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Van Jones Comes to Princeton

-by Derek Gideon, editor

Van Jones delivers the keynote address at Power Shift 2009.

My first encounter with Van Jones took place a year ago in Washington DC, when he spoke at the Powershift 2009 clean energy rally. He addressed a crowd of over 12,000 students in a packed conference hall the size of an airplane hangar. The students came from everywhere in the country. They came from college campuses in all fifty states. They came from the Navajo Nation. They came from the South Bronx.  Some were hippies. Some were future policy wonks. When Van Jones stepped onto the podium, they all went wild.

The Daily Princetonian reported on Wednesday that Van Jones will come to Princeton as a visiting fellow for the 2010-2011 academic year to conduct research as well as teach a course in the spring. As we might expect, the trolls were raging. So many myths have spread about Van Jones since the Fox-induced “controversy” last summer, I thought I’d give a brief description of Van Jones’ work, and an introduction to who it is who will actually be joining us in the fall.

Van Jones is an advocate for environmental justice. His ethos is perhaps captured best by his words at Powershift, “We need to have a green economy that doesn’t have any throw-away species. We need to have a green economy that doesn’t have any throw-away resources. But we need to have a green economy that doesn’t have any throw away people, either.”
Some commenters on The Daily Princetonian article expressed some confusion as to what environmental justice means. The US Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Environmental justice advocates fight for a future in which a typical Princetonian and a typical Trentonian have equal access to clean air and clean water.

Smokestacks over Newark, NJ. Why do you never see them in the more affluent Princeton? Environmental justice activists begin with that question.

What makes Van Jones unique is that the organization he founded, Green for All , does not only fight against environmental injustice. The group also works to build a stronger American economy that is both better for the planet and socially just. When Van Jones addressed the crowd at Powershift, he set forth a choice. ““You will determine whether we are locusts,” he said. “Or whether we are honeybees.”
Green for All’s Communities of Practice program creates online communities for activists to coordinate green job training programs and retrofitting of urban buildings for greater efficiency. Green for All’s Academy program trains young people from the poorest parts of the country to become green economy advocates in their communities. Their policy team has worked to towards making federal legislation both green and equitable , and has even publishes a free booklet providing information on how communities can take advantage of federal programs to build clean, local economies.
When Van Jones went to work for the Obama Administration last year, he became a target to those who potrayed him as some sort of dangerous radical. The din grew so loud that Jones eventually chose to resign from his position. Yet all of his ideas are based on the same mixed economy system that the United States already has. People who believe that any government spending amounts to communism will consider Mr. Jones’ ideas to be communist, but that makes them, not him, radical.
We live in a world in which the US accounts for almost half of the world’s military spending while people here are losing their homes. We live in a world in which children of color are more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than white children. We live in a world in which the wealthy can buy organic vegetables while migrant farmer laborers suffer the effects of toxic pesticides.  There are plenty of reasons to be angry in this country. Yet, unlike the television pundits, Van Jones has channeled that anger into a passion to build a better world. His time here will allow him to continue that task, as he conducts research and teaches a course in the spring, while he also does policy work for the Center for American Progress.
Welcome to Princeton, Professor Jones. We’re glad to have you with us.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. Roy permalink
    02/27/2010 6:14 pm

    Thank you for providing some sanity to this issue. Some people are just so reactionary and ignorant, that it’s extremely promising and encouraging to see someone provided as a counterpoint who really knows what they’re talking about.

  2. splashy permalink
    03/03/2010 12:10 am

    Van Jones is a great speaker and has some really good ideas. He will be a big asset at Princeton.


  1. Van Jones Comes to Princeton (via The Princeton Climate Dispatch) « Wild Hudson

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