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Anthony "Van" Jones (born September 20, 1968) is an American environmental advocate, civil rights activist and attorney who served from March 16 to September 5, 2009 as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the United States.

Jones founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996, a California non-governmental organization (NGO) working for alternatives to violence. In 2005, Jones co-founded Color of Change, an advocacy group for African Americans. Formerly based in Oaklandmarker, Californiamarker, Jones founded Green For All in 2007, a national NGO dedicated to "building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty." His first book, The Green Collar Economy, was released on October 7, 2008, and reached number 12 on the New York Times Best Seller list. In 2008, Time magazine named Jones one of its "Heroes of the Environment". Fast Company called him one of the "12 Most Creative Minds of 2008".

He was appointed by President Barack Obama in March 2009, to the newly-created position on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, where he worked with various "agencies and departments to advance the administration's climate and energy initiatives, with a special focus on improving vulnerable communities." In July 2009 he became "embroiled in controversy" over his past political activities including his 1990s association with a Marxist group, a public comment disparaging Congressional Republicans, and his name appearing on a petition for 911Truth.org. Highlighting these issues, conservatives launched an aggressive campaign against him. Jones resigned from the position in early September.

Early life

Jones and his twin sister Angela were born in 1968 in Jacksonmarker, Tennesseemarker. Their mother was a teacher at a high school and their father was a principal at a junior high school. Jones's sister says that as a child he was "the stereotypical geek—he just kind of lived up in his head a lot." He has described his own childhood behavior as "bookish and bizarre." His grandfather was a leader of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and Jones sometimes accompanied his grandfather to religious conferences, where he would sit all day listening to the adults "in these hot, sweaty black churches". Jones was a young fan of John and Bobby Kennedy, and would pin photographs of them to a bulletin board in his room in the specially delineated "Kennedy Section". He used to imagine his Star Wars action figures were politicians: Luke Skywalker was John, Han Solo was Bobby, and Lando Calrissian was Martin Luther King, Jr.. He graduated from Jackson Central-Merry High Schoolmarker in 1986. Jones received his B.A. in communications and political science from the University of Tennessee at Martinmarker (UT Martin).

Jones worked as an intern at the Jackson Sun (Tennessee), the Shreveport Times (Louisianamarker) and the Associated Press (Nashvillemarker bureau). He also helped to launch and spearhead a number of independent, campus-based publishing efforts. These publications included the Fourteenth Circle (University of Tennesseemarker), the Periscope (Vanderbilt Universitymarker), the New Alliance Project (state-wide in Tennessee), and the Third Eye (Nashville's African American community). Jones credits UT Martin for preparing him for life on a global stage:After graduating from UT Martin, Jones left his home state to attend Yale Law School. In 1993, Jones earned his Juris Doctor and moved to San Franciscomarker, Californiamarker.

Social and environmental activism

Earlier activism

In 1992, while still a law student at Yale, Jones participated as a volunteer legal monitor for a protest of the Rodney King verdict in San Francisco. He and many other participants in the protest were arrested. The district attorney later dropped the charges against Jones. The arrested protesters, including Jones, won a small legal settlement. Jones later said that "the incident deepened my disaffection with the system and accelerated my political radicalization." In October 2005 Jones said he was "a rowdy nationalist" before the King verdict was announced, but that by August of that year (1992) he was a communist. Jones's activism was also spurred on by witnessing racial inequality in New Havenmarker, Connecticutmarker: "I was seeing kids at Yale do drugs and talk about it openly, and have nothing happen to them or, if anything, get sent to rehab...And then I was seeing kids three blocks away, in the housing projects, doing the same drugs, in smaller amounts, go to prison.”

When he graduated from law school, Jones gave up plans to take a job in Washington, D.C.marker, and moved to San Francisco instead. He got involved with Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM), a group explicitly committed to revolutionary Marxist politics whose points of unity were revolutionary democracy, revolutionary feminism, revolutionary internationalism, the central role of the working class, urban Marxism, and Third World Communism. While associated with STORM, Jones actively began protesting police brutality.

