This article is adapted from The Green Collar Economy, by Van Jones with Ariane Conrad.
My background is in the struggles for racial justice and criminal justice reform. As such, I’ve always felt an affinity for Cinque, the hero of the slave-revolt movie Amistad. In that film, based on a true story, the righteous, enslaved Africans fight back and take over the slave ship.
The people at the bottom rise up–taking their destiny into their own hands. It’s really a metaphor for the last century’s version of racial politics. The slave ship is earth, the white slavers are the world’s oppressors and the African captives are the world’s oppressed. The point is for the oppressed to confront and defeat their oppressors. I took that as my mission and spent years fighting against superjails, rogue cops, the prison lobby–against the forces that, to my mind and the minds of many, are the slavers of today.
Yet at a certain point it occurred to me that what we need is less investment in the fight against and more energy in the fight for: for positive alternatives to violence and incarceration. It was around that time that I got involved in the environmental movement. And I came to understand that the answer to our social, economic and ecological crises can be one and the same: a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.
Society faces some huge challenges. The individuals, entrepreneurs and community leaders who will step up to make the repairs and changes are going to need help. They require and deserve a world-class partner in our government. The time has come for a public-private community partnership to fix this country and put it back to work. In the framework of a Green New Deal, the government would become a powerful partner to the problem solvers of the world–and not the problem makers.
Now, we cannot achieve the goal of a Green New Deal just by wishing for it. The first step in getting the government to support an inclusive, green economy is to build a durable political coalition.
On the one hand, there are large and powerful constituencies of white, affluent, college-educated progressives active in the United States. They are passionate about the environment, fair trade, economic justice and global peace. Unfortunately, many do not yet work in concert with people of color in their own country to pursue this agenda; they champion “alternative economic development strategies” across the globe, but not across town. These people could be great allies in uplifting our inner cities if they are given encouragement and a clear opportunity to do so.
On the other hand, many groups of people of color do not want to work in coalition with majority white organizations and white leaders. Many fear betrayal; others resent chronic white arrogance. Cultural differences and power imbalances create tensions; some organizations are actually committed to a racially exclusive ideology. Even though such organizations could benefit from additional allies and outside assistance, the very folks who could most benefit from a green opportunity agenda are loath to get involved.