Portrait photo of an African-American man seated in front of a wood paneled wall. He has a bald head, glasses and a mustache, and is wearing a gray suit, blue shirt and red tie.
Jones as the Council on Environmental Quality's Special Advisor for Green Jobs (2009)
Born Anthony Kapel Jones
September 20, 1968 (age 47)
Jackson, Tennessee, U.S.
Education University of Tennessee (B.S.)
Yale Law School (J.D.)
Known for Former Special Advisor for Green Jobs
2009 Time 100 Most Influential People
2009 New York Times bestselling author
Spouse(s) Jana Carter
Anthony Kapel "Van" Jones (born September 20, 1968) is an American environmental advocate, civil rights activist, and attorney. He is a co-founder of four non-profit organizations including Rebuild the Dream, of which he is president. In 1996, he founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a California non-governmental organization (NGO) working for alternatives to violence. In 2005, he co-founded Color of Change, an advocacy group for African Americans. In 2007, he founded Green for All, a national NGO dedicated to "building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty." In 2011, he founded Rebuild the Dream, a national advocacy organization working towards a fairer economy. His first book, The Green Collar Economy, was released on October 7, 2008. It won the Nautilus Book Award and reached number 12 on the New York Times Best Seller list. In 2008, Time magazine named Jones one of its "Heroes of the Environment". Fast Company called him one of the "12 Most Creative Minds of 2008".
In March 2009, Jones was appointed by President Barack Obama to the newly created position of Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, where he worked with various "agencies and departments to advance the administration's climate and energy initiatives, with a special focus on improving vulnerable communities." In July 2009 he became embroiled in a controversy over his past political activities, including a public comment disparaging congressional Republicans, his name appearing on a petition for 911Truth.org, and one-time involvement with a socialist collective during the 1990s. For these issues, Van Jones was heavily criticized by conservatives. Jones resigned from the position in early September 2009. "On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me," Jones said in his resignation statement. "They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide."
Jones is currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior policy advisor at Green for All. Jones also holds a joint appointment at Princeton University, as a distinguished visiting fellow in both the Center for African American Studies and in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
1 Early life
2 Social and environmental activism
2.1 Earlier activism
2.2 Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
2.3 Color of Change
2.4 Shift to environmentalism and Green for All
3 The Green Collar Economy
4 White House Council on Environmental Quality
4.1 Controversy and resignation
5 Post-White House activity
6 Awards and honors
Jones and his twin sister Angela were born in 1968 in Jackson, Tennessee. Their mother was a teacher at a high school and their father was a principal at a junior high school. Jones' sister said that as a child he was "the stereotypical geek—he just kind of lived up in his head a lot." He has described his own childhood behavior as "bookish and bizarre." His grandfather was the senior bishop in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and Jones sometimes accompanied his grandfather to religious conferences, where he would sit all day listening to the adults "in these hot, sweaty black churches". Jones was a young fan of John and Bobby Kennedy, and would pin photographs of them to a bulletin board in his room in the specially delineated "Kennedy Section". As a child he paired his Star Wars action figures with Kennedy-era political figures; Luke Skywalker was John, Han Solo was Bobby, and Lando Calrissian was Martin Luther King, Jr. He graduated from Jackson Central-Merry High School in 1986. Jones received his B.S. in communication and political science from the University of Tennessee at Martin (UT Martin).
Jones worked as an intern at the Jackson Sun (Tennessee), the Shreveport Times (Louisiana) and the Associated Press (Nashville bureau). He also helped to launch and spearhead a number of independent, campus-based publishing efforts. These publications included the Fourteenth Circle (University of Tennessee), the Periscope (Vanderbilt University), the New Alliance Project (statewide in Tennessee), and the Third Eye (Nashville's African American community). Jones credits UT Martin for preparing him for life on a global stage:
I left UT Martin confident that I could take on any challenge and do well at it if I studied hard and worked hard and kept my nose clean. I really do think you can get absolutely anywhere from UT Martin . . . because of the quality of caring and individual attention.
After graduating from UT Martin, Jones left his home state to attend Yale Law School. In 1993, Jones earned his Juris Doctor and moved to San Francisco.