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

In 1995, Jones started Bay Area PoliceWatch, the region's only bar-certified hotline and lawyer-referral service for alleged victims claiming police abuse. The hotline started receiving fifteen calls a day. PoliceWatch began as a project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. "We designed a computer database, 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 now identify trouble spots and troublemakers," says Jones "This has given us a tremendous advantage in trying to understand the scope and scale of the problem. Now, obviously, just because somebody calls and says, "Officer so-and-so did something to me," doesn't mean it actually happened, but if you get two, four, six phone calls about the same officer, then you begin to see a pattern. It gives you a chance to try and take affirmative steps.". By 1996, Jones founded a new umbrella NGO, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which "consisted of a closet-like office and a computer that Jones had brought from his apartment."

From 1996-1997, Jones and PoliceWatch led a campaign which was successful in getting officer Marc Andaya fired from the San Francisco Police Department. Andaya was the lead officer accused of the in-custody death of Aaron Williams, an unarmed black man. In 1999 and 2000, Jones was a leader in the failed campaign to defeat Proposition 21, which sparked a student movement that made national headlines. In 2001, Jones and the Ella Baker Center launched the Books Not Bars campaign. From 2001 to 2003, Jones and Books Not Bars led a campaign to block the construction of a proposed "Super-Jail for Youth" in Oaklandmarker's Alameda County. Books Not Bars later went on to launch a statewide campaign to transform California's juvenile justice system.

Color of Change

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Jones and James Rucker co-founded a Web-based grassroots organization to address Black issues called Color of Change. Color of Change's mission as described on its web site is as follows: "ColorOfChange.org exists to strengthen Black America's political voice. Our goal is to empower our members—Black Americans and our allies—to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone." Within two years of co-founding the organization, Jones moved on to other pursuits, but remains listed on the Color of Change website as "Former Staff".

Shift to environmentalism and Green for All

By 2005, Jones had begun promoting eco-capitalism and environmental justice. In 2005 the Ella Baker Center expanded its vision beyond the immediate concerns of policing, declaring that "If we really wanted to help our communities escape the cycle of incarceration, we had to start focusing on job, wealth and health creation." In 2005, Jones and the Ella Baker Center produced the "Social Equity Track" for the United Nations' World Environment Day celebration, held that year in San Francisco. It was the official beginning of what would eventually become Ella Baker Center's Green-Collar Jobs Campaign.

The Green-Collar Jobs Campaign was Jones' first concerted effort to meld his desire to improve racial and economic equality with his newer desire to mitigate environmental concerns. It soon took as its mission the establishment of the nation's first "Green Jobs Corps" in Oakland. On October 20, 2008, the City of Oakland formally launched the Oakland Green Jobs Corps, a public-private partnership that will "provide local Oakland residents with job training, support, and work experience so that they can independently pursue careers in the new energy economy."

In September 2007, Jones attended the Clinton Global Initiative and announced his plans to launch Green For All, a new national NGO dedicated to creating green pathways out of poverty in America. The plan grew out of the work previously done at local level at the Ella Baker Center. Green For All would take the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign mission — creating green pathways out of poverty — national.

Green For All formally opened its doors on January 1, 2008. In its first year, Green For All organized "The Dream Reborn," the first national green conference where the majority of attendees were people of color. It cohosted, with 1Sky and the We Campaign, a national day of action for the new economy called "Green Jobs Now." It launched the Green-Collar Cities Program to help cities build local green economies and started the Green For All Capital Access Program to assist green entrepreneurs. As part of the Clean Energy Corps Working Group, it launched a campaign for a Clean Energy Corps initiative which would create 600,000 'green-collar' jobs while retrofitting and upgrading more than 15 million American buildings.

In reflecting on Green For All's first year, Jones wrote, "One year later, Green For All is real – and we have helped put green collar jobs on the map... We have a long way to go. But today we have a strong organization to help get us there."

