Van Jones' American Dream Movement

The former White House "green-jobs czar" hopes to take a page from the Tea Party and change the economic discussion in Washington. But will people buy in?

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After Van Jones, former White House special adviser for green jobs, resigned from the position in 2009 amid controversy and misconceptions over his political activities, the activist and author busied himself with other work. He led the Green Opportunity Initiative for the Center for American Progress and held a teaching fellowship at Princeton University. Then he took a year off.

"I just went around the country talking to people and listening," Jones told The Root. He repeatedly encountered the same kinds of stories: Veterans with no employment opportunities upon returning from the battlefield. Young college graduates who can't find jobs. The long-term unemployed who fear that, at age 40 or 50, they may never work again. Homeowners saddled with underwater mortgages, struggling to keep their houses. Cops, firefighters, teachers and nurses slashed from city budgets.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., he kept hearing that taxing the wealthy kills jobs and that cutting social programs is the solution for trimming the deficit. According to Jones, the disparity boils down to one thing: "There are forces in America that are trying to kill the American dream, who are willing to throw the middle class under the bus so that rich folks and corporations don't have to pay fair taxes," he said, arguing that these groups have too much dominance over our economic system.

Fueled by this perspective, this month Jones launched the American Dream Movement, aimed at a middle class that he says is working harder than ever, yet is struggling to maintain its livelihood. With support from MoveOn.org and other groups, he hopes to build a coalition of the progressive faithful as well as demographics outside the base that will rival the Tea Party.

Jones talked to The Root about his vision for the movement, his sudden legal action against Fox News and why liberals have been so quiet for the past two years.

The Root: What do you think is the solution to America's economic problems?

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Van Jones: Here's what we know: We've got to get education strong in America again. We've got to focus on innovation. We've got to start protecting companies that want to hire and build in America. But you can't even begin to do all that policy work if you're going to take a one-sided, lopsided approach to the budget problem, which is cuts and cuts only.

If a family has budget problems, you don't say, "We need to save money, so let's cut out Grandma's food." You would cut back on nonessentials and also ask Junior to get a paper route to increase revenues. America's government needs to solve budget problems in a balanced way: Cut back on nonessentials, and begin to increase revenues.

TR: What are we spending on that you consider nonessential?

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM