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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.

As the grassroots sit-ins and marches that originated as Occupy Wall Street spread to other cities, Van Jones, lead evangelist for the American Dream movement, took the stage Monday at a Washington, DC hotel where organizers of the institutional element of the progressive movement converged at Take Back the American Dream. The gathering was organized by the Campaign for America's Future in partnership with Jones' new organization, Rebuild the Dream. Jones voiced his support for the spontaneous Wall Street uprising, and for the U.S. Marines who agreed, he said, to protect the protesters while wearing dress blues.

Jones said that after he left the White House, where he served as a green jobs adviser to President Barack Obama, he occupied his time studying how the Tea Party movement came into existence and marshaled its power. (Among his texts, he said, was the AlterNet anthology, Dangerous Brew: Exposing the Tea Party's Agenda to Take Over America.) Jones had been a target of Tea Party ire, stoked by Glenn Beck on his Fox News Channel platform, back when Beck served as the de facto community organizer for media baron Rupert Murdoch, before Beck fell out of the mogul's favor.

Jones explained the Tea Party's "leaderless" model to the activists with a PowerPoint showing how the instigators of the Tea Party movement -- leaders of groups such as FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity -- didn't so much create a top-down organization as they did a network that fostered the development of local Tea Party organizations by local activists, who then took ownership of their own corners of the movement. "The Tea Party is an open-source brand," Jones explained, "that 3,528 affiliates use; none of them own it." For all their talk of rugged individualism, Jones said, the forces behind the Tea Party "have enacted the most collectivist strategy for taking power in the history of the republic."

Jones also demonstrated, with modeling schematics, how progressives had initially, during the 2008 presidential campaign, centered their movement more around a person -- Obama -- than their own issues. In no small part, Jones implied, progressives were drawn to the Obama campaign's branding, with its iconic "O" logo onto which people projected their own aspirations and beliefs.

"It has been a tough couple of years," Jones told his audience. "We went from hope to heartbreak in about a minute...We have the wrong theory of the presidency."

As for the rise of the right, Jones said, "I'm not mad at the Tea Party. I'm not mad at them for being so loud. I'm mad at us for having been so quiet the past two years."

With Monday's speech, Jones set out to sell the idea of a more diffuse and locally directed progressive movement to a gathering of progressives who are more used to being part of organizing campaigns launched from organization or union headquarters. What Jones is offering instead, though his Rebuild the Dream hub (launched in partnership with, is an open-source brand for the left, complete with a logo in the form of a red "A" (for "American Dream") with a white star at its center, underlined by a blue stripe. It's a graphic turn on the American flag, part of Jones' call to the left to reclaim the mantle of patriotism.

Rebuild the Dream has already facilitated some 1,600 house meetings of like-minded people who aim to build a grassroots movement on a par with the Tea Party. Rebuild the Dream has also issued a " Contract For the American Dream," built on the model of past right-wing contracts, which politicians are being asked to sign in order to signify their willingness to support movement goals in their political and legislative work. At Monday's event, Jones brought to the stage members and leaders of some 25 organizations, representing issues ranging from workers' rights, LGBT rights, corporate accountability, financial reform -- many from the longstanding l organizations of the progressive and liberal movement, including labor unions.

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