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The 21st Century’s Martin Luther King?

January 19th, 2009 · 2 Comments

The world has changed. The only two faces, the only names of people of substance that seem to compete with Mickey Mouse or Ronald McDonald or a Pokemon figure for instant awareness among children are Black: Barack Obama and Martin Luther King. The world does change. And, it can change for the better.

I have a dream …

Thus, my young children know who MLK is without even needing prompting from their parents. He is, even for my 4-year old, a hero, a name of excitement and power.

Thus, they paid attention when I took them to hear the man who I told them might be, hopefully will be the Martin Luther King of the 21st Century: Van Jones.

For those who follow my blogging, my focus is clear: energy and global warming challenges. I blog as part of my efforts to help us (US) chart and sail a course through the perfect storm created by Peak Oil, Global Warming, Peak Water, Population Growth, and the myriad other intertwined challenges to a good future for your, my, our children and all of us (and all for the U.S.).

Through my path of discovery, through my engagement on these issues, I have had a chance to find real heroes and Van Jones is truly a hero. He speaks with power, with insight, with passion, with eloquence to the challenges and opportunities of combining “green” issues with dealing with the challenges of equity in our society and across the globe.

A decade ago, Van created the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Working for justice in the system, opportunity in our cities, and peace in our streets.

One of the four initiatives within the center, the Green Collar Jobs Campaign:

The “green wave” is coming.

A new, multi-billion dollar economic sector is emerging, bringing new opportunities in green construction, clean technology, urban agriculture and energy. Our goal: ensure that this green economy is strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

Green-Collar Jobs Campaign creates opportunities in the green economy for poor people and people of color through policy advocacy, public outreach, and an employment pipeline – the Green Jobs Corps.

And, from this effort emerged Green For All which “has a simple but ambitious mission: to help build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.”

“It’s time the African American community had a part in the discussion on climate change,” said Jones. “We’re not going to solve global warming just with expensive consumer choices like buying hybrid cars and shopping for organic food. People need to realize that you don’t have to be white or wealthy to benefit from going green.”

Van Jones (the Ella Baker Center, Green For All), working with partners like the Apollo Alliance and 1 Sky, has had an impact. One of the bright lights of the 2007 Energy Bill was the $125 million for green-collar job training opportunities which provides enough resources for training about 30,000 workers a year in “green-collar” jobs. And, 20 percent of that is targeted for “a green Pathways Out of Poverty Program” to specifically get this taining to low-income Americans “who have the greatest need for training and career pathways in the clean-energy economy.” This $125 million is simply a beginning, a downpayment on what is required and the opportunities before us. But, that $125 million occurred in no small part because of Van Jones passion, eloquence, and strength.

The Green Collar Economy

Earlier this year, Van published The Green Collar Economy: How one solution can fix our two biggest problems. To be clear, this is a book that should be in every library in the nation and, preferably, required reading in high schools and universities across the country. (And, well, I’ve recommended it into multiple ‘book clubs’ … and recommend it highly to everyone reading this.)

Green Collar Economy is a thoughtful, impassioned, and inspiring merging of ‘environmentalism’ and ‘social justice’ into a vision to rescue the economy, save the environment, and enrich our society. In addition to providing a language for and striving to bridge different constituencies to create a new alliance to fight ‘poverty and pollution’ at the same time. And, in his lectures and in this book, he provides a language for discussing understanding “waste” in a much more holistic form. We can’t afford “waste” and “wasteful” practices: whether this is inefficient and polluting use of fossil fuels or economic practices that marginalized (and shatter) entire communities.

While the Stimulus Package is far from perfect and can be strengthened in many ways, many of the jobs to be created are “green jobs”. The power of his voice and the power of his advocacy are, in no small part, responsible for this. (And, note that the new Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, is a close ‘ally’ of Van’s …)

On this Martin Luther King Day, “I have a dream …” I have a dream that we, in the United States and Globally, find a path to combine the fostering of a climate-friendly economy with the path toward an equitable society. Eco-Equity. True sustainability requires this combination. As I look around at my Pantheon of Heroes, Van Jones stands out as a man who is playing a major role in fostering that dream.

We can all help make


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Ask yourself:
Are you doing your part to


  • Today is a day of National Service and if you are looking for a last minute opportunity to ‘serve’ the greater good, you might not need to look farther than your own home and your own life. You can take steps to Make Energy CENTS from the Home to the Globe. ReCharge America provides material for a “Home Energy Saving Tune Up Kit” as well as material to then use to encourage and help your neighbors and friends tune up the home. And, if you find it beyond your own skills, hiring someone to help you do it is helping propel and move forward the very green jobs and the green economy that Van Jones is helping enunciate.
  • This is a reprise of last year’s MLK post. In the past year, happily, Van’s voice has grown in power (as per a NYTimes bestselling author) and influence.
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Tags: Energy · environmental · environmental justice

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