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Van Jones on America's Uprising: It's Going To Be an Epic Battle

Jones talked to AlterNet about the growing social movements for change, running real progressives in 2012, and how we can train a million new leaders.

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Today, the more institutional wing of the left will be represented among the less-affiliated protesters of Occupy Wall Street, as union members, artists, hactivists and students join in the mass expression of outrage at the impunity with which big banks and traders have turned the economy against everyday Amercans for the benefit of the 1 percent of Americans who  own 42 percent of the nation's wealth. A number of New York union locals are marching in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street from City Hall to Zuccotti Park, the protesters' base camp.

Van Jones sat down yesterday with AlterNet executive editor Don Hazen and Washington bureau chief Adele Stan to share his hopes for the rebirth of a liberal people's movement.

AlterNet: When you talk about Rebuilding the Dream being a resource hub for progressives, how do you envision that?

Van Jones: We want to be a support center like FreedomWorks is a support center [for the Tea Party]. Everybody focuses on the money from the Koch brothers; they focus on Fox News TV. But they don't focus so much on infrastructure, and the relationship between the institutions. So we've tried to focus in on that.

AlterNet: One of the things FreedomWorks did was to create the Tea Party Patriots, which is a network, as you noted in your speech, and one that created its own social media infrastructure. Do you foresee building an American Dream movement social-media network, just as Tea Party Patriots did for their people? They build communities that way -- communities that are locally and regionally based, but which are also tied to the national Tea Party Patriots network and FreedomWorks. But through the local level of the network, they also bring in new people who may not have been politically active before.  One of the reasons some people are saying that Occupy Wall Street is more like the Tea Party than the folks at this conference is that OWS isn't directly affiliated with a top-down, long established organization.

Van Jones: People can take too literally the [Tea Party comparison] -- like what is the one effort that is going to be the [progressive version of] the Tea Party. Then people can start having a tug of war over it. But, really, I don't think of it like that. I think we're going into a real period of serious experimentation and innovation, and even improvisation -- certainly through the [2012 presidential] election, and probably a couple of years beyond as a couple of things happen. One, as the economic crisis gets worse -- it ain't gonna get better -- the formal economy is going to continue to contract. That means you're going to have a lot of people suffering due to the economy. That's going to create a need for a response. What are we going to do? How can we address the ways in which people are hurting -- immediate needs? That's going to be a driver of innovation, the economic crisis. People have to eat. People have to live indoors. People aren't going to just lay down and die because Wall Street wants to hold up the economic recovery.

But the other driver will be the other process -- which is a global phenomenon -- of the business model for social change changing, moving away from the hierarchical and more toward the horizontal. And you'll see different efforts that reflect different aspects of that. Getting all these grassroots leaders to align ourselves differently as we begin to function differently, more in partnership, and also a lot more open-source efforts.

For example, November 17 is going to be a major protest date. And we're just letting people take that and run with it. There's no central group people are going to do this. We're just throwing the date out there -- November 17th, "Jobs Not Cuts." That's different from the kinds of coalitional tables that have been set up before where [groups] try to dictate exactly the messaging, exactly this and exactly that. So you're seeing urgency because of the economic crisis, and the opportunity to do things differently, because of the technology, to create all kinds of new forums. And so it could be, in some ways, Occupy Wall Street will reflect some of the success model from the Tea Party. We're talking about the Tea Party because that's what gets the attention. But we're also studying the Arab Spring.

There's a way that we, as Westerners look at things: What is the one right answer? Is it the American Dream Movement, or is it Occupy Wall Street? Which is it? When, actually, we're just glad that the volcano is starting to erupt. We just want to fight. And there are some pre-existing grassroots assets that need to be re-aligned or redeployed; we're trying to do that here. Then there's all this new energy out there. And what you're going to see happening is that new explosion of energy will capture and inspire some existing stuff; some of these new organizations that are started will capture and inspire some new stuff, and you'll see all kinds of inter-penetrations and that kind of thing.

AlterNet: So, you as a brand may still say, we're going to build our own social networking infrastructure.

 
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