Van Jones: "This Is Not Your Grandma's Environmental Movement Anymore"
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AC: And social entrepreneurs and authors…?
VJ: Right. Well, building groups where people can work together is fun, and sometimes necessary, but it's not the most important thing. I think the most important thing is discovering an idea that moves you, and then letting people who are moved by that idea find each other and work together. A lot of times, people focus on the technical side -- "Oh, I've got to take a class on nonprofit development." Too few people allow themselves to think outside the box with regard to their issue areas.
As far as being an author. It's just starting to hit me. The other day, I met this kid from Morehouse College -- black school, black student, an African studies major, in the chocolate city Atlanta. He'd gotten really pissed off reading about all the horrific crimes and atrocities that have been inflicted upon African people since we got to these shores a few generations ago. Then somebody told him about this book that was written by someone in Oakland. He said the book was life-transforming for him because he was able to see a way to get solution-oriented and get into action. To not be so angry and not be so stopped by the past that he couldn't stand for the future.
AC: So the kid from Morehouse college is emblematic --
VJ: Of the folks who've gotten frustrated and cynical, who find something in the book that resonates. I think that for those of us who come from oppressed backgrounds and who do our work in marginalized communities, recovering our innocence is one of the most important acts of self-liberation and decolonization. Not letting the requirement that we adapt to impossible circumstances and unconscionable crimes leave us shackled to the kind of cynicism and armor such that we can't breathe and laugh and magnetize to ourselves all the genius and love and support that we need to transform the situation. That's probably the biggest challenge, is to recover our innocence.
AC: Let's talk about the book itself. You've said it before, but tell me the significance of The Green Collar Economy on the NYT best-seller list. And congratulations.
VJ: Well, congratulations to you, too. The book represents a lot of firsts. It's the first time that a book about green jobs has been on the best-seller lists. It's the first time a book by an African American environmental writer has been on the lists. It's also the first book by an African American writer on energy to get onto the best-seller lists. Its success is a breakthrough, and I hope it opens the floodgates for all kinds of people who don't look like the traditional enviro to write about these issues. I'd love to hear from Native Americans and Latinos and Persians, transgendered and disabled folks.
AC: I thought you might comment some on the organizing feat that got the book there.
VJ: That's a cool story. Before the book came out, before anybody had read it or knew what was in it, literally tens if not hundreds of thousands of people took collective action to propel it onto the best-seller lists. Certainly our publisher worked hard to get the book into stores and visible, but the book came out in the middle of an election. There just wasn't a lot of space for new voices to break in. So people on staff at Green For All started calling friends and colleagues and sending out e-mails, and our friends and colleagues didn't just pre-purchase the book, they also sent word out to their lists. Some people got the same e-mail from five different places in their lives.