The Van Jones Story
Pareene at Gawker has a good synopsis of who Van Jones was, how he evolved, and how he became an object of derision by the far right.
…he was a bookish black kid from Tennessee who went to Yale Law and moved to San Francisco and became a radical. Then he decided to use his law degree and smarts to clean up and make things better from inside the establishment.
He was, he openly acknowledges, a “full-on Marxist” in early ’90s California. He joined a revolutionary Marxist group and protested police brutality. Then he founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which combats over-incarceration, police brutality, and urban poverty and violence.
…he decided, in the late-’90s, to focus on “Green Jobs.” This is, you know, capitalism—he wants to create wealth, and use market forces to make the world and black communities better places!
And in 2008 he wrote a book called The Green Collar Economy, and it made the Times best-seller list…
He’s became mainstream, so much so that former e-bay CEO, Republican candidate for governor of California, and John McCain supporter Meg Whitman is “a big fan” of Van Jones.
Here’s the “why” of Van Jones being demonized:
The “why” is simple: he is a genuine left-wing liberal with a White House job. He is black. He used to be radical, and probably still has radical sympathies (you know, caring about poor black people and all that). He is, in other words, f***ing terrifying, if you frame his story right. (Gawker’s words)
And here’s the “how”:
World Net Daily is an old and hugely popular far-right conspiracy “news” website. We’ve discussed their promotion and popularization of the birther conspiracy but both their influence and insanity cannot be understated. They have a huge email list. The people on that list click on ads and spend money. WND is almost as profitable as Gawker Media. The RNC needs access to that list. So they humor them. And they sponsor them.
And these are the people who insist that there will be FEMA concentration camps and a NAFTA superhighway and a single North American currency and, yes, it is birther central.
WND discovered Jones in April. They took publicly available information about Jones’ civil rights past, his arrest at a Rodney King protest (he was not charged with anything because it was one of those illegal but common mass arrests) and his own statements about his youthful radicalism and made a scary, scary story called “Will a ‘red’ help blacks go green?”
Glenn Beck then picks up the story, and it snowballs from there. Eva Paterson of the Equal Justice Society was Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco during the Rodney King affair. Jones was her intern. She sets the record straight about what happened.
I sent a staff attorney and Van out to be legal monitors at a peaceful march in San Francisco. The local police, perhaps understandably nervous, stopped the march and arrested hundreds of people – including all the legal monitors.
The matter was quickly sorted out; Van and my staff attorney were released within a few hours. All charges against them were dropped. Van was part of a successful class action lawsuit later; the City of San Francisco ultimately compensated him financially for his unjust arrest (a rare outcome).
So the unwarranted arrest at a peaceful march – for which the charges were dropped and for which Van was financially compensated – is the sole basis for the smear that he is some kind of dangerous criminal.
He was not a “czar.” That’s a media term.
A March 10, 2009, press release announced that Van was hired by the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality – to work on her staff as a “special advisor.”
In other words, Van is within the normal White House chain of command, reporting to an office confirmed by the United States Senate, just like most White House staffers. Media outlets sometimes use the “czar” shorthand. But the facts show that Van has no mysterious role or extra-constitutional powers.
The 2005 article in the East Bay Express where Jones acknowledges he was a communist also explains how he moved away from and renounced those early views.
His new philosophy emphasizes effectiveness, which he believes is inextricably tied to unity. He still considers himself a revolutionary, just a more effective one, who has realized that the progressive left’s insistence on remaining a counterculture destroys its potential as a political movement. “One of my big heroes is Malcolm X, not because I agree with Malcolm, but because he wasn’t afraid to change in public,” he said.
Devising a new strategy for the left went hand-in-hand with finding a new approach in his personal life and relationships. Jones said he arrived at that by harking back to his roots. Although he had spent many childhood summers in “sweaty black churches,” and in college had discovered the black liberation theology that reinterprets the Christ story as an anticolonial struggle, he had pulled away from spirituality during his communist days. During his 2000 crisis, he looked for answers in Buddhism, the philosophy known as deep ecology, and at open-minded institutions such as the East Bay Church of Religious Science.
The last step was learning to ignore critics from within the movement who didn’t appreciate his new philosophy and allies. “I’m confused half the time about what I’m doing, but none of the things that leftists use to discipline each other into marginality have any power over me anymore,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re working with white people.’ Or ‘Who are you accountable to?’ A lot of the things that we say to each other to keep anybody from getting too uppity, too effective, I just don’t listen to anymore. I care about the progressive movements as they are, but I mainly care about all of our movements becoming a lot bigger and a lot stronger.”
Van Jones is a mainstream liberal. He got there by way of a far-left radical course that doesn’t sit well with the right. But, then, neither does liberalism. David Horowitz of Front Page Magazine is a right-wing conservative. He is a former Marxist whose parents were communists. He offered legal and financial assistance to Huey Newton and the Black Panthers. Horowitz, like Jones, has renounced his early radical activities. The difference is, Horowitz is a darling of the right because his path led him to conservatism; Jones’s path led him to liberalism. But I don’t hear Horowitz being demonized for who he used to be.