Van Jones Sets the Record Straight
On the eve of accepting top honors at the NAACP Image Awards, the former “green jobs czar” defends his record and talks comeback.
TR: The NAACP Image Award represents support from a leading voice in the black community. Have you felt supported by the black community in this transitional year?
VJ: I felt support from many directions. Certainly, in the African-American community, Rev. Jesse Jackson called my mother after I resigned and prayed with her on the phone. I also found the mainstream environmental community was very, very concerned and supportive. Also labor. I got a lot of people calling me, wanting to know what they should do. It was very overwhelming. Business leaders, labor leaders, civil rights leaders, environmentalists, elected officials, icons from across the American spectrum and that helped a lot.
TR: What would you say to people who criticize the NAACP for giving you this award?
VJ: First, I would say that in a time when we have double-digit unemployment and China is leapfrogging over us in creating the clean energy jobs of tomorrow, and we have all this wacky weather due to climate disruption, then honoring someone who’s made real progress trying to solve all three problems makes sense. I’ve actually made real progress on stuff that’s important to black Americans and all Americans.
Second, I would say that the fact of the award may be a signal that there may be more to the story that they haven’t heard yet, and it might be an invitation to inquire more deeply about the kind of coalitions that I’ve built and the passion that I have for our nation and for making America stronger.
I am probably the biggest champion for free-market solutions, at this point in my life, where I’ve evolved to over the past decade. I was probably the biggest champion for free-market solutions to the questions of poverty, energy and the environment. I’ve been one of the loudest champions for American jobs and American politics. I’ve been called the green Jack Kemp over my passion for innovation and market-based solutions for these problems for poor people and for all Americans. That may surprise people, some of these achievements.
If you look at what I’ve actually been fighting for, I have a best-selling book that lays out exactly what the agenda is. I wrote the definitive book on green jobs, got the first [green jobs] legislation passed, got the first global accord passed through the United Nations. I’ve initiated a pretty important global conversation. If you look at what I’m saying, progressives and conservatives should applaud my work because I’m focusing on low-income people and the environment.
And I’m not calling for more welfare; I’m calling for more work. I’m not calling for more entitlement programs; I’m calling for enterprise. I’m not calling for redistributing wealth; I’m calling for reinvigorating our energy sector and creating new wealth, so I would say to people who might be surprised about the [NAACP] award to see if there’s more to story. I think when people see what I’ve actually done, the red states, the blue states, will be supportive of the agenda.
TR: What are the biggest challenges you see to getting the message to black people that the green jobs movement affects them?
VJ: I think people need to see concrete results. When their cousin or auntie has a green job, it’s not going to be so academic. I think the next step is to move aggressively from inspiration to implementation.
TR: What are you planning to say when you receive the NAACP President's Award?
VJ: Where’s Beyoncé?
Sheryl Huggins Salomon is deputy editor of The Root.