends, bloggers, and a network of activists" to reach millions of people. The marketing campaign's grassroots nature has led to Jones calling it a victory not for him but for the entire green-collar jobs movement. The Green Collar Economy is the first environmental book authored by an African-American to make the New York Times bestseller list.
White House Council on Environmental Quality
On March 10, 2009, it was announced that Jones would serve as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley praised Jones's appointment
Van Jones has been a strong voice for green jobs and we look forward to having him work with departments and agencies to advance the President’s agenda of creating 21st century jobs that improve energy efficiency and utilize renewable resources. Jones will also help to shape and advance the Administration’s energy and climate initiatives with a specific interest in improvements and opportunities for vulnerable communities.
Jones, while an ardent supporter of President Barack Obama, originally did not intend to work for the White House, later explaining:
Not only did I say I had no intention of going, when they asked the question, I burst out laughing because at the time it seemed completely ludicrous that it would even be an option. I think what changed my mind was interacting with the administration during the transition process and during the whole process of getting the recovery package pulled together. I began to see that there was an important role at the table, inside the process, to do make sure all the great things the president wants to do can get done well. But the real miracle was Phaedra [Ellis-Lamkins, who replaced Jones as head of Green for All]. Having done such an extraordinary job in San Jose and California, Phaedra was ready to graduate to a national role, wanted to stay in the Bay Area. ... Once you begin to see that you're not indispensable—in fact somebody can probably do your job better than you—then your mind kind of opens up to other possibilities. I couldn't be prouder to be laying my sword on the table along with everybody else in the Obama Love Army, and I'm excited about it.
His position with the Obama Administration has been described by columnist Chadwick Matlin as "switchboard operator for Obama's grand vision of the American economy; connecting the phone lines between all the federal agencies invested in a green economy. Jones's responsibility is to work with various government agencies to make sure the $30 billion from the stimulus earmarked for green-jobs funding attached to it gets "doled out appropriately. Jones describes his position as "the green-jobs handyman. I'm there to serve. I'm there to help as a leader in the field of green jobs, which is a new field. I'm happy to come and serve and be helpful, but there's no such thing as a green-jobs 'czar.'
Political beliefs and public reception
Jones' political beliefs and proximity to the President have been scrutinized by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, who has done a number of segments about Jones on his shows. Beck has referenced Van Jones' (former) self identification as a "communist" and called him a "black nationalist", and a "committed revolutionary". Beck also included Jones in broader criticisms he made of the Obama administration for appointing a number of "czars" that Beck considers dangerous to the United States of America.
Jones was also criticized for comments he made about Republicans during a question and answer session following a speech given at Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative's 2nd Annual Lecture on February 11, 2009. Responding to a question on why Democrats are having trouble moving their initiatives through Congress while Republicans seemed to be more successful when they were in control, Jones replied,
The answer to that is: They're assholes. That's a technical political science term. And Barack Obama's not an asshole. I will say this, I can be an asshole. And some of us who are not Barack Hussein Obama are gonna have to start getting a little bit uppity.
Controversy over these comments and Jones's signing of the "911 Truth Statement" led to calls for his resignation or firing, first by conservative websites, then by Representative Mike Pence, the chairman of the Republican Conference in the House of Representatives. Referring to Jones, Pence said, "His extremist views and coarse rhetoric have no place in this administration or the public debate. Senator Kit Bond called for a congressional hearing about Jones's "fitness" to serve in the administration.
Jones responded to the criticisms by issuing a statement saying, "In recent days some in the news media have reported on past statements I made before I joined the [Obama] administration – some of which were made years ago. If I have offended anyone with statements I made in the past, I apologize. Regarding his comments about Republicans, Jones said those comments "were clearly inappropriate" and that "they do not reflect the experience I have had since I joined the [Obama] administration.
9/11 Truth petition
In 2004, Jones was one of "100 notable Americans" who signed a "911 Truth Statement" from 911Truth.org. The statement called "for immediate public attention to unanswered questions that suggest that people within the current administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.
On September 3, 2009, Jones issued a statement regarding the "incendiary" petition stating, "I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever. A White House official said that Jones did not review the document carefully before signing it.
By September 5, 2009, Representative Mike Pence (R-Indiana) called on Jones to resign or be fired, saying in a statement, "His extremist views and coarse rhetoric have no place in this administration or the public debate." Senator Christopher S. Bond (R-Missouri) urged Congress to investigate Jones' "fitness" for the position, writing in an open letter, "Can the American people trust a senior White House official that is so cavalier in his association with such radical and repugnant sentiments?" Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) added his voice as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The White House issued a statement September 5, 2009 saying that Jones was giving up his post at the Council on Environmental Quality, where he helped coordinate government agencies focused on delivering millions of green jobs to the ailing U.S. economy.
Awards and honors
Jones's awards and honors include:
* 1997-1999 - Rockefeller Foundation "Next Generation Leadership" Fellowship
* 1998 - Reebok International Human Rights Award
* 2000 - International Ashoka Fellowship
* 2008 - Best Dressed Environmental List (#1 of 30); Sustainable Style Foundation
* 2008 - Time Magazine Environmental Hero
* 2008 - Elle Magazine Green Award
* 2008 - One of the George Lucas Foundation's "Daring Dozen"
* 2008 - Hunt Prime Mover Award
* 2008 - Campaign for America's Future "Paul Wellstone Award"
* 2008 - Global Green USA "Community Environmental Leadership" Award
* 2008 - San Francisco Foundation Community Leadership Award
* 2008 - Puffin/Nation prize for "Creative Citizenship"
* 2008 - World Economic Forum "Young Global Leader"
* 2009 - Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award
* 2009 - Eco-Entrepreneur Award, Institute for Entrepreneurship, Leadership & Innovation; Howard University
* 2009 - Individual Thought Leadership, Energy & Environment Awards; Aspen Institute
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