Van Jones On Jobs, Jails, And Environmental Justice
by David Kupfer
Environmentalists sometimes don’t understand that what motivated them to get involved in political activism and change their lifestyle isn’t going to inspire everyone else. It’s not just a matter of their explaining louder and louder why everyone should be like them. That’s not the politics of inclusion; that’s the politics of elitism. The reality is that working people will support ecological solutions, but not for the same reasons that the eco-elites support them.
A lot of wealthy, educated people wanted to take action as a result of Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, but most low-income people and people of color I know had no interest in seeing the movie in the first place. They already have enough problems. They don’t need new crises to worry about. Around here we say that the people who already have a lot of opportunities are the ones who need to hear about the crises. So if you have a house and a car and a college degree, then, yes, you should hear about global warming, or peak oil, or dying species. But poor and low-income people need to hear about opportunities. They need to hear about the expected reduction in asthma rates when we reduce greenhouse gases. They need to hear about the wealth and health benefits of moving to a sustainable economy. Otherwise you are just telling people who are already having a bad day that they should have a worse one.
The politics of inclusion requires that you let different people approach ecological issues through different doors. Wanting to create jobs for poor kids has to be just as valid an entryway as concern about the rain forest. These different crises — political, ecological, and spiritual — are all interlocked.
The people who are dominating the environmental discussion right now want everybody to watch their movie, sign their petition, and march in line behind them. But the movement cannot grow the way we need it to unless we let the working-class guy and the undocumented worker and the poor kid from the inner city articulate their own agendas.
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We all have a lot of learning and sharing to do. This years skill-share is going to be the greatest Adelaide has ever seen. One not to be missed.