It also appeared as a viewpoint article in the Kalamazoo Gazette on Wednesday, November 9.
Many Baby Boomers have been recently saying how glad they are to be at the end of their lives and careers rather than at the beginning. Who could possibly muster hope in the face of the declining job market, an assault on the middle class, environmental degradation, financial ruination, dismemberment of public services and the high cost of education?
And yet, after hearing Van Jones speak Wednesday night at Kalamazoo College, I wished I were 20 again.
Jones is an environmental advocate, civil rights activist, and attorney. He is a co-founder of three non-profit organizations and author of Green Collar Economy. In March 2009 Jones was appointed by President Barack Obama to the newly created position of Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation but became “embroiled in a controversy” over his past political activities and resigned six months later.
“You have an extraordinary opportunity to write history in today’s highly unusual situation,” said Jones to more than 400 students. “In just six weeks, you have totally transformed what’s possible in this country.”
He was referring to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has proliferated to 900 U.S. cities and spread from London to Sydney as a protest against corporate greed and income inequality.
“Your generation is bigger than the Baby Boomers, more diverse, more technologically savvy, ecologically aware and communitarian in values,” said Jones. “Your enthusiasm made history in 2008 [with the election of Barak Obama], then you sat down in 2010 and made history [with the GOP takeover of Congress and state governorships] and then got up again in 2011 [with Occupy Wall Street]. Whatever you do, you make history—and now you have a choice to restore the nation.”
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this youthful generation?
Yet, Jones has been attacked for promoting green jobs because it makes money for Al Gore (who was already rich), and for being a militant racist, radical Marxist, 9/11 conspiracy theorist and GOP bad-mouth (according to Glen Beck).
Such name calling is a tactic used by people who would rather ignore our world’s predicaments. They pooh-pooh climate change, want to drill for more oil and natural gas, mine more coal, minimize regulations, reduce taxes, blame immigrants and gays for our problems and cut public services.
Jones, however, is clearly focused on the future and he has an impressively long list of accomplishments to prove it, including TIME Magazine’s recognition of him in 2009 as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
“Everything good for the environment is a job,” Jones said. “People could be put back to work by building a green economy with solar panels, wind turbines and retrofitting homes.”
So far, 2.4 million green jobs have been created including 100,000 in the solar industry and 100,000 in wind with three million more if Congress passed the President’s jobs bill, according to the Brookings Institution.
Finding energy sources should be of particular concern since fossil fuels are too limited in supply and too dirty to burn for our health and the earth’s. This fact is not only accepted by environmental “hawks” but by the U.S. military, which is the “biggest driver of green energy,” said Jones.
A September report of the Pew Charitable Trusts explains how and why the Pentagon is reducing its use and reliance on fossil fuels. “From Barracks to Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America’s Armed Forces” states that DoD clean energy investments increased 300 percent between 2006 and 2009, from $400 million to $1.2 billion, and are projected to eclipse $10 billion annually by 2030.
The Pentagon also assumes climate change is integral to every scenario of its planning process, said Jones, because it is seen as a dangerous “threat multiplier,” which means that if left unchecked, global warming could lead to resource wars, environmental refugees and failed states in Asia, Africa and the Middle East—places where American troops are stationed today.
“We can’t drill and burn our way to prosperity but we can invest and invent [in a green economy],” said Jones who called on the audience to be enterprising entrepreneurs, use smart technology to its best advantage, and re-invent the American Dream.
That’s pretty smart thinking—especially for a reputed communist—because it taps the can-do spirit of America and gives us something to work on together just like it did when we defeated Hitler, layed down an Interstate highway system and blasted off to the moon.
Jones considers addressing today’s problems as a “moral challenge,” akin to the movements for peace, justice and human dignity led by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mandela. Today, we not only m must deal with these things but with the very survival of our planet. So we need the wisdom of all people, he said, and that includes the wealthiest one percent with the 99 percent.
The infighting and high-stakes lobbying practices gripping Congress are not helping the country. Some people even believe representative democracy is over. However, now is the time for Americans to put our nation back on track ourselves. As 96-year-old Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs says: “We are the leaders we have been waiting for.”
The young get this and the rest of us—no matter what our age—can follow their lead by “occupying hope” that we can take on the challenges of our world and work enthusiastically toward the future.