A Green Dream Deferred?

Cornel West, Malia Lazu, and more on what the green movement would look like if Van Jones were still in the White House.
Van Jones, photo by Mark Taylor

Photo by Mark Taylor

In 2008, Time Magazine named Van Jones one of its "Heroes of the Environment" for his work as a climate activist dedicated to the creation of an inclusive green economy. In March of 2009, Jones was appointed by President Barack Obama to be Special Adviser for Green Jobs, a new position which quickly gave Jones the label of "Green Czar."

Jones' work in the Green movement was derailed in July of 2009 by controversy over his past political activities and allegations of ties to Marxist organizations. Only two months after the scandal broke, Jones was forced to resign from his post. Since leaving the White House, his position was never replaced.

We asked some of America's leading thinkers and political activists one simple question:

"What would the Green Movement look like if Van Jones were still in the White House?"


Dr. Cornel WestDr. Cornel West, Professor at Princeton University

"Van Jones means so much to me. He was here at Princeton. I have a great love and great respect for him.

I would say that if Van Jones was in the White House, there would be a strong prophetic voice for poor and working people and a brilliant progressive figure conversant with the constraints of public policy. This unique combination of idealism and realism trumps any vulgar cynicism too often operative in the White House."


Julian Mocine-McQueenJulian Mocine-McQueen, San Francisco League of Young Voters

"I think that having Van in the White House was an incredible opportunity to have a true visionary help set a course for green economic development and sustainability. Having said that, I truly believe that Van's values and vision are still represented by many of the president's advisers and President Obama himself. I think that the political climate, as it exists now, will make it hard for the president to set a really innovative path. The effects of big money and lobbyists are still incredibly strong with or without Van.

I think the only way we'll be able to see the president act out the vision of someone like Van is to strengthen the people's movement. Van was cool because he was bringing the people's voice, but he was only one person. It is our duty as citizens and activists to use our voice and our numbers to demand that the country get serious about prioritizing the transition to a green and just economy."


Malia LazuMalia Lazu, MIT Fellow leading the Urban Labs

"The idea that diversity at every level of decision-making will promote a healthy democracy is a core belief of progressive politics. However, diversity only brings benefits when different thinking is given a real voice in the strategic process. There was hope that change in the White House would mean a change on how politics is done. Hires of thoughtful leaders like Van Jones and Patrick Gespard represent a new set of ideas and political solutions that would help invite the most oppressed in this country to be educated and get meaningful employment by rebuilding their communities.

Van is a strong leader, who is well-respected in the streets and the Beltway; I would dare suggest that he is in a better position to influence White House policy now that he is no longer there.

Lobbyists and money heavily influence White House strategy. I do not believe the White House, as an institution, allows for experts like Van Jones to push for a more radical political strategy. Van is a strong leader, who is well-respected in the streets and the Beltway; I would dare suggest that he is in a better position to influence White House policy now that he is no longer there."


Ethan CaseEthan Case, Development Director at SustainUS

"I work with SustainUS, a youth-led, volunteer-run group advancing sustainable development through youth empowerment and I have had a growing sense over the past few months that young people are fed up with the state of environmental justice. We need concrete steps toward a future where our generation and our children are not suffering from the devastating effects of poisoned water, dirty air, and climate change. Recently, young environmental leaders like Courtney Hight have openly criticized the president, while Tim DeChristopher and others have called for young people to participate in acts of civil disobedience to communicate the demand for environmental justice to our unresponsive leaders.

If Van Jones were still working for the White House, We might hear the president say something about how the immense cost of environmental inaction now will have a huge impact upon our generation later. We might hear the president talk about how mountain top removal is ruining the health of Appalachian citizens and we might hear the president say that the CO2 we burn today will mean the destruction of millions of homes in Bangladesh and the South Pacific in fifty year's time.

If Van Jones were still around, we might see an administration upholding environmental justice rather than an administration asking us to wait until after the next election."


Chuck CreekmurChuck Creekmur, CEO at Allhiphop.com

“I believe that Van Jones would have changed the face of the Green Movement in the way President Obama changed the way people see the presidency. Through the White House, he would have been able to introduce 'being green' to an impoverished or ignorant segment of the population that wouldn’t normally care about the environment.

More importantly, Van Jones is a genius and a trailblazer that has applied his passion to the environmental causes. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t have the President’s ear, because this is one of the most pressing issues facing our generation.”


  • Van Jones: We're ready to take on the "wrecking ball agenda" targeting our deepest values.

  • What do the deficit, budget, and tax battles now raging across America and Europe have to do with solving climate change? More than you think.
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