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Want Jobs? Rebuild the Dream

Van Jones is leading a national mobilization to rebuild the middle class—through decent work, fair taxes, and opportunities for all.
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May Day Parade photo by Giovanni Savino/

May Day Parade, New York City, 2011.

Photo by Giovanni Savino/

Sarah van Gelder: Are other organizations working with you, especially on that jobs agenda? Who’s at the core of this movement?

Jones: We have a number of patriotic organizations involved, including, The Center for Community Change, AFSCME, the Campaign for America’s Future, Change to Win, the Sierra Club, Green for All, and Progressive Democrats of America. And we expect to get a lot of patriotic and smart business folks to step forward.

Patriotic, responsible businesses in America are getting punished while these global corporations that call themselves American companies get away with murder. A lot of global corporations call themselves American corporations, but they treat America the way that a foreign corporation often treats countries we used to call Third World countries. They take, take, take, and give nothing back. When these global corporations want to use our court system or when they need the support of our military or they want to use our roads, then they’re American corporations. But when it’s time to create a job or to open up a plant or to declare their profits, all that’s done overseas with the tax havens and their off-shore operations. Those are the corporations, plus the worst of Wall Street, that are making the American Dream impossible. And so we have a very serious challenge.

The first step is to identify all of those constituents that need a new economy. We have identified five:

The long-term unemployed—at some point we’ve got to stop talking about extending their unemployment benefits and instead create a good employment program for millions of Americans.

I’ll turn my left cheek, my right cheek, and my other two cheeks, but once you get to the place where it’s clear that the country itself is imperiled, you have to stand up to the bullies.

Number two, veterans are coming home to nothing; there are 17 suicide attempts a day among our young veterans. We took them from a military battleground with support and now we’re throwing them into an economic battleground with no support. We can do better than that.

Number three, millennials are graduating off of a cliff into the worst job market since World War II. We need a youth employment program so that we don’t do long-term damage to the employment and income prospects of a whole generation.

Number four, all of the victims of foreclosures by banks and all of the families whose heads are being held underwater by bad mortgages need relief. American taxpayers and homeowners bailed out America’s banks, and yet America’s banks will not do the same favor for the American people. The bankers themselves would be homeless were it not for the generosity of the American people. There is potential for a movement there.

And fifth, our so-called public employees—our cops, firefighters, teachers, nurses—the backbone of our country, the backbone of every one of our communities. These are America’s everyday heroes. They’re the ones who never abandon America in a crisis. And yet, we’re supposed to throw a million of them under the bus this year alone. That’s morally wrong and indefensible.

Just those five constituencies are about 30 million Americans.

The job of the American Dream Movement is to bring together those Americans and others who are willing to stand up for a common-sense, balanced approach to our crisis, and who are not willing to throw away the American dream just so that rich folks don’t have to pay their taxes.

We think we can get the government to be Americans’ government, to be a partner to the American people economically:

The real threat to America is coming from folks who are not on television yelling and screaming. You never see them; they’re somewhere behind a closed door, but they’re doing more damage to America in some ways than our sworn enemies could ever dream of doing.
  • Tax Wall Street so that we can fund infrastructure.
  • Remove the subsidies from big oil and other big polluters, and fund the jobs of tomorrow with clean and green solutions.
  • Force banks back to the table with Americans, and keep Americans housed in a sane and fair way.
  • Also, let’s responsibly wind down these wars so we stop spending over $3 billion a week just on stationing troops overseas and supplying them. Imagine if we had $3 billion to spend in Detroit or New Orleans or Appalachia.

There are many ways for us to reallocate the dollars we have to put people back to work, to secure our safety net, to maintain our status as a middle-class country and a country where people who are not in the middle class have a shot at getting there. But we need a political movement to do that, and that’s what the American Dream movement is all about.

Online Exclusive: The Extended Interview

Sarah van Gelder:  What do you say to the folks who are Tea Party supporters? Are they welcome in this movement?

Van Jones: Well, they’re our sisters and brothers, too. We don’t want the Tea Party members to have to live with the catastrophe that will result from their victory. We don’t want Tea Party members living in communities where they smell smoke and there’s no fire station for 20 miles because of the cutbacks they’re cheerleading for. We don’t want Tea Party members living in homes where they have to wait five minutes, seven minutes, 18 minutes for somebody to respond to a 911 call because of these cuts. We don’t want the Tea Party to have their grandkids going to schools with 45 kids in a classroom, six books, and no chalk. So we’re fighting against the Tea Party in a political sense, but we’re fighting for the Tea Party in an economic, moral, cultural, and spiritual sense.

