“The President and the country need your help.”
This was the message from Van Jones to an audience of more than 150 inmates in the San Quentin Protestant Chapel.
On Friday, March 13, 2009, three days before reporting to begin his job at the White House as President Obama’s Special Adviser for Green Jobs and Enterprise and Innovation, Jones said, this was one of his last public appearances where he could give his unvarnished personal views. “Today I can say what I want to say, what is important to me and what is in my heart,” Jones said, explaining that beginning at 9 a.m. the next Monday all his remarks would be prefaced by, “the President says.”
“This moment here at San Quentin can be a turning point for the whole human race,” Jones said. “San Quentin can take healing and recovery to a different level.”
Jones explained that San Quentin inmates are in a unique position to help because they are individuals that have gone through breakdowns and recovery. Some of the top minds in this country “never had a bad day or a bad year,” he said. “Crisis is something that is new” to them, but not new to prison inmates, he explained.
“Sometimes a breakdown is what is required before you can have a breakthrough. The country is going through a breakdown, it can lead to a breakthrough,” Jones said.
Jones argued that it is useful to “talk to people who have walked through the process of recovery. Sometimes it’s not easy, not always a straight line.”
The “Green Agenda” that Jones described means giving a second chance not only to things, through recycling, but also to people. “If a soda can, can have a second chance, can a human being? he asked.
Jones said there are no throw away children, people, communities or nations. “We need genius. We need entrepreneurial brilliance, people who can re-imagine possibilities -we need you,” Jones said to the San Quentin inmates assembled in the Protestant Chapel. “Some of the wisdom and genius we need is not going to be found on Wall Street, it’s going to be found in this room.”
Declaring, “There is an opportunity to do something extraordinary in San Quentin,” Jones proposed building a cadre of people who could “re-power and retrofit America.” He explained that the stimulus bill that Obama passed provides between $100-$150 billion for renewable energy and to create new industries.
Describing Obama as the “first green President,” Jones urged that we should build a green economy that provides equal opportunity. “You should be able to access the opportunities,” Jones stated.
Jones sees the green agenda as “a return to wisdom. Every time they are saying the word green, they are paying homage to your great- great grandmother” who understood our relationship to the earth.
Jones explained that everyone comes from tribal people and the “whole of the earth is holy land.” Colonizers are responsible for imposing a different view of the earth than the one the indigenous peoples had, he explained. Colonizers said that the earth can be bought and sold and that only things above are holy. Colonizers referred to indigenous peoples as savages for considering trees, rocks and rivers as sacred. Colonizers “put a price tag on everything,“ he said.
He said, “because of Barack Obama American is back for the very first time. We will take America forward.”
Jones described the green economy as a fiscally conservative approach to money. Spending on green lowers energy consumption, creates jobs and reduces pollution through retrofitting, he explained.
Jones’ appearance at San Quentin was sponsored by a council consisting of San Quentin self-help groups, Keep’in It Real; T.R.U.S.T.; M.O.M.A.S.; REDEEM and with the assistance of the National T.R.U.S.T. and Urban Strategies.
Michael Harris introduced Jones to an audience that included ActingWarden Wong and Chief Deputy Warden Cullen.
Describing Jones as “Yale trained and community tested,” Harris said, “This is a special day. We have a distinguished speaker. He is about to change the world. I know that’s a powerful statement. But when you hear him speak, I think you’ll agree with me.”
Jones, a 1993 graduate of Yale Law School, is the author of The Green Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems .He is the founder of Green for All, which aims to create jobs and opportunties in the green economy for those in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. His long time involvement in the civil and human rights movements includes the co-founding of Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Harris proposed the creation of a Green Technology Learning Center in San Quentin in honor of Van Jones whose ideas for uplifting the disenfranchised will be part of President Obama’s economic recovery program.
Chief Deputy Warden Cullen said, “We are committed to this. We are going to be involved. We are going to make San Quentin the first institution in the country to go green.” He asked for patience in accomplishing these goals.
“The President and the country need your help.”