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Friday, Sep 11, 2009, 7:42 am

Weekly Mulch: Can the Green Agenda Progress Without Van Jones?

By Raquel Brown
Green jobs czar and racial justice advocate Van Jones resigned from his position as environmental adviser to the White House over Labor Day weekend. Many believe that Jones’ departure is a significant setback in environmental policy, racial equity, and another reminder that pundits can destroy credibility with very little ammunition in today’s political climate.

Fox News host Glenn Beck and several Republican Congressmen criticized Jones for "controversial" past activism and called for him to step down. Jones was particularly smeared for signing a petition that requested more information on the 9/11 attacks and a derogatory comment toward Republicans, both of which he apologized for publicly.

Jones' commitment to a sustainable environment and a green economy was especially influential on progressive youth. Kristina Rizga of Wiretap explains that Jones’ vision really resonated with young people from marginalized communities and encouraged them to get involved. Additionally, Jones played a key role in ensuring that underprivileged Americans reaped the benefits of clean energy investments and green jobs training initiatives in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Jones—the first African-American to write a best-selling environmental book—helped inspire these hard-to-reach communities. It’s hard to think of another individual on the Hill who spent as much time talking and listening to disenfranchised youth,” Rizga writes.

But would Jones still have his job if the Obama administration had stood up for him? In a strong piece for The Nation, John Nichols argues that Obama succumbed to the media, and “in so doing, allowed Glenn Beck to define the administration.” Jones signified that Obama was dedicated to green jobs and protecting the environment. Without Jones, however, those objectives may never be realized.

“This won’t make the Obama presidency stronger; nor will it position the president to work more effectively with Congress on issues such as health care reform – let alone “green jobs” initiatives,” says Nichols.

Air America’s Beau Friedlander calls Jones’ resignation an example of "mutually assured distraction;" another attempt for partisans to take down their opponents’ point man over a non-issue. This infantile and baseless behavior shifts lawmakers attention away from important issues at hand, such as the climate change bill, economic recovery and health care reform.

Friedlander characterizes Van Jones as someone who is "100% committed to creating the conditions for an improvement in society. He is dedicated to progress, and solution-oriented activism. He is a team player. He knows how to follow the leader, and how to be the leader.”

While many see his departure as a deep loss, Don Hazen of AlterNet has “5 Reasons Why Van Jones and Progressives are Better Off with Jones Out of the White House.” First, Jones was an unsung hero for the environment and progressive activism. Now, he is a household name, and has increased his visibility and influence. Second, Hazen argues that Jones’ position limited his scope of influence. By stepping down, Jones was rescued from obscurity.

Third, Jones can now help lead and shape the progressive movement. Fourth, Jones is now free to express his views and speak the truth, something he was criticized for while in the White House. And lastly, Jones can now provide real vision, explain his ideas and mobilize people to curb climate change. Ultimately, Jones' fame will outshine any controversy or scandal. Hazen remains confident that this situation will only make Jones a stronger and more effective leader.

Finally, to commemorate the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks today, President Obama called for a national day of service on major legislative issues. Wiretap's Jamilah King notes that environmental organizations like Green for All and Green the Block are sponsoring events that promote green jobs and climate justice.

The message is clear: Van Jones' resignation will not intimidate us from working towards important environmental endeavors. We must use this "opportunity to reinvigorate the movement toward equitable and economically sustainable green jobs."

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