It makes me sad and a little sick that Van Jones, the White House Green Jobs Czar, was forced to resign after being targeted by a vicious smear campaign. The Obama administration lost a brilliant mind who worked day and night to, as Van would say, “get the greenest solutions to the poorest people”. Indeed, Van did as much as anyone to put the concept of the Green Collar Economy on the map, including publishing a best-selling book with that title. More than that, he was one of the nation’s most pragmatic environmental visionaries, someone who was always thinking up practical, pattern-changing solutions to massive climate problems.
Van grew up in a small town in Tennessee, went to a provincial college, and wound up graduating from Yale Law School, launching a number of important nonprofit organizations, and winning way too many awards to count, including being named to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list. He’s a remarkable American success story, eloquently captured in Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker profile.
I tried to get 15 minutes with Van on every trip to DC because I always knew I’d learn something. He was generous enough to fit me in even though he was going 100 MPH for 12 hours every day doing the work of the country. Every time I saw him he was a model of patience and pragmatism, adroitly sidestepping the petty politics of DC and advancing America’s energy and employment agenda. I loved how he always thought three-, six-, nine-months ahead, set targets and then went about achieving them. Van grew up in the church, and often used Biblical references to illustrate his points – most recently, saying that activists needed to act less like David and more like Noah, focusing our energies not on throwing stones but on building a civilization-saving Ark.
Any company would want Van as its chief executive officer, any church would want him as a bishop. I felt proud as an American to have him running the Green Jobs shop for all of us.
This is a loss for the White House. There is only one Van Jones. But if I know Van, he’s already thinking of other ways to serve the country that he loves. Maybe he’ll launch another nonprofit organization, write another book, start a new advocacy movement. Whatever it is, it will make people’s lives better and our country stronger.
Ani Difranco once wrote, “I am a patriot, I have been fighting the good fight.” That describes Van perfectly.