The real threat to America is coming from folks who are not on television yelling and screaming. You never see them; they’re somewhere behind a closed door, but they’re doing more damage to America in some ways than our sworn enemies could ever dream of doing. If some of these budgets get passed that they’re talking about, you could wipe out more American infrastructure than our sworn enemies could even dream of doing to us.

We admire the patriotism of the Tea Party and their concern for the country, but we think that their patriotism needs to be deepened so that it is more inclusive of all Americans. The Pledge of Allegiance, for example doesn’t stop with the word liberty. It goes on to say “and justice for all.”

Sarah van Gelder: Our readers have been following you for a long time and I know a lot of them were very concerned during the period of time where you were under attack. Now I see that Glenn Beck is at it again. How do you deal with that kind of hostility from Mr. Beck and others associated with Fox News?

Van Jones: With as much patience and compassion as I can. You know, I’m a human being, and this stuff hurts my feelings. Nobody wants to be portrayed even just at a dinner party or in a high school cafeteria differently than who you really are, let alone to be portrayed to millions of people on a daily basis the way I’ve now for almost two years, been misportrayed by Mr. Beck.

Glenn Beck, Fox News video stillDear Glenn Beck:
It's Not Conspiracy, It's Courage
Glenn Beck thinks the spread of anti-corporate protests
is a little too convenient.
But this is what happens when ordinary people discover their power.

But I’ve kept him in my prayers—he’s a part of our family prayers every night. But at this point I’ve had to make a decision that, you know, sometimes I have to stand up to the bully. And we can’t just let poison and lies continue to accumulate in the American system—not just about me but about other progressive, open-minded, big-hearted patriots being slandered and smeared as enemies of the country. That can’t just go on year after year.

We’ve seen the damage that’s built up in the American system because we haven’t challenged aggressively this kind of politics. Obviously Mr. Beck is an incredibly talented and gifted person. His gifts are worthy of a better cause than spreading this kind of hatred and fear in our country. I was very, very down and depressed for a long time, but like most Americans, you get knocked down, and you get back up.

I think most of the YES! Magazine readership will identify with this. You know, we’re not tough people. If you hit us, we’ll cry, if you say something bad about us, we’ll get our feelings hurt. But we are resilient people. We are slow to anger, but there is a line that should not be crossed in our country and that line has been crossed many, many times now by folks who just don’t share our moral sensibilities, our commitment to truth, our commitment to honest discourse, and our commitment to being one country. Those values are worth fighting for, and I intend to fight for them as aggressively as I know how going forward because we can’t solve the ecological crisis and we can’t heal the economic crisis as long as the country is sabotaged by the political machinations of folks who are very good as manipulating hysteria.

American Dream Reloaded
The American Dream, Reloaded

It's happening: The movement
to rebuild the dream means owning our stories about how it went wrong—and finding our own
ways to make it right.

I was studying Gandhi, one of my heroes, and I was so amazed to think about how we’re just like India was in some ways. We have millions and millions of people, and yet we’re being controlled by a small handful of folks at the top, namely, the renegades in our financial sector who just continue to abuse and mistreat the American people. We have sideshows and the politics of distraction from FOX TV and other places. Yet a tiny handful of people on Wall Street are making so much money off of the misery of the American people, they are a tiny minority in a democracy, and there’s 350 million of us—the rest of us—who are struggling and who deserve the country we were promised as kids, which was opportunity and a promise that tomorrow could be better than yesterday.

So, for me, I’ve come through my grief, I’ve come through my shock and disappointment, and I’ve come to a clearer place.

I’ll never go out and pick a fight with anybody. I’ll turn my left cheek, my right cheek, and my other two cheeks, but once you get to the place where it’s clear that the country itself is imperiled, you have to stand up to the bullies. There’s a very high principle that I live by, which is to treat everybody with love and respect and dignity and honor, and to be an example to my sons in doing that. There’s only one principle higher than that principle, and that principle is making sure the truth is not crushed by forces that do not have the best interests of the people or the planet at heart. It’s time now for us, I think all of us, to honor that higher principle and to fight for our country.

Sarah van Gelder newSarah van Gelder interviewed Van Jones for New Livelihoods, the Fall 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is executive editor of YES!


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