Majora Carter Speaks


The Root: You have been a partner and ally with Van Jones for years. Is his resignation a huge loss for the green movement?

Majora Carter: I have every confidence that the movement will be stronger because of this. We knew we were vulnerable to attack because we were out there pushing toward an ideal that it would be better for everybody if we had an inclusive green economy. There's an idea that to be a successful American you had to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth. And we discovered that we could create the kind of local economies that could pay us all back and reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and be really proud of what we produced.


TR: Have you talked with Jones about his future?

MC: I haven't talked to Van yet. But he's doing his thing and will come out stronger for this.

TR: Are you disappointed in President Barack Obama?

MC: No, I'm not disappointed in the president. I'm more of the attitude that this is life. All of our lives, everything that we do is political—everything. And on some level, we're in a war. And things are difficult out there; God knows how they are. The beautiful thing about all of this is that it's going to give us an opportunity to be stronger. I am still incredibly hopeful about what we can accomplish, and nobody is going to take that away from me.


TR: There is talk that someone like yourself might be a good choice to replace Jones at the Council on Environmental Quality. What are your plans?

MC: I am very happy where I am, working the ground in areas like New Orleans and Detroit to show that a green economy has legs, that it has support, that people's lives can be changed in creating a more sustainable economy for people from the South Bronx and everywhere. If you apply the same care and understanding and, of course, the training to do these clean green jobs, these folks can change the face of the country.


TR: What do you wish had been done differently leading up to Jones' resignation?

MC: Unfortunately, Van's been the focus of a lot of negative attention for a while, but I think what the problem was that so many of us didn't understand how vulnerable this nascent movement is. Because we were getting support from so many people on the left; so many young people who were not traditional environmentalists were getting inspiration. It really troubled the powers that be—and we shouldn't be scared; it should make us more robust in our commitment to make sure that the green-collar economy becomes a reality.


TR: Is there suddenly a glass ceiling for outsider activists in the federal government?

MC: That's an interesting question. I would hope not. If there's a glass ceiling for progressives, it's like a sledgehammer—a lot of young organizers are probably shellshocked because of this. But no, honestly I do not feel that there’s a glass ceiling for anybody and especially not for those who are working toward justice and equality and freedom for people.


TR: Going forward, what are the top agenda items for Americans and Democrats who care about green jobs?

MC: The beautiful thing about working how and where I work is that America is working. It's on the move. It’s made up of tons of local levels. If you understood that—if you really understood that—you realize that we are the sum of all of our parts, and when each one of our individual parts is healthy, we have been a really healthy nation. I want to continue to do exactly what I'm doing on the ground and work toward that successful America.


TR: Politically, what have you learned from this controversy?

MC: We have to be strong and steadfast. Van took a major hit for all of us who believe in this work. We continue to believe in all of this. And in his statement, Van made it abundantly clear that this wasn’t about him; this was about making sure that the movement continues and that it makes a positive change.


Majora Carter is a 2005 MacArthur Foundation grant winner and the former director of Sustainable South Bronx. For more on green jobs and Van Jones, listen to her NPR program, The Promised Land.

Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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