What Van Jones' Appointment Means for Community Organizers

Authors: Camille Cyprian

Camille Cyprian is a Green For All Academy Fellow, and the Training Organizer for Campus Camp Wellstone. She recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with an individually designed major of social justice and community organizing.

This post originally appeared on March 11th, 2009, on the Wellstone Action blog - wellstone.org


Yesterday, Van Jones was named as the Obama administration's Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation. This appointment comes on the heels of some exciting circumstances, events, and conferences that have happened just this year (and we're only 3 months in). But what does having Van Jones as this special advisor mean, not only for "enviros," but for community organizers in general?

The first thing that seems striking to me, personally, is that the love that community organizers gave to Obama, because he was one of us, is well warranted! It wasn't a façade, it wasn't "poli-tricks," it wasn't a gimmick - Obama is REALLY a community organizer. The fact that Obama's administration selected a community organizer to be a special advisor for the piece of policy that could ultimately be responsible for saving this nation's pocketbook and the planet, is not only note worthy but responsible, and smart.

Secondly, I mentioned above that this appointment comes on the heels of some exciting events, et cetera, that took place just this year. The Good Jobs Green Jobs conference, that took place in early February, was an exciting place to be at the moment in time it took place (right as the Senate was debating President Obama's "Green" stimulus package).

Like most conferences it had its fantastic moments such as Green for All's final day plenary, and the talk of working models that are in place in states all over this nation - like Chicago and Oakland to name a few - that coincide with providing pathways out of poverty. And, of course there were some moments that could be improved upon, for instance, there still seems to be some major conversations had between community groups and labor unions.

Coming out of the conference there arose some new inspirations as well as some big questions for me: One conversation that was lacking though out the main pulse of the conference was how we ensure that vulnerable communities, communities that are least responsible but most impacted by the pollution based economy, get access to this new developing green economy. And I'm not simply talking about jobs; I'm talking about how to those communities, the community that I am apart of, get access to the money that will be flowing from the federal government...if green jobs get put in the stimulus package.

Then, just a few weeks later, comes this "Green" stimulus bill that gets passed by the administration, and guess what? It fully funds Green Jobs...$500 million dollars for training in new jobs to build the green-collar economy..

Next, a mere 10 days after the stimulus package is passed, there's the largest youth conference on climate change EVER! Power Shift 2009 in which 12,000 young people attended and participated in what's slated to be the biggest lobby day this country has ever seen. The atmosphere was crazy, inspired, and ready for action but I was still missing some key pieces; inspired, but still had some major questions about what this really means for people and how it plays out for folks in my community specifically.

Questions like: How to we get access to those funds to foster green entrepreneurship within our communities; how do we ensure that we have enough training programs and have access to those educational and advancement opportunities; how do we talk with labor unions and work together to invest in and create apprenticeship programs that not only provide jobs for their workers; but also produce a pathway out of poverty for new workers from our community; how do we insure that people from the community are involved in and hired for the massive work that will be done on infrastructure thru this legislation? And I can think of about 20 more questions still bouncing around in my head.

Having Van in this position settles my mind on some of those questions. Because, I know that he is going to be a great voice to have on the federal policy level. BUT we still have work to do! We can't depend solely on Van to carry our ideas, values, and beliefs about what green jobs should be on his own. We've still go to show up in DC, we've still got to show up in our states, and local governments. We still have to keep a watchful eye of the funds when they come down, so that we can insure that it's being used justly. We still have to make sure that training opportunities are available to the communities we represent, especially in vulnerable communities.

We can celebrate the federal victory, we can even celebrate the appointment of Van to this highly important position - but we cannot be content. Not until our vision of green jobs becomes a reality, and there are real opportunities for people of color, and low-income people to get the training they need in the new green economy, to have a pathway out of poverty, to advance in their work, live with dignity and integrity. So all people can breathe clean air, eat good food, and enjoy the fullness of what this planet has to offer (like seasons).

That's my humble opinion - share your thoughts on any number of these things in the comments below.



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