By now you’ve probably heard the good news that Van Jones will join the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) as its Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Needless to say, we here at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights are ecstatic. It was just 13 years ago that Van co-founded our organization — working out of a closet. (Yes, a closet!) Today, we’re a thriving social justice action center, and Van is headed to Washington to work for President Obama.
Based in Oakland, California, the Ella Baker Center has tackled some of the most troubling issues plaguing urban America by promoting positive alternatives to violence and incarceration. Over that time, we’ve seen the fruits of our labor come in the form of victories such as landmark juvenile justice reform, effective violence-prevention policy, and successful implementation of the historic Oakland Green Jobs Corps.
But never in our organization’s history have we seen a moment more beautiful than this. It’s truly remarkable to have one of our own ascend to the nation’s highest levels of power — and almost unbelievable that he’s been tapped to craft an inclusive green agenda that ensures the emerging clean energy economy is strong enough to lift people out of poverty.
Van’s dream for a green and equitable future for all began with a straightforward idea that was elegant in its simplicity years ago: Fight poverty and pollution at the same time.
Back then, “going green” wasn’t as sexy, appealing or marketable as it is now. But Van was tireless in his commitment to move our cities past the pollution-based economy that destroyed the planet and made people — most often people of color and low-income people — sick. There were more doubters, more cynics, and more critics than you could count challenging these groundbreaking ideas, but we kept at it, spreading our “Green Jobs Now” message from conference to conference, city to city, town hall to town hall.
As all things green eventually became all the rage, the term “green-collar job” was tossed around with increasing frequency. It was up to us to protect and promote the true ideals behind the trendy rhetoric. Van has been steadfast in calling for not only the creation of clean energy jobs, but also for job training for people with barriers to employment, so they, too, can reap the benefits. The vision — the same vision Van now brings to the Obama administration — is an equitable America where the people who most need work are connected with the work that most needs doing.
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