Opportunity for All? Van Jones Discusses His New Book 'Rebuild the Dream'
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Anyone can join by signing up at www.RebuildTheDream.com.
A: You emphasize in the book that a mass movement is required to address the needs of working- and middle-class people. How do we keep the energy of Occupy Wall Street and other protest initiatives going and expand their impact? How is the Rebuild the Dream movement connected to other recent protest movements, like OWS and the Tea Party movement?
VJ: Rebuild the Dream is focused on candidates, community-building and campaigns (like cutting student debt and the principal on underwater mortgages). The new book lays out our whole game plan for energizing the movement to empower ordinary people -- "the 99 percent," as folks now say. We have 600,000 online members, and we are in every congressional district. And we are only nine months old!
Let me be clear about something: I am a huge fan of Occupy. But I am not an occupier, and I don't speak for Occupy. I do try to speak UP for Occupy, when they are defamed in the press. But Occupy is an autonomous movement, and many of its members are very sensitive about anyone speaking for it. So I am careful to let that organization speak for itself.
That said, I believe that the broader movement of the "99 percent" is, by definition, much larger than the individuals who make up Occupy Wall Street. In my new book, I make the case that the occupiers- - those brave souls who were actually sleeping outside, attending General Assemblies, actively playing a hands-on role -- probably numbered about 250,000 people nationwide, at the height.
But polls showed that about one third of Americans strongly identified with the concerns raised by the protests. That is about 100 million people. No one group, be it Occupy or Rebuild or anyone else, can claim the exclusive right to speak for all of those people. Only occupiers can speak for Occupy. But all of us fighting against the corporate takeover of America can speak for the 99 percent.
That is why Rebuild is proud to be one of the organizations that is promoting 99% Spring, a mammoth effort to train 100,000 people in non-violent civil disobedience from April 9-15. Other groups like Domestic Workers' Alliance, the New Bottom Line, the NAACP, Moveon, the New Organizing Institute, Green For All, and many more are taking part.
In many ways, I see Occupy as representing the most determined and idealistic fighters, kind of like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee did in the early 1960s. In fact, the SNCC youth "occupied" lunch counters, "occupied" segregated busses and helped people "occupy" voting booths in Mississippi. So the comparison is apt.
Yet the civil rights movement was much bigger than SNCC. And I see the movement of the 99 percent as being much bigger than Occupy. Millions of people oppose the division of America into the rising rich and the falling middle- and working-class.
A: With a dysfunctional political system and massive corporate powers mobilized against us, can ordinary citizens really make a difference? Does signing a petition or going to rallies solve anything?
VJ: You never know what is going to break through. For example, Molly Katchpole put up a petition on Change.org to tell Bank of America not to slap a $5 a month fee on our debit cards. Nobody thought that small act would amount to much. But the petition went viral, and BofA cried uncle -- forgoing billions of dollars in extra profits. Then Molly put up another petition, telling Verizon not to raise its fees by $5 a month. Verizon folded in 48 hours. She has single-handedly saved Americans billions of dollars, and she did it as an individual. I was so excited when she joined Rebuild the Dream and agreed to help lead our campaign to cut student debt. But you really never know what is going to break through and make a difference.