Thursday, October 16, 2008

Election Countdown "A to Z" (G is for Green for All)

I've decided that out of sheer ambition and a dose of chutzpah, I'm going to do a post every day (well, almost) between now and the election and tie it to a letter of the alphabet. All the posts—in order, from A to Z—will be election and politics oriented.

G is for Green for All (Eco living for the rest of us)

My magazine's senior editor Brandon hasn't had a car since he moved to Los Angeles five years ago. He takes the bus. My boy Yosi (of Obama/Hope campaign fame) is a daily bike commuter from his home near Downtown to an office in Hollywood. My half sister Natalie lives in Eugene, Oregon, and is pretty green in a typical Pacific Northwest fashion. But while all of this is maybe inspiring and commendable, in our dramatically more eco-aware society, it doesn't usually raise an eyebrow.

But rapper Ludacris going green? Or Mexican Americans in South Central, LA planting organic gardens or rejuvenating the ecology of the LA River? What about a black Harlem resident installing solar panels on her brownstone or shopping only from a local organic grocer? This kind of activity piques interest and gets special attention--or none at all. The website and social movement Green for All is on a mission to make these scenarios as common as Brandon, Yosi and Natalie's daily activities are.

The activist behind Green for All is Van Jones, a rising star in the discussion of a "green economy." For me, Jones is a new kind of change agent. Quite simply, I've just never seen many brown faces mouthing words like "sustainability" and "climate change" It's inspiring for me, having lived with an understanding of the environment and our impact on it, but having also been disappointed in how behind the curve most non-whites were in the discussion. And, maybe worse, how we often aren't even missed. Flip open any magazine, or tune into a cable special, and it's never somebody in a hoodie and dark skin speaking about saving the planet. You don't get points in the street for going solar or electric. TI isn't showing up at the BET Awards in a Prius. Vanity Fair's 2007 annual "Green Issue" had virtually no brown faces—and no Van Jones (Like I've said, Condé Nast has issues with color).

Of course, seeing green as mostly just a white thing is the media's selective point of view—nothing new here. Years ago, I'd see flicks of beautiful NY graffiti depicting environmental messages and anti-nuclear pleas on the sides of trains. These kids, inner city survivors mostly, had to believe there was a smarter way to manage the environment than what they inherited in their burned out neighborhoods. But somewhere along the evolution of a green awakening in this country, those kids weren't called upon or encouraged to stand up and take part. Jones' aim—along with a growing legion of contemporaries—is to change that dramatically, bringing what's long been the luxury of being green into the 'hood and well beyond.

But Jones clearly doesn't discriminate. Expanding his message and audience, his new book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, is a national referendum on building a vibrant and essential green economy in America. Much like NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman's lauded Hot, Flat and Crowded, the message is that the U.S. has a unique opportunity to create both jobs and wealth through ecologically sound industries and innovation. I love Friedman and what he has to say, but I can't help but be more enthusiastic about Jones' book. With it, the green message can start reaching a more diverse audience with mainstream clout and credibility.

Along with an Obama victory (!) in November, folks like Jones will help represent a new, more progressive face for a browning America. One that isn't just about crowded neighborhoods, crime, pollution and poverty. My hope would be to see open-minded citizens of all stripes able to tap into and learn from a wider field of green advocates. Van Jones and Green for All have been a big step towards that manifestation.


Joe Shiraz, who plumbs without a license said...


This post got me thinking about two Harpers articles I read in the July 2007 issue. One, Detroit arcadia: Exploring the post-American landscape ( was very powerful both literally and visually, in that Detroit is the first modern city to have over a million inhabitants that has less than that now. We have to go back to the collapse of Rome since this has happened.
Something about the photos of the changed, semi-abandoned urban landscape got me thinking about permaculture and self-sufficiency in the face of industrial collapse and American racism. I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if these Detroiters could build a new model, a new society based on environmental principles and Detroit could flower rather than seek some old, exploited industrial capitalist past?’
The article on New Orleans, with its stunning visuals and words, In the year of the storm: The topography of resurrection in New Orleans added to my vision.
American Blacks are among those most impacted by these two major cities and their misfortunes. Both represent different ends of the Great Migration North of Blacks between 1916 and 1930. And I thought that perhaps these people could be the ones to lead us into a new future for our cities, a positive green future and a distinctly different landscape. Instead of disempowered industrial ghettos, perhaps a Superrural vision could replace the destructive Urban/Suburban/Rural divides that plague modern society.
Anyhow, it was just a strange vision and it did occur to me that ‘why should those (Blacks and former slaves) who have done so much to build this country but have seen the least for their labors be the ones to build the new future? Perhaps because the present and past models have not been so beneficial, perhaps because it may be easier for those who are not as ‘bought’ into (or bought off by) the system to see and embrace this.
I don’t really know- but it made me think, just as I think of how high the piles of asphalt will be when we have to tear up the useless streets to plant our survival/victory gardens.

Cheers, from Eugene said...

I've been reading about Jones on various green sites. Thanks for posting this.


Zentronix said...

Yes, Van's the real deal. Friedman's an ass. Just MHO of course. BTW dude, can I just say you're on fire?

BenOne said...

Watch it Roker, they gonna start callin us faggy Europeans if we keep pursuing this green shit. We have our own shopping bags, reuse plastics that make their way into the house, water the gardens with bucket water from the shower warming up, and work from home offices. Damn commies!!