Jones advocates a combination of conservation, regulation and investment as a way of encouraging environmental justice and opposing environmental racism. In an interview for the "EON Deep Democracy Interview Series" Jones spoke of a "third wave of environmentalism":

The first wave is sort of the Teddy Roosevelt, conservation era which had its day and then, in 1963, Rachel Carson writes a book, Silent Spring, and she's talking about toxics and the environment, and that really kind of opens up a whole new wave. So it's no longer just conservation but it's conservation, plus regulation, trying to regulate the bad, and that wave kind of continued to be developed and got kind of a 2.5 upgrade because of the environmental justice community who said, "Wait a minute, you're regulating but you're not regulating equally, the white polluters and white environmentalists are essentially steering poison into the people-of-color communities, because they don't have a racial justice frame." ... Now there's something new that's beginning to gather momentum, and it's conservation plus regulation of the bad, plus investment in the good ... beginning to put money into the solutions as well as trying to regulate the problem.


Other

Jones has served on the boards of numerous environmental and nonprofit organizations, including 1Sky, the National Apollo Alliance, Social Venture Network, Rainforest Action Network, Bioneers, Julia Butterfly Hill’s "Circle of Life" organization and Free Press. He was also a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress and a Fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciencesmarker. He was a keynote speaker at the youth conference Power Shift 2009 in Washington, D.C.

During the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, Jones served as Arianna Huffington's statewide grassroots director.

The Green Collar Economy

On October 7, 2008, HarperOne released Jones' first book, The Green Collar Economy. The book outlines Jones' "substantive and viable plan for solving the biggest issues facing the country--the failing economy and our devastated environment." The book has received favorable reviews from Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Laurie David, Paul Hawken, Winona LaDuke and Ben Jealous.

In the book, Jones contended that invention and investment will take us out of a pollution-based grey economy and into a healthy new green economy. Jones wrote:

We are entering an era during which our very survival will demand invention and innovation on a scale never before seen in the history of human civilization. Only the business community has the requisite skills, experience, and capital to meet that need. On that score, neither government nor the nonprofit and voluntary sectors can compete, not even remotely.
So in the end, our success and survival as a species are largely and directly tied to the new eco-entrepreneurs — and the success and survival of their enterprises. Since almost all of the needed eco-technologies are likely to come from the private sector, civic leaders and voters should do all that can be done to help green business leaders succeed. That means, in large part, electing leaders who will pass bills to aid them. We cannot realistically proceed without a strong alliance between the best of the business world —and everyone else.


Jones had a limited publicity budget and no national media platform. But a viral, web-based marketing strategy earned the book a #12 debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Jones and Green For All used "a combination of emails and phone calls to friends, bloggers, and a network of activists" to reach millions of people. The marketing campaign's grassroots nature has led to Jones calling it a victory not for him but for the entire green-collar jobs movement. The Green Collar Economy is the first environmental book authored by an African-American to make the New York Times bestseller list.

White House Council on Environmental Quality

On March 10, 2009, it was announced that Jones would serve as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Jones, while an ardent supporter of President Barack Obama, originally did not intend to work for the White House, later explaining "when they asked the question, I burst out laughing because at the time it seemed completely ludicrous that it would even be an option. I think what changed my mind was interacting with the administration during the transition process and during the whole process of getting the recovery package pulled together."

His position with the Obama Administration was described by columnist Chadwick Matlin as "switchboard operator for Obama's grand vision of the American economy; connecting the phone lines between all the federal agencies invested in a green economy." Jones did not like the informal "czar" term sometimes applied to his job, and described his position as "the green-jobs handyman. I'm there to serve. I'm there to help as a leader in the field of green jobs, which is a new field. I'm happy to come and serve and be helpful, but there's no such thing as a green-jobs 'czar.'"

Resignation

Jones resigned from his position as Special Advisor in September 2009, after receiving criticism from conservative groups such as WorldNetDaily and Americans for Prosperity. The critics received coverage from Fox News, notably from Fox commentator Glenn Beck, who featured Jones on 14 episodes of his show. They forced Jones in July and August 2009 to defend his past including membership of a socialist group and support for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a death row prisoner, the fairness of whose conviction has been disputed by organisations including Amnesty International. In July 2009 Color of Change, an organization that Jones founded in 2005 and left in 2007, launched a campaign urging advertisers on Beck's Fox News show to pull their ads, in response to comments by Beck in which he "called President Obama a racist who has a 'deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.'" In September 2009, DefendGlenn.com, a website launched in response to the boycott campaign, posted a video on Youtube of a February 2009 event at which Jones called Congressional Republicans "assholes". Jones responded by saying that the comments "were clearly inappropriate" and that "they do not reflect the experience I have had since I joined the [Obama] administration."

