- Van Jonesformer green jobs adviser in the Obama White House. He is longtime environmental advocate and author of The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. He is the co-founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change, and Green for All.
More than 10,000 people converged in Washington, D.C., this past week to mobilize around the issue of climate change at the Power Shift 2011 conference. Van Jones, a longtime environmental advocate and former green jobs adviser in the Obama White House, gave the keynote address. “We pull out of the ground death, and we burn it in our engines. And we burn death in our power plants, without ceremony,” Jones said. “And then we act shocked when, having pulled death out of the ground and burned it — we act shocked when we get death from our skies in the form of global warming and death on our oceans in the form of oil spills and death in our children’s lungs in the form of asthma and cancer.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Washington, D.C., where more than 10,000 people gathered this past week to mobilize around the issue of climate change. While Tax Day Tea Party gatherings of a few hundred scattered around the country made the news, this massive gathering, Power Shift 2011, was largely ignored by the media.
Among those who spoke was Van Jones. He wrote the bestselling book, The Green Collar Economy, and he served as the green jobs adviser in the Obama White House in 2009. He addressed the Power Shift gathering here in D.C.
VAN JONES: When you get your green career, don’t leave anybody behind. We have something strange happening in our economy. You notice that the wealthy people have the solar panels, and the poor people have to pay the big energy bills. And people will tell you, “Well, that’s all right. The poor people, they can’t afford the solar panels, Van. You can’t complain about this. It’s just economics. They can’t afford the solar panels. How can you complain that they don’t have them?” Power Shift. Shift the power, and shift the conversation, because the truth is that we can’t afford for poor people not to have solar panels. The earth can’t afford for poor people not to have solar panels. That’s the truth. Shift the power. Shift the conversation. It doesn’t make any sense.
I love rich folks, but they tend to live in the hills, where it’s shady. Poor folks tend to live in the flatlands, where it’s hot. It’s fine to have the solar panels on the rich folks’ houses where it’s shady, but how about we put some solar panels on the poor folks’ houses where it’s hot, so instead of them having to write checks to the energy company, the energy company can write them some checks, and they can be able to put some food on the table and have a good life? How about that, America? Shift the power. Shift the power.
You can’t do anything by yourselves. Your generation has to stand together. You don’t know yet, but the entire planet, the children of all species, are banking on you. You are the great hope. D.C. is having a bipartisan failure to rescue this economy, to rescue this planet. And while they’re stuck on stupid here in D.C., your generation is rising. You are the biggest generation of Americans we’ve ever had. The last time we had a generation your size, even remotely, was the baby boomers. And when the baby boomers came of age, they completely transformed America. When the baby boomers hit, we had had 244 years of enslavement, we had had 100 years of Jim Crow segregation, and people your age, when they hit, broke the back of Jim Crow in four years and put us on the trajectory to have a black president. A generation your size did that for America. That’s what a generation your size did for America.
You have to make a decision not to wait your turn. Dr. King was 25 years old in Montgomery. The Freedom Riders were 19 and 20 years old. The founders themselves were in their twenties and in their thirties. You have to make a decision not to wait your turn. Don’t let anybody tell you you’re going to be the leaders of tomorrow. Tomorrow is not promised. You must be the leaders of today, Generation Power Shift. You’ve got to be the leaders today. Shift the power.
Shift the power politically, and don’t let anybody tell you that you should only hold one party in this town accountable. You have to be wise enough to hold both parties to high standards. Both parties. Hold this whole town accountable. Hold people, but keep them accountable, because that’s how you can shift the power.
And don’t stop there. Don’t stop there. It’s not just shifting power in the political sense. We need you to shift the power in our energy system, because we have an energy system and a civilization that is powered by death. The civilization that you live in, that you were born in, is fueled by death. That’s not hyperbole. Why do they call them fossil fuels? Because they’re living? Or because they’re dead? We take oil, a substance that has been dead for 60 million years, and we pull it out of the ground. We take coal, which has been dead for 300 million years, and we dig holes to pull it out of the ground. We pull out of the ground death, and we burn it in our engines. And we burn death in our power plants, without ceremony. And then we act shocked when, having pulled death out of the ground and burned it — we act shocked when we get death from the skies in the form of global warming and death on our oceans in the form of oil spills and death in our children’s lungs in the form of asthma and cancer. Let’s stop fueling our society based on death and start using living things. Let’s start using living things now.
So don’t let anybody divide you. I love that we have a movement of people in America now talking about liberty: our sisters and brothers in the Tea Party. I’m glad they’re talking about liberty. And we need to understand that we believe in liberty in this movement. But we’re not stopping with just the first word in the Pledge of Allegiance. I love liberty. Given what’s happened with my ancestors, nobody loves liberty more than I do. But the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t stop there. The Pledge of Allegiance says, “Liberty and justice for all.” “Liberty and justice for all.” And that’s what your movement is about: liberty, yes, and justice — justice for the immigrants, justice for the lesbians and the gays, justice for the African Americans, justice for women, justice for the rural poor, justice for the Native Americans. “Liberty and justice for all.” Shift the power! Shift the power! Shift the power! Shift the power! Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Van Jones, former green jobs czar at the White House, author of The Green Collar Economy.