Van Jones at Powershift: "We Can't Afford for Poor People Not to Have Solar Panels"


Photo credit: Chris Eichler courtesy of Energy Action Coalition

Van Jones is one of the most exciting and effective green leaders in the nation -- and it's precisely because his message, that fighting for clean energy, social justice, and job growth is best done in unison, stands to rouse wide swathes of the nation to the cause. He's already made a powerful impact, first by working to bring good jobs to neglected urban areas, then by penning a bestselling book on the green collar economy, and finally, by joining the Obama administration as its green jobs adviser. Of course, someone with such an effective, powerful message was bound to stir the ire of corporatist conservatives, who lead a smear campaign that ended in his ouster from the White House. Since then, Jones has laid low. So it raised some optimistic eyebrows when he was given billing as a keynote speaker at this year's Powershift (a gathering of 10,000 students and young leaders in the clean energy movement).

Jones had a few inspiring words for the youth at Powershift. And the first were: "I'm baaaaaaack!" From there, Jones launched into what was the most exhilarating speech of the conference (though Bill McKibben would give him a run for his money the next night), calling for activists to push harder to bring clean energy to poor communities, to fight for social equality as well as climate action, and to spread the message that renewable power is a vastly bipartisan message.

He impressed upon the crowd that installing solar panels is nice, but that we need to find was to make them available to everyone.

"Notice that the wealthy people have the solar panels, the poor people have the high energy bills," Jones said. "We can't afford for poor people not to have solar panels."

He stressed that we need to be doing more to hold both political parties accountable. And he noted that we'd do our best to help a smart friend who was pulling Cs and Ds to get back on track -- a reference to Obama's shortcomings in the clean energy and climate arena.

Jones also made some emphatic calls for the students to reinvigorate activism. One line in particular caused a stir: "if you have a smart phone, you have more computing power than the US government had when it put man on the moon.Stop using them as toys, and start sing them as tools to change American ... You have to make a decision not to wake your turn."

Another crucial point was that clean energy should be a bipartisan issue: "The stereotype is that solar power is just hippie power. But it's also cowboy power, farmer power, rancher power, and Appalachian mountain power." He stressed the importance of working to correct the stereotype, asking activists to

"shift the power at the Thanksgiving table when your uncle Joe who watches Fox News starts talking -- shift the power. This movement is not just for lefties. This movement is for everybody. You have an opportunity to say to your uncle Joe, don't you believe in liberty?

If you do, how can you be forced to live in a country where everyone is an energy consumer? Should we be energy producers? Shouldn't we have the right and the liberty to not be dictated to by energy companies .... Shouldn't we have liberty as Americans to power this country in a new way?

Finally, he closed out his speech by saying that he was "glad our sisters and brothers in the Tea Party are talking about liberty," but said it was important to recognize that liberty is just part of the equation -- the Pledge of Allegiance explicitly states "liberty and justice for all". In other words, we've got to have freedom, yes -- but we've also got to make sure that everyone can enjoy that freedom equally. The crowd went wild.

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