What Grist readers might have predicted over a year ago, when David interviewed Van Jones, is quickly becoming reality. In October, Thomas Friedman, in a gushing editorial, called Jones a “rare bird” who “exudes enough energy to light a few buildings on his own.” Now he’s appeared on the Colbert Report where, despite the always-awkward position of Stephen’s interviewees, he managed to land “green jobs” in the mental dictionary of millions of young viewers.
I had the privilege of speaking to Jones last month as he cabbed it from Capitol Hill back to the airport. The profile appears in this month’s issue of GOOD magazine, and is now online here. Despite seeming a bit exhausted, he was patient, articulate, and just plain kind. Something I wasn’t able to include in the piece, but which he took great joy in telling, was how his grandfather, a bishop in the Methodist Church, was a huge inspiration to him, as were the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr. When asked if celebrity, and schmoozing with the big dogs in Washington, might divert his attention from grassroots activity, he responded, “On any given day, I might be in a public high school or in a prison, in D.C. or at a funeral. My life has a lot of sunshine and a lot of shit.” On the other hand, he added, “That’s what it takes to make a strong plant — a lot of sunshine and a lot of fertilizer.”
One point worth emphasizing, and which Jones has himself has editorialized on, is that green jobs aren’t just about empowering the poor and working class with new skill sets and employment opportunities. It’s also about uniting activist movements that, in the past, have had little to say to one another:
The power of a solution that bridges economic and environmental development, explains Jones, is that it has the potential to unite traditionally disparate factions of the progressive movement. “For at least a generation, activists of all constituencies have believed they could fix their problems on their own,” he says. “But separatism won’t work. On the environmental side, you’ll end up leaving so many people out that they’ll be undoing all the good and undermining your efforts.” On the social-justice side, says Jones, boosting wages with the same old dirty jobs inevitably ends up hurting the poor, accelerating problems like cancer and asthma.
Okay, enough self-promotion. In case you missed them before, I’ve greatly enjoyed Pat Walter’s reports from The Dream Reborn conference, and David’s posting of the MLK speech Jones delivered at that same event. Kevin Doyle’s recap of the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference last month in Pittsburgh is a great assessment of the green-collar landscape — and proof that Jones is certainly living up to the hype without letting it go to his head.