The Occupy movement has been successful in drawing attention to the fact that the last 20 years have left most Americans behind when it comes to wages and wealth. While Washington continues in election-year gridlock, grassroots organizations across the country are putting forth some actual solutions for the 99 percent.
Former White House advisor and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, Van Jones joined Roland Martin from Los Angeles to discuss this and more.
MR. MARTIN: All right.
Folks, the Occupy movement has been successful in drawing attention to the fact that the last 20 years have left most Americans behind when it comes to wages and wealth. And while Washington continues in election-year gridlock, grassroots organizations across the country are putting forth some actual solutions for the 99 percent.
Joining us from Los Angeles is former White House advisor and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, Van Jones.
Well, Van, welcome back to “Washington Watch.”
MR. VAN JONES: Glad to be here.
MR. MARTIN: In your bestselling book Rebuild the Dream, you talk about the need for a movement. You and I have had this conversation on many occasions, and –
MR. JONES: Yes, yes.
MR. MARTIN: — a lot of young voters, a lot of people felt that Pres. Barack Obama really was leading a movement when he was elected. But as you and I talked about in the – before, the – the White House really, frankly, dropped that movement; really did not keep their sup- — supporters and followers truly engaged. Your position is the movement has to be led outside of the White House.
MR. JONES: It’s true. You know, I was a grassroots outsider for about 15 years, working on police brutality, as you know; working on juvenile violence; working on prison reform, police reform; started working on this idea of green jobs, trying to get folks work when they came home from jail.
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. JONES: And that idea of “green jobs, not jails” wound me in the White House for about six months, so I was a White House insider. Then I became a grassroots outsider again, so I’ve done a 360, and I’ve seen all the different ins and outs. And what I have come away with is simply this. You know, you have to have two forms of leadership to make real change.
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. JONES: LBJ, who was probably the most liberal president when it came to civil rights, when it came to anti-poverty – he didn’t lead the Civil Rights Movement. You didn’t have a president out there leading the marches. He was responding to The Movement. It took Selma. It took Fannie Lou Hamer. It took Ella Joe Baker. It took Dr. King. It took Bayard Rustin to lead The Movement. And then you have the – the leader who’s willing to be moved by that movement.
Our problem was when George Bush was in office, we had a movement for peace, but we had the wrong president. Then you had Obama in office, and we tended to sit down, and the Tea Party stood up. So, you had the right president, arguably, but the wrong movement – the Tea Party.
We’ve got to have the right president and the right movement. This book is about how we get both. Reelect the President, but if you think you’re just going to vote and hope and get something done, you – you have to vote and march and protest and sit-in and do all the things that we have traditionally done and not leave the streets to the Tea Party.
MR. MARTIN: Your book is not a love affair of the Administration, and – and you’ve offered –
MR. JONES: No, it’s – [chuckles] – not.
MR. MARTIN: — a very clear critique. Some people say, “Oh, Van – he is too tough.” And so what do you say about that? I just finished talking to Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and she said, “Look. I’m fighting for the same people I’ve been fighting for for years,” and people say, “Well, she shouldn’t criticize the President.” But you make the argument that you have to have a critical analysis, and sometimes that might not feel good for Obama supporters.
MR. JONES: Well, that’s true. People say, “Is this book pro-Obama or anti-Obama?”
And I said, “It’s pro-analysis.” Can we actually just get to the point where we can look at facts and look at strategy and look at outcomes without having to always deal with personalities and argue, you know, in – in this camp or that camp? At a certain point, we have to look at outcomes, and this book – it’s tough on the – on the White House. It’s also tough on the grassroots, because both sides have to look at our performance. And I think the White House made some critical mistakes and critical errors. I think we did, too, on the outside. And we’ve got to be able to have honest discussion. Listen, Barack Obama has a house. It’s – you know, he’s living in the White House. We[’ve] got millions of Black folks who don’t have a house. At a certain point, the people who don’t have a house have to be as important as the one person in the White House.
MR. MARTIN: One of the things that I have been saying with – with this whole Trayvon Martin story [is] that a moment –
MR. JONES: Yes.
MR. MARTIN: — can lead to a movement, and I first really started saying that with the election of Pres. Obama, and that is, “Will his election be a moment or will it actually lead to a movement?”
MR. JONES: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: And so to the person out there who is saying, “You know, Van, you know, Roland, that’s great; but I’ve been unemployed for the last 12, 14, 15 months. My” – “I’m struggling when it comes to paying my bills. I’ve lost my house” – the foreclosure crisis has wiped out 53 percent of Black wealth. You look at student loans as well. And so what do you say to that person who is sitting there saying, “Yeah, I was there. I was ridin’ – I was hard for the President in 2008; but, man, I just don’t feel it the same way I do in 2012”?
MR. JONES: Well, listen. First of all, since – well, I call – I call us the – the “post-hope” Democrats and independents. We’re not hope-less, but we[’re] post-hope, and – and we – and the – this book is really written for – for that community of – of people. That’s the – I think, the majority of people out here. We like this president. We’re not in love with him the way we were in 2008, but we don’t want a Tea Party president.
What I would say is, first of all, my organization, rebuildthedream.com – we’re fighting on the question of reducing these mortgages. We’re fighting on the question of student loans. The movement goes on, and I encourage people to – to be a part of rebuildthedream.com. It’s free to join, and we’re – we’re out there fighting.
But the other thing I’ll say is simply this, now. You[’ve] got to learn the lesson of 2008 and ’9, but also 2010, 2008: just voting will not give you everything you want. That’s obvious. Now, but 2010 – it’s true just voting won’t get you want you want, but if you don’t vote, you can lose everything that you got. So, you’ve got to both vote smart – reelect the President – and then march and do all the other activities that we have done – done in the past. Reenergize The Movement. That’s got to be the strategy: reelect the President and then reenergize The Movement, so we can lead the White House.
Barack Obama is not MLK behind the – in the Oval Office. Those are two, different roles. A head of state is one role. A movement is another role. All of us have responsibility for The Movement to get the best out of any president – this one and anyone after him.
MR. MARTIN: Folks, the book is called Rebuild the Dream.
Van Jones, always a pleasure. Thanks a bunch.
MR. JONES: Thanks for the opportunity.