Several days later, Jones' 2004 signature on a 9-11 Truth petition became public, after which Jones said, "I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever." Other commentators and legislators soon joined in criticizing Jones. Representative Mike Pence (R-Indiana), the chairman of the Republican Conference in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, publicly criticised Jones, while Senator Kit Bond (R-Missouri) urged Congress to investigate Jones' "fitness" for the position. Another critic was Bob Beckel, formerly an official in the Carter administration and currently a political analyst for the Fox News Channel and a columnist for USA Today, who may have been the first and most prominent liberal or Democrat to call for Jones' resignation.

 After what Jones described as a "vicious smear campaign" by "opponents of reform [of health care and clean energy]", he resigned on September 5, saying that he could not "in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future". During an interview on ABC's This Week, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs thanked Jones "for his service to the country" and said that Obama "doesn't endorse" Jones's previous association with the 9/11 Truth movement, his comments regarding race relations and politics, and his support for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Some editorials, such as those on the Huffington Post expressed continued support for Jones, singling out the efforts of Glenn Beck to force his resignation. John McWhorter, in The New Republic, related his analysis to the Obama presidency in general, saying that allowing Jones to resign was "spineless".


Awards and honors

Jones's awards and honors include:

Publications



See also



References

  1. Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Announces Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Council on Environmental Quality, March 10, 2009
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/19/us/politics/19memo.html?_r=1&hp
  3. Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Ella Baker Center: A Brief History, accessed 17 August 2009
  4. Who is Van Jones?, vanjones.net
  5. Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley praised Jones's appointment: "Van Jones has been a strong voice for green jobs and we look forward to having him work with departments and agencies to advance the President’s agenda of creating 21st century jobs that improve energy efficiency and utilize renewable resources. Jones will also help to shape and advance the Administration’s energy and climate initiatives with a specific interest in improvements and opportunities for vulnerable communities." - White House, Van Jones to CEQ
  6. Will a 'red' help blacks go green?, WorldNet Daily, April 12, 2009
  7. Phil Kerpen, 6 September 2009, Fox News.com, How Van Jones Happened and What We Need to Do Next
  8. AlterNet, 8 September 2009, Big Business's Hidden Hand in the Smear Job on Van Jones
  9. (archived from the original on 2008-01-25)
  10. Politico, 7 September 2009, Van Jones resigns amid controversy
  11. New York Daily News, 18 August 2009, President Obama insult by Glenn Beck has advertisers boycotting show
  12. Responding to a question on why Democrats are having trouble moving their initiatives through Congress while Republicans seemed to be more successful when they were in control, Jones replied, "The answer to that is: They're assholes. That's a technical political science term. And Barack Obama's not an asshole. I will say this, I can be an asshole. And some of us who are not Barack Hussein Obama are gonna have to start getting a little bit uppity. ;
  13. Jones responded to the criticisms by issuing a statement saying, "In recent days some in the news media have reported on past statements I made before I joined the [Obama] administration — some of which were made years ago. If I have offended anyone with statements I made in the past, I apologize."
  14. In 2004, Jones was one of "100 notable Americans" who signed a "911 Truth Statement" from 911Truth.org, a group which promotes 9/11 conspiracy theories. The statement among other things called (referring to the George W. Bush administration) "for immediate public attention to unanswered questions that suggest that people within the current administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war." On September 3, 2009, after widespread criticism, Jones issued a statement, "I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever." Two other signers, Rabbi Michael Lerner and historian Howard Zinn, claim the statement they signed was different from and narrower than the 911 Truth Statement. - Ben Smith, "Trutherism-lite, and a second Jones tie", Politico, September 04, 2009
  15. Huffington Post, 6 September 2009, Glenn Beck Gets First Scalp: Van Jones Resigns
  16. Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post, September 7, 2009, "Thank You, Glenn Beck!"
  17. HarperCollins, About the Author, Van Jones (2008)


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