I am thrilled that President Obama has tapped Van Jones to serve as a special White House advisor. This appointment makes me think that Obama "gets it" because Van Jones embodies a critically important political strategy for the left.
Over the past decade Democrats faced a shrinking voting base and have groped to build coalitions. Even in tough times, Democrats have been able to rely on three groups (1) Labor, (2) Racial minorities (particularly African Americans), and (3) Environmentalists. These groups are so reliable I have jokingly advocated that the Democratic party should adopt the ANC flag because its base is clearly Red, Black, and Green.
Van Jones brings together these base building constituencies with an elegant and progressive political strategy. Jones has made local environmental justice efforts of the past 30 years suddenly visible and powerfully relevant. During the past several decades African American, Latino, and Native American communities have been battling undesirable land uses, disproportionate health impacts, and undemocratic zoning processes throughout the country. These efforts have generated new demands for community participation, expanded definitions of civil rights, and more diverse understandings of the environment.
But the EJ movement has also been decentralized and largely invisible.
As the founder of Green for All, Van Jones has brought visibility and coherence to the EJ movement and articulated a politically powerful vision that links the creation of new jobs, the employment and participation of the most disfranchised, and an insistence on sustainability. Jones represents a possible nexus of where consensus framing of progressive issues can be used to impact the material conditions of those Americans who are hurting the most in these tough times.
I must admit a little discomfort about the implicit gender politics here. EJ movements throughout the U.S. have largely been headed by women: Beverly Wright of the Deep South Center and Majora Carter who founded Sustainable South Bronx are just two of the best known women leaders in EJ. I’d love to see these sisters at the table too. President Obama’s "basketball cabinet" strategy tends to lean a little too much on guy’s voices for my taste. But I do think Jones brings a particularly keen public presence that will make him a powerful advocate of these issues. I trust that Jones will continue to be in dialogue with women leaders around the country, including Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins who will take over Jones’ organization now that he is departing for DC.
I appreciate that Jones is deeply committed to ground-up organizing and expansive ideas about participation. His experiences as a community organizer and even his invocation of civil rights organizing forerunners like Ella Baker and Bayard Rustin reflect Jones’ commitment to democratic participation in government processes. This commitment is a hallmark of the EJ movement.
Good job Barack, I’ll be flying my red, black and green flag in support today.