In the fall of 2004, then-college student Julian Mocine-McQueen was outraged that the prosperous city of San Francisco was doing little to prevent or talk about the high rate of homicides among young African-American and Latino men. So he started organizing young people around violence prevention programs through the League of Young Voters, a national voter engagement organization that also supports community organizers working with low-income youth. He had no idea that in a few years he would move from violence prevention to environmental justice. Mocine-McQueen, 28, is now a field organizer with Green For All, a national advocacy organization dedicated to supporting local activists in their efforts to improve their neighborhoods through energy conservation and job-creation initiatives. “Green jobs allowed me to address the root causes of violence–no jobs, no money,” he explains.
On February 4 Mocine-McQueen is heading to Good Jobs, Green Jobs–a conference in Washington, DC, where more than 1,000 labor leaders will learn tactics on how to press the government to expand markets for green jobs. He will hold sessions that emphasize building a more inclusive economy–one that creates wealth-building opportunities for historically neglected, low-income communities of color. He is encouraged to see the growing numbers of supportive labor groups across the country who recognize the need to diversify their ranks.
Then, from February 27 to March 2, Mocine-McQueen will attend Power Shift 2009, a gathering of more than 10,000 young environmental activists, also in Washington, put together by the Energy Action Coalition (EAC) in partnership with fifty of its membership organizations, including Green For All. “As future inheritors of this planet, young people get the urgency of this problem,” says Jessy Tolkan, EAC’s executive director. In 2007 Power Shift–part political rally, part concert, part K Street-style lobbying day–brought more than 6,000 young people to Washington. The event helped firmly plant the concept of green jobs within the organizing landscape of young climate change activists. “That message of green jobs is really sticking with young people, because it is so solutions-oriented,” Tolkan explains. A proof of its growing appeal: EAC’s e-mail list has grown from 10,000 to 500,000 since 2007.
But the impact of the student green jobs movement should also be measured in the powerful change it has brought to lives and communities. Take Pittsburgh native Chester Thrower III. The first time he heard of “green jobs” was a year ago. He Googled the term and found videos of the idea’s fiercest preacher, Green For All founder Van Jones. It wasn’t the first time Thrower heard outsiders promising jobs for Pittsburgh’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, where the unemployment rate for males has been among the highest in the nation for decades. But this time it felt different. Jones struck a chord within him. Jones told Thrower that he could be an entrepreneur, that he could run his own business someday.