A polarizing and undeniably powerful personality at any place where clean-energy consciousness, human-rights sensibilities, and economic mindfulness collide, Van Jones is no hippie. Billed by Time Magazine just a few years ago as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, Jones — who, that same year, lasted but six months in President Barack Obama’s cabinet as a special environmental advisor before he was railroaded to resignation by a Glenn Beck–led smear campaign — is a serious, action-oriented social entrepreneur with, in his words, “a colorful past” and a laser-like focus on the future of our country.
Thanks to the folks from Quail Springs and LoaTree, Jones is coming to Marjorie Luke Theatre on Saturday, October 29, at 7 p.m. to spread the gospel about an American economic renaissance built on “green” jobs and social justice. The Santa Barbara Independent caught up with Jones earlier this week and talked shop about some of the more pressing issues of the day.
OCCUPY: I think this is the definition of a tipping point. … I think the American people hit a pain threshold this summer with the economic anxiety, political frustration, and the realization that no help is on the way. People can put up with a lot if they think that the political and financial elites care about their problems and are going to do something about it, but I think in August — when the Tea Party made up that phony default crisis to hijack the conversation in D.C. and try and impose all these cuts on people that are already hurting — I think that was the last straw, and people finally realized, “Wow, D.C. is just stuck on stupid, and nobody is coming to help me.”
ENVIRONMENTALISM: Look, everybody is an environmentalist whether they want to believe it or not. Nobody gets up in the morning and says, “I hate bunnies and trees; give me some more smog.” Everybody is an environmentalist, but hardly anybody does anything about it.
GREEN JOBS: We are in a century where energy is going to be the key issue. One [reason] is because of global warming and climate change, but the other is because we are going to have a couple billion new consumers on the Earth, so the country that leads on energy is going to lead the world. People have to understand that you cannot have an American economic renaissance without having a big clean-energy component. Unfortunately, as I said, D.C. is stuck on stupid and is letting China eat our lunch with our own technology.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act set aside about $80 billion, which, at the time, was the biggest investment in clean energy and green economic activity in the history of humanity. China passed us last year, but that was a really good start, and the president put in place measures to help us leapfrog on batteries, solar, energy efficiency, weatherization, etc. Unfortunately, we didn’t follow it up with a cap-and-trade bill that would have gotten the private sector to play along. You can’t reform any major industry in the world just with government dollars. You have to go beyond the public investments and get private capital to play. That is when you get a big change. It is really unfortunate that the Republicans tripped us up right at the finish line on that one and let China take the lead.
POLITICS OF NOW: It’s funny now, if you are looking to smash down everything that made America great in the last century, from public education to fair taxes to unions, you are called a conservative. But really, you should probably be called a radical because you are the one that is trying to smash down what we have built up. And, if you stick up for public education, unions, a safety net, or the middle class, all this stuff we have built up and are trying to keep, you get called a liberal. Well, I thought liberals were the ones that were trying to push things forward. Ends up that we are just trying to keep in place the formula that worked for our parents and worked for our grandparents. … It is an upside-down and crazy time.
CAPITALISM: I have no problem with winners and losers. I mean, I’m trying to be a winner. I’m like Charlie Sheen; I want to be winning. But I do have a problem with cheaters. I’ve got a problem when you rig the game, and that is what’s happening in this country, and it has been dividing us. … Look, this game has been rigged to where if you can’t buy your own congressperson, then just forget it. You don’t have to work in the White House to see the influence of these big-money-interest folks. All you have to do is walk around and have a functioning brain stem. That is why we need major reform, and major reform is always going to require major protest, along with major resistance from those who benefit from the status quo. People like to say, I am against capitalism. No, I am all for free markets; I’d just like to actually see one.
THE FUTURE: The way that change is made in America is starting to change. The Tea Party was more of a decentralized phenomenon, and now you have Occupy Wall Street, which is also a very decentralized phenomenon. I think you are just going to have more of the voice of ordinary people being aggregated to call for change rather than the old model of the top-down political parties and lobbyists. … The first thing that needs to happen [for all this] is that people have got to stand up, and that is exactly what is happening right now.