How the Green Movement, Progressives & the Obama Administration Alike All Failed Van Jones

van jones photo

photo: Center for American Progress Action Fund via flickr

Saying what I think many of us have been thinking, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope has just written a really poignant new piece on how, in his words, the environmental community, progressives and the Obama administration all blew it in not supporting Van Jones against the onslaught of right wing attacks which led to his resignation. In short, we all expected it to blow over, and were wrong:We Failed to See the Looming Threat
Pope says when the Van Jones lynch mob started forming, none of us took it seriously enough. When Jones' statements regarding right wingers as "assholes" and George Bush talking like a "crack-head" Pope didn't think an apology was necessary -- considering that Dick Cheney had lowered the bar for political discourse when he publicly told Sen. Patrick Leahy to go "fuck yourself".

Politics Filtered Through Race
Pope goes on to really nail what all of this is about at the deepest root, entrenched power dynamics and racism. Referring to not realizing the seriousness of the situation, he called it a "mistake" not to respond. Then added:

So was the decision by the White House to treat the initial attacks not as part of an assault on the president but, instead, to allow them to be viewed as being about Van Jones. What we underestimated was the power of the fact that both Jones and Barack Obama are black. Yes, the hysteria was about politics -- I don't think Fox News really cares about Jones's ethnicity -- but it was enabled by race. Calling Bush a "crack-head" is seen by a large part of America as worse than calling him "addict-in-chief" because crack is not just a drug -- it is a drug used largely by black people. It reminds those Americans who are still uncomfortable with Barack Obama that we have a black president.

Fear of Change is at the Heart of This
Let's briefly take that sentiment out farther to the debate over health care, to opposition to the climate bill, and reduce this to the most basic level. It's ultimately all about fear. Fear that the comfortable dynamics of that past decades are being disrupted. Fear of change. On the part of large corporations (be they in health care/pharmaceuticals or dirty coal producers) it's fear that profits are going to drop.

How we manage and dispel that fear is the challenge.

We Must Meet Fear With Openness & Compassion
While it's tempting to stoop to the level of those thriving on perpetuating that fear, we cannot and should not. The green movement must see the challenge for what it is -- as Pope later says in his piece, it was "organized by Republicans as part of a conscious strategy, and it is only the first" -- and face it strongly, squarely, with civility and confidence. And perhaps most importantly, openness and compassion.

Read more: Carl Pope's Blog
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