by Heidi V. Buttersworth
It was not an ideal day, by any measure, for an outdoor speech, but Van Jones came prepared. Or rather, appropriately unprepared. “I don’t even know what to say at this point. Literally, all the talking points that everyone had four weeks ago, you just have to throw them in the garbage can now because of this movement.”
Jones nevertheless began by illustrating the deteriorating economic situation faced by the majority citizens of this country – he highlighted, for example, that veterans coming home have a higher unemployment rate than their peers “and their peers have a higher unemployment rate than everybody else.”
He jokingly asked the college students and graduates in the audience how many of them were “praying for an unpaid internship” which resulted in a round of laughter. “I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret in America. There used to be a time in this country when if you went to college, you got a thing called a ‘job’ – not an internship – and you could start something called a ‘career’. That has been taken away from millions and millions of young people, who are graduating every spring off of a cliff, into the worst economy since the Great Depression, and neither political party is saying anything about it.” Citing further examples, Jones illustrated how “the constituency of people who need real change has been growing for years.”
“When this thing [the Occupy Movement] came out…people stood back from it.” Jones said the questions posed by observers and the various criticisms showered on the OWS protesters, showed “just how tone-deaf this establishment is. People sitting on a white-hot stove have a right to holler, and they can holler any way they want as long as it’s nonviolent.”
Jones also tackled the “lack of demands” criticism of the movement. “Listen,” he said, “don’t pretend that now that there’s been a lack of demands. There’s been a lack of willingness in people in power to listen to the demands. And that is changing now, now they have to listen.”
The “Moral” Challenges
“This movement has not always had message clarity, I think that’s fair to say – but it has always had moral clarity. That’s the key here, the moral clarity of this movement – that some things are just not okay,” Jones said.
“It’s not okay,” he continued, that “the people working the hardest are falling the furthest behind, the people who are working the hardest can’t find a way to succeed, the people obeying the rules can’t find a way to succeed, and the people who break the rules every day on Wall Street can’t fail, because somebody said they’re too big to fail.”
Jones then spoke about what he termed “the moral challenge for those who don’t like this movement.”
“If you don’t like this movement, fine, then tell us what your solution is” that is different than four weeks ago, that is in proportion to the magnitude of the problem. “You say you want more tax breaks? We had the Bush tax breaks, didn’t create more jobs, the Obama tax breaks didn’t create more jobs, so you tell us, if you don’t like this movement, what your solution is.”
“This movement has a moral challenge too,” Jones said, “and it’s tricky, but we gotta talk about it now, because it will matter later: is this movement the 99% against the 1%, or is this the 99% for the 100%? Because if this is the 99% against the 1%, I can already write the story for you, it’s not a happy story.”
“But this is one of those rare movements, one of those very rare movements, that almost never emerges in human civilization, and if it’s a movement [like the ones associated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and with Ghandi] where the 99% stands for the 100%, then it cannot be stopped.”
Van Jones is a globally recognized, award-winning pioneer in human rights and the clean energy economy, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and American Progress Action Fund. TIME magazine called him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009. He is also the author of the one of the definitive books on green jobs, The Green Collar Economy.