A Green (and Brown) Voice in the White House

By now you've probably heard the good news that Van Jones will join the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) as its Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Needless to say, we here at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights are ecstatic. It was just 13 years ago that Van co-founded our organization -- working out of a closet. (Yes, a closet!) Today, we're a thriving social justice action center, and Van is headed to Washington to work for President Obama.

Based in Oakland, California, the Ella Baker Center has tackled some of the most troubling issues plaguing urban America by promoting positive alternatives to violence and incarceration. Over that time, we've seen the fruits of our labor come in the form of victories such as landmark juvenile justice reform, effective violence-prevention policy, and successful implementation of the historic Oakland Green Jobs Corps.

But never in our organization's history have we seen a moment more beautiful than this. It's truly remarkable to have one of our own ascend to the nation's highest levels of power -- and almost unbelievable that he's been tapped to craft an inclusive green agenda that ensures the emerging clean energy economy is strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

Van's dream for a green and equitable future for all began with a straightforward idea that was elegant in its simplicity years ago: Fight poverty and pollution at the same time.

Back then, "going green" wasn't as sexy, appealing or marketable as it is now. But Van was tireless in his commitment to move our cities past the pollution-based economy that destroyed the planet and made people -- most often people of color and low-income people -- sick. There were more doubters, more cynics, and more critics than you could count challenging these groundbreaking ideas, but we kept at it, spreading our "Green Jobs Now" message from conference to conference, city to city, town hall to town hall.

As all things green eventually became all the rage, the term "green-collar job" was tossed around with increasing frequency. It was up to us to protect and promote the true ideals behind the trendy rhetoric. Van has been steadfast in calling for not only the creation of clean energy jobs, but also for job training for people with barriers to employment, so they, too, can reap the benefits. The vision -- the same vision Van now brings to the Obama administration -- is an equitable America where the people who most need work are connected with the work that most needs doing.

Our work continues to gain momentum. Today, the Ella Baker Center's Green-Collar Jobs Campaign is partnering with dozens of California's most influential and respected organizations to form the "California Green Stimulus Coalition." This new coalition is working to make sure officials in California -- at the state, regional, and local levels -- use federal stimulus funds in the greenest and most equitable way possible.

Van's vision for an equitable America was, and remains to this day, a guiding light for our movement. Having worked with him for 10 years, I witnessed his tireless passion every day. His commitment to building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty didn't stop with his work at the Ella Baker Center. After moving on from our organization, Van went on to found Green For All, an organization that builds upon the green-collar jobs work we've done here in California at the national level. Green For All has been advocating for -- and winning -- local, state and federal commitments for job creation, job training, and entrepreneurial opportunities in the emerging green economy, especially for people from disadvantaged communities.

What this movement has already been able to do is truly extraordinary. Working together, we've brought to light real solutions to the economic and environmental crises facing the country and the world, while creating a huge shift in the thinking of millions of Americans who finally understand that global warming is real. We can't drill and burn our way out of the problems created under the gray economy; we must invest and invent in a green pathway out of this mess.

For years, Van has helped lead this movement with solution-oriented ideas that provide some of our most marginalized communities with effective tools to create lasting change in their lives. He has co-founded dynamic organizations to carry the work forward, and is leaving Green For All in good hands. Now, Van is going to help chart a green pathway for the nation.

To have someone from our family advising the White House on how to put America back to work in a new, clean, and green economy brings renewed hope to our movement. During this time of global war, global recession, and global warming there is no one more effective at addressing the needs of the everyday American than Van Jones.