A new think tank tries to link up justice, poverty, and green issues
There’s been a lot of talk since … well, forever, but especially since the paper that shall go unnamed, about greens forming strategic alliances with other progressive groups. One such proposed alliance is between big green groups and groups working to fight racism and poverty. Most of this, sad to say, is just talk, but Joel Makower brings word of Reclaim the Future, a new think tank from Van Jones’ Ella Baker Center that’s trying to make it happen.
Reclaim the Future’s slogan is “Green Jobs, Not Jails,” and as you might gather, the idea is “representing and empowering ecologically sound, urban entrepreneurs and the communities they provide opportunities for.” Jones says the goal is to quickly find a kind of showcase project — an urban green business that’s profitably employing recently incarcerated or at-risk youth — and leverage the hell out of it. “We want to create a demonstration project that gives us the opportunity to go out and build the political constituency that can multiply that by a thousand-fold,” he says. To which I say: Godspeed.
I’ve often thought that all the talk about bridge-building between extant progressive groups isn’t going to amount to much. Institutional cultures and habits are deeply ingrained. From Joel’s post:
“One problem is that everyone speaks a different language, so it’s literally a house of Babel whenever you put progressives in the same room from those four worlds,” [Jones] responded. “Labor has it’s own way of doing things, the business world is entirely different, the environmental activists have their own language. When [environmentalists] say ‘organizing’ they mean totally something completely different from the civil rights people. When we talk about organizing, we talk about going door to door in our own neighborhoods. When environmentalists talk about organizing, they’re talking about sending in 100 canvassers to cover the state. So, even that one word doesn’t mean the same thing. And it takes you three meetings to even figure that out.”
My hope, such as it is for this kind of bridge-building project, is invested entirely in new campaigns and organizations, ones that don’t so much “bring together” two or more disparate issues as simply ignore the dividing lines between them. They’ll have to be staffed with folks too young to have “chosen sides” among the many progressive interest groups.
If Reclaim the Future can post some early successes and demonstrate — not proclaim, but demonstrate — that justice, economic, and green problems are part of the same interconnected malaise, it will serve as a gravitational attractor. The big green groups, and big green funders, will follow.
But waiting for those big groups to get a clue about this stuff first first is a mug’s game. Innovation is the key.