BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Van Jones, President Barack Obama’s former green jobs adviser who heads the “Rebuild the Dream” organization, keynoted a rally and a “mass action event” at the Hawaii State Capitol Tuesday night to promote “economic fairness” and “economic justice.” (see the video here)
Environmental activists groups, a union, and the University of Hawaii organized the five-hour event to promote legislation that would establish a State Partnership Bank, or a “clean” and “green” bank, to fund green energy projects, as well as “highlight other legislation that would make the local economy more just and sustainable.”
If Hawaii lawmakers establish a state bank, it will be only the second one in the country, and in some proposals being floated at the capitol, the governor chairs the bank, union leaders serve as directors, and Democrat lawmakers appoint the remaining board. Republicans, who make up just 9 of 76 seats in the legislature, oppose the establishment of a state bank because they say the institution will be financed by taxpayers, will be led by political insiders and will loan money to people for projects that no private bank would authorize, but they are outgunned.
Jones, author of the New York Times bestseller The Green Collar Economy, said Hawaii is one of 10 stops on his tour of the “front lines of the fight for the future of this country.”
“Each of our 10 targeted urban, suburban, and rural stops across America will support a strategic state initiative, such as making corporations pay their fair share, and create a replicable model for grassroots action,” Van Jones proclaimed, stating the movement is a “cultural, political, spiritual and educational vehicle bringing together tens of thousands of everyday people in the movement for economic justice and a new economy.”
In his keynote, Jones did not directly address the bank legislation or other legislation pending in Hawaii. Instead he spoke of the dream being “under threat.”
“Not the American dream they talk about on TV,” Jones said. “There are two American dreams. One of them I call the ‘American fantasy.’ You know that one? Everyone is going to be rich. Everybody. And we’re all going to be able to ride out to the great white suburbs, get a McMansion, get flat-screened TV to cover up the holes in our lives. That is the American fantasy, which is turning out to be the American nightmare. It is dying out on its own accord – it deserves no defense and it will get no defense. I am glad that is going away. That was not serving anybody.”
Jones called out the people he called “dream killers in America” and “dream killers right here in Hawaii.”
“There are people who have taken the American dream and turned it upside down, inside out. The dream is supposed to be that you can work hard, play by the rules and get somewhere. But you and I both know right here in Hawaii, and across America, the people who are working the hardest and following the rules are the ones who are being left behind, the ones who are suffering the most, the ones who are hurting the most. And yet some people who are not working that hard at all, their investments work for them. And sometimes they break a lot of rules, especially on Wall Street. But they are the ones doing well. That is taking the American dream upside down, inside out. That’s killing the dream.”
Jones, who served as an adviser to the White House Council on Environmental Quality for 6 months before resigning in September 2009 amid controversy over statements he made and alliances he had, briefly addressed his time in Washington DC.
“I was there for 6 months. Best 6 months of my life, followed by the worst two weeks. … What I saw there is why I am here today. I saw some of the most beautiful people, some of the most well intentioned people, some of the smartest people ever to serve in our government, be stopped in their tracks, stopped in their tracks, by people who mean us no good. People who claim to be patriots but seem to hate everybody in America.”
During an address that was videotaped earlier in 2009, he called Republicans “assholes”, but it was a petition he signed in 2004 endorsing the “9/11 truther” movement that caught many by surprise. Those supporting the truther movement believe President Bush and his administration were involved in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on America.
Despite a rocky political past, which ended with the President accepting Jones’ resignation, he is still considered a rising star in the green-energy movement. Jones shared some of his feelings on his political opponents:
“That always struck me as strange. When I said I love America, I mean I actually love the people in America – the people who live in America. Some of them are brown, some of them are female, some of them are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, some of them have bizarre piercings and tattoos, but I love them. How can you say you love America but then despise most of the people who live here. I don’t understand that politics. I don’t understand how you can say you love America and love the Statute of Liberty, but then not read the poem at the bottom that says “Give me your tired, Give me your poor, Give me your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free.” The way I was raised. You can’t be an anti immigrant bigot and a patriot at the same time. They don’t go together. They don’t go together. Not in my America. They don’t go together.”
Hoping to capitalize on the energy and excitement many Hawaii Democrats experienced in 2008 when Obama won the presidency, Jones said: “What happened to all that hope? What happened to all that beauty? What happened to all that spirit? Did the people leave the planet? Was there a rocket ship I missed? Did people join that other party with the warm beverage – what is it – the coffee party? No we’re still here. We’re still here. And we still have each other. We still have each other. No one can take that from us.”
Jones said he looked forward to being in Hawaii because “it is a community working hard to shape an economy that honors people’s environmental, social, and cultural concerns.”
“We also hope the Revivals to build a base of informed and engaged citizens ready to carry their ideas into the 2012 election cycle,” he said.
Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE) Hawaii, a group of community organizers affiliated with various local religious groups, co-chaired the event. Other sponsors included Kanu Hawaii, Sierra Club, UNITE HERE Local 5, University of Hawaii, Blue Planet, and Surfrider Foundation. Council member Tulsi Gabbard, who is a candidate for Congress in the upcoming Democratic primary, spoke at the rally.
Also in attendance at the rally that attracted around 400 people were several Democratic lawmakers, including Tulsi’s father, Senator Mike Gabbard, who earlier that day passed the bank legislation out of his energy committee, as well as Senator Will Espero and Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Earlier in the day, Jones testified at a hearing in support of House Bill 1033, which “establishes the Clean Economy Bank of the State of Hawaii to, among other things: (1) Enable the State, along with other participating states, territories, and municipalities, to leverage aligned resources and collective influence to build a national clean economy that creates jobs, reduces carbon emissions, and ensures the nation’s energy security; (2) Support clean economic development within the State and other participating entities; and (3) Lessen the burden on the State and other participating entities to finance qualified renewable energy and other related purposes.” The bill, which would tap into $10 million in federal stimulus funds, has already passed the House, and on Tuesday passed the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.