Social and environmental activism
In 1992, while still a law student at Yale, Jones participated as a volunteer legal monitor for a protest of the Rodney King verdict in San Francisco. He and many other participants in the protest were arrested. The district attorney later dropped the charges against Jones. The arrested protesters, including Jones, won a small legal settlement. Jones later said that "the incident deepened my disaffection with the system and accelerated my political radicalization." In October 2005 Jones said he was "a rowdy nationalist" before the King verdict was announced, but that by August of that year (1992) he was a communist. His activism was also spurred on by witnessing racial inequality in New Haven, Connecticut: "I was seeing kids at Yale do drugs and talk about it openly, and have nothing happen to them or, if anything, get sent to rehab...And then I was seeing kids three blocks away, in the housing projects, doing the same drugs, in smaller amounts, go to prison."
When he graduated from law school, Jones gave up plans to take a job in Washington, D.C., and moved to San Francisco instead. He became a member of a "socialist collective" called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM) that protested against police brutality.
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
In 1995, Jones started Bay Area PoliceWatch, the region's only bar-certified hotline and lawyer-referral service for victims of police abuse. The hotline started receiving fifteen calls a day. PoliceWatch began as a project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. "We designed a computer database, the first of its kind in the country, that allows us to track problem officers, problem precincts, problem practices, so at the click of a mouse we can now identify trouble spots and troublemakers," said Jones. "This has given us a tremendous advantage in trying to understand the scope and scale of the problem. Now, obviously, just because somebody calls and says, 'Officer so-and-so did something to me,' doesn't mean it actually happened, but if you get two, four, six phone calls about the same officer, then you begin to see a pattern. It gives you a chance to try and take affirmative steps." By 1996, Jones founded a new umbrella NGO, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which "consisted of a closet-like office and a computer that Jones had brought from his apartment."
From 1996–1997, Jones and PoliceWatch led a campaign which was successful in getting officer Marc Andaya fired from the San Francisco Police Department. Andaya was the lead officer accused of the in-custody death of Aaron Williams, an unarmed black man. In 1999 and 2000, Jones was a leader in the failed campaign to defeat Proposition 21, which escalated penalties for crimes by youth & sparked a student movement that made national headlines. In 2001, Jones and the Ella Baker Center launched the Books Not Bars campaign. From 2001 to 2003, Jones and Books Not Bars led a campaign to block the construction of a proposed "Super-Jail for Youth" in Oakland's Alameda County. Books Not Bars later went on to launch a statewide campaign to transform California's juvenile justice system.
Color of Change
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Jones and James Rucker co-founded a Web-based grassroots organization to address Black issues called Color of Change. Color of Change's mission as described on its web site is as follows: "ColorOfChange.org exists to strengthen Black America's political voice. Our goal is to empower our members—Black Americans and our allies—to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone." Within two years of co-founding the organization, Jones moved on to other pursuits, but remains listed on the Color of Change website as "Former Staff".
Shift to environmentalism and Green for All
By 2005, Jones had begun promoting eco-capitalism and environmental justice. In 2005 the Ella Baker Center expanded its vision beyond the immediate concerns of policing, declaring that "If we really wanted to help our communities escape the cycle of incarceration, we had to start focusing on job, wealth and health creation." In 2005, Jones and the Ella Baker Center produced the "Social Equity Track" for the United Nations' World Environment Day celebration, held that year in San Francisco. It was the official beginning of what would eventually become Ella Baker Center's Green-Collar Jobs Campaign.
The Green-Collar Jobs Campaign was Jones' first concerted effort to meld his desire to improve racial and economic equality with his newer desire to mitigate environmental concerns. It soon took as its mission the establishment of the nation's first "Green Jobs Corps" in Oakland. On October 20, 2008, the City of Oakland formally launched the Oakland Green Jobs Corps, a public-private partnership that will "provide local Oakland residents with job training, support, and work experience so that they can independently pursue careers in the new energy economy."
In September 2007, Jones attended the Clinton Global Initiative and announced his plans to launch Green for All, a new national NGO dedicated to creating green pathways out of poverty in America. The plan grew out of the work previously done at local level at the Ella Baker Center. Green for All would take the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign mission – creating green pathways out of poverty – national.
Green for All formally opened its doors on January 1, 2008. In its first year, Green for All organized "The Dream Reborn," the first national green conference where the majority of attendees were people of color. It cohosted, with 1Sky and the We Campaign, a national day of action for the new economy called "Green Jobs Now." It launched the Green-Collar Cities Program to help cities build local green economies and started the Green for All Capital Access Program to assist green entrepreneurs. As part of the Clean Energy Corps Working Group, it launched a campaign for a Clean Energy Corps initiative which would create 600,000 'green-collar' jobs while retrofitting and upgrading more than 15 million American buildings.
