January 6, 2009

Greening the Ghetto: Van Jones in the New Yorker! …via Global Warming journalism heroine, Elizabeth Kolbert!

It’s Xmas in January.

This is huge. Kolbert was the first journalist whose research, and eloquence, inspired me to give a shiite about Global Warming. Sure, I was an environmentalist, and I cared…I was liberal, educated on the issues…but it felt like a big problem that no one knew what to do about. Gore’s Inconvenient Truth hadn’t hit yet…and Kolbert’s essays in the NYer inspired me, and many others I know, to get active, get off the couch, get busy. 

And now she’s writ up Green hero of the year Van Jones in the New Yorker, a I’ve-made-it moment if ever there was one. Excerpt:


…the founder and president of a group called Green for All, went to visit New Bedford, Massachusetts. His first stop of the day was the public library, where someone had assembled an audience of about thirty high-school dropouts. They leaned back in their chairs, hands in the pockets of their oversized sweatshirts. A few appeared to be stoned.

Jones, who is forty, is tall and imposing, with a shaved head and a patchy goatee. He wears rimless glasses and favors dark clothing. On this particular day, he was wearing a black turtleneck, black jeans, black boots, and a charcoal jacket. He was introduced by a community organizer and aspiring rapper, who described him as “a leader with answers,” a “genius from the hood, similar to our own,” and a youthful version of Barack Obama. When it was his turn to speak, Jones rejected the lectern that had been set up for him, saying that it reminded him too much of college.

“I love Barack Obama,” he said. “I’d pay money just to shine the brother’s shoes. But I’ll tell you this. Do you hear me? One man is not going to save us. I don’t care who that man is. He’s not going to save us. And, in fact, if you want to be real about this—can y’all take it? I’m going to be real with y’all. Not only is Barack Obama not going to be able to save you—you are going to have to save Barack Obama.”

Jones went on to discuss the crisis on Wall Street, the federal budget deficit—“We’re going broke by the second”—and how annoying it can be to listen to people who use a lot of fancy words. “People who know a lot talk weird,” he said. “So you can spend a lot of time listening to people who are educated, and all you get is frustrated, because what they’re saying doesn’t actually land with you. Well, boohoo. Get over it.”

A hundred and fifty years ago, New Bedford was the whaling capital of the world. “Nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford,” Melville wrote. Today, the town is filled with empty factories. Its long list of problems—failing schools, high unemployment, gang violence—make it just the sort of place Jones likes to work in. The logo of Green for All, which is based in Oakland, California, is a sun rising over a crowded cityscape. The group’s goal is to broaden the appeal of the environmental movement and, at the same time, bring jobs to poor neighborhoods. Jones often says that he is trying to “green the ghetto.”

In the library, a few of the kids had started to lean forward in their seats. Others had taken their hands out of their pockets. Some were still staring, dazedly, into the middle distance. Jones brought his talk around to the subject of energy…read the rest (yes, you can finally read the NYer online). 

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