By Jack Jodell, June 29, 2011
Regular followers of this blog know I have had a propensity to focus on many of the problems in our country as well as on those whom I believe are contributing, or have contributed to, those problems. I have done so to draw attention to the many flaws we have here in America, in hopes that an improvement can be made. I will continue doing so on a regular basis.
Near year’s end each year, I post an annual December feature, which I call “Bozo of the Year.” It spotlights some of the fools and clowns in public life whose antics were so outlandish that they were deserving of ridicule. In a similar fashion each June, I take an opposite approach and do a different annual feature, which portrays an individual of today or yesterday whose contributions to humanity and/or our country have been so spectacular, courageous, and/or noteworthy that they should be lauded near and far as good examples of what we as humans can achieve, if we only put our minds and hearts to it. After all, not everything going on in the world is doom and gloom. So here is the third installment of this annual mid-year feature I call the “Head and Heart Award.” The individual featured here has used his head and heart to produce great things for humankind, and has shown himself to be a beacon of light in an often vast sea of darkness. This person should serve as an inspiration to us ALL to DO something, to take a principled stand, using OUR heads and hearts, on behalf of our fellow brothers and sisters, rather than simply sitting back complacently enjoying the relatively good life we have experienced here in the United States. I have therefore chosen the recipient of this year’s award to be :
VAN JONES. This former Obama Special Advisor for Green Jobs, born in the tumultous year of 1968, has had what some (especially acid-tongued conservatives) may describe as a checkered past, but I don’t care! For from his earliest days, he has dedicated himself to noble ideals and the pursuit of truth, knowledge, and the betterment of the human condition. He is one of my current-day heroes.
At the early age of 9, Mr. Jones took a liking to John and Bobby Kennedy, both of whom having been been assassinated before his birth. He hung photos of them on a bulletin board in a specially set-apart “Kennedy Section” of his bedroom. Their calls to progressive action resonated loudly with him, as he would eventually co-found 3 different non-profit organizations and take an active role in many others. He has dedicated himself to furthering a number of important environmental causes as well as programs to lift people out of poverty. That the evil, polluting, uncaring, filthy-rich Koch brothers and their lot would never approve of him makes him shine even brighter in my book.
Born Anthony K. Jones, he majored in political science and communication at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He recalls, “I left UT Martin confident that I could take on any challenge and do well at it if I studied hard and worked hard and kept my nose clean. I really do think you can get anywhere from UT Martin…because of the quality of caring and individual attention.” He went on to law school at Yale Law School, earning his Juris Doctor in 1993 and then moved to San Francisco. While still at Yale in 1992, he volunteered as a legal monitor for the protest of the Rodney King verdict in San Francisco. King, you may recall, was an African-American man who was brutally attacked by a gang of L.A. policemen, while additional cops stood by watching. The initial state trial of the primary four policemen involved produced no guilty verdicts, and this sparked angry riots throughout the African-American community. Van Jones was present at these protests and riots and was one of those arrested. Though the district attorney later dropped all charges against Jones, and a later federal trial found two of the policemen guilty and sentenced them to prison, Jones later commented, “…the incident deepened my dissatisfaction with the system and accelerated my radicalization.” He saw other evidence of racism which irritated him. Said Jones, “I was seeing kids at Yale do drugs and nothing happened to them…then I was seeing kids three blocks away, in the housing projects, doing the same drugs, in smaller amounts, go to prison.” This inequality infuriated Jones and led him, for a time, to proclaim himself a communist. He became involved with Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM) to actively protest police brutality. STORM was a socialist splinter group formed to uphold “revolutionary democracy, revolutionaty feminism, revolutionary internationalism, the central role of the working class, urban Marxism, and Third World communism.” It also pledged to work with other groups to protest war and police brutality.
!n 1995, Van Jones started Bay Area Police Watch, the only bar-certified hotline and lawyer-referral service for victims of police abuse in the area. “We designed a computer data base, the first of its kind in the country, that allows us to track problem officers, problem precincts, problem practices, so at the click of a mouse we can identify trouble spots and troublemakers,” said Jones. In 2001, Jones with the Ella Baker Center launched the Books Not Bars campaign. From 2001 to 2003, Jones and Books Not Bars had a campaign to block a proposed “Super-Jail for Youth” inside Oakland’s Alameda County. Books Not Bars later went on to launch a statewide campaign to transform California’s whole juvenile justice system. in 3005, in response to the suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina, Jones co-founded a web-based organization to address black issues called Color of Change. Among its humanitarian accomplishments, this was the group which successly led a campaign to deprive the foolhardy blabbermouth Glenn Beck of hundreds of advertisers after the racist Beck had made the utterly ridiculous remark that President Obama hates white people. That same year, Jones became interested in environmental issues. He and the Ella Baker Center launched the Green Jobs Campaign, an effort designed to provide people with job training, support, and work experience so they could successfully pursue careers in the new energy economy. His “Green for All” effort held the first national green conference where the majority of those in attendance were persons of color. It started the Green Collar Cities Program to help cities build green economies and also set up the Green for All Capital Access Program to help green entrepreneurs. In addition, it started a Clean Energy Corps which would create 600,000 jobs while reroofing and repairing 15 million American buildings. Now THERE’S a man who knows how to create useful jobs merging private and public funding! Take THAT, Koch brothers and all you other economic conservatives and libertarians!
By now, Van Jones had slowly discovered that one need not always be necessarily radical to effect broadly beneficial social and economic change. He turned away from his previously radical affiliations and became more mainstream in his efforts. President Obama took note of his achievements and noble spirit and asked him to join his administration. He did, and shortly thereadter came under increasing and withering attack from all the unforgiving know-it-alls on the right, notably most of the crazies at Fox “News” including Glenn Beck, as well as that self-styled darling of the far right, Ann Coulter, and even the loudmouthed liar Rush Limbaugh. Totally ignorant and unforgiving, they focused exclusively on the prior radical groups and beliefs Jones had, rather than on his accomplishments in providing meaningful employment for the poor. Not wishing to become a center of controversy in the administration, Van Jones resigned. The President lost a damn fine true public servant, thanks to all of his enemies on the far right.
Van Jones will not be intimidated by those of little conscience or vision on the far right. He has become a senior fellow over at the Center for American Progress, and he has won numerous awards from a large number of organizations over many years. Just two months ago he addressed Powershift 2011 , the largest youth organizing and activism training in our country’s history. Here he spoke to 10,000 youth on issues of climate justice and standing up for underrepresented communities. That is why I have selected him for this year’s Head and Heart Award, and why he is one of my heroes. CARRY ON, VAN JONES!