In reflecting on Green for All's first year, Jones wrote, "One year later, Green for All is real – and we have helped put green collar jobs on the map... We have a long way to go. But today we have a strong organization to help get us there."
Jones advocates a combination of conservation, regulation and investment as a way of encouraging environmental justice and opposing environmental racism. In an interview for the "EON Deep Democracy Interview Series" Jones spoke of a "third wave of environmentalism":
The first wave is sort of the Teddy Roosevelt, conservation era which had its day and then, in 1963, Rachel Carson writes a book, Silent Spring, and she's talking about toxics and the environment, and that really kind of opens up a whole new wave. So it's no longer just conservation but it's conservation, plus regulation, trying to regulate the bad, and that wave kind of continued to be developed and got kind of a 2.5 upgrade because of the environmental justice community who said, "Wait a minute, you're regulating but you're not regulating equally, the white polluters and white environmentalists are essentially steering poison into the people-of-color communities, because they don't have a racial justice frame." ... Now there's something new that's beginning to gather momentum, and it's conservation plus regulation of the bad, plus investment in the good ... beginning to put money into the solutions as well as trying to regulate the problem.
Jones has served on the boards of numerous environmental and nonprofit organizations, including 1Sky, the National Apollo Alliance, Social Venture Network, Rainforest Action Network, Bioneers, Julia Butterfly Hill's "Circle of Life" organization and Free Press. He currently serves on the board of trustees at Demos. He also served as a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress and a Fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He was a keynote speaker at the youth conference Power Shift 2009 and 2011 in Washington, D.C.
During the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, Jones served as Arianna Huffington's statewide grassroots director.
The Green Collar Economy
A white man wearing a gray suit reaches to embrace Jones, while holding a book in his right hand. Jones, who is also reaching out, wears a dark suit and has a microphone and piece of paper in his left hand. Inside a glass-walled building behind them, a display says "Climate is an angry beast and we are poking at it with sticks".
Van Jones meets with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom at The Green Collar Economy book signing, October 14, 2008.
On October 7, 2008, HarperOne released Jones' first book, The Green Collar Economy. The book outlines his "substantive and viable plan for solving the biggest issues facing the country—the failing economy and our devastated environment." The book has received favorable reviews from Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Laurie David, Paul Hawken, Winona LaDuke and Ben Jealous.
In the book, Jones contended that invention and investment will take us out of a pollution-based grey economy and into a healthy new green economy. Jones wrote:
We are entering an era during which our very survival will demand invention and innovation on a scale never before seen in the history of human civilization. Only the business community has the requisite skills, experience, and capital to meet that need. On that score, neither government nor the nonprofit and voluntary sectors can compete, not even remotely.
So in the end, our success and survival as a species are largely and directly tied to the new eco-entrepreneurs—and the success and survival of their enterprises. Since almost all of the needed eco-technologies are likely to come from the private sector, civic leaders and voters should do all that can be done to help green business leaders succeed. That means, in large part, electing leaders who will pass bills to aid them. We cannot realistically proceed without a strong alliance between the best of the business world—and everyone else.
Jones had a limited publicity budget and no national media platform. But a viral, web-based marketing strategy earned the book a #12 debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Jones and Green For All used "a combination of emails and phone calls to friends, bloggers, and a network of activists" to reach millions of people. The marketing campaign's grassroots nature has led to Jones calling it a victory not for him but for the entire green-collar jobs movement. Jones was featured on the grassroots radio program, Sea Change Radio, talking about the book and about creating a "new, clean and green economy...in a way that's inclusive." The Green Collar Economy is the first environmental book authored by an African-American to make the New York Times bestseller list.
White House Council on Environmental Quality
On March 10, 2009, it was announced that Jones would serve as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Jones, while an ardent supporter of President Barack Obama, originally did not intend to work for the White House, later explaining "when they asked the question, I burst out laughing because at the time it seemed completely ludicrous that it would even be an option. I think what changed my mind was interacting with the administration during the transition process and during the whole process of getting the recovery package pulled together."
His position with the Obama Administration was described by columnist Chadwick Matlin as "switchboard operator for Obama's grand vision of the American economy; connecting the phone lines between all the federal agencies invested in a green economy." Jones did not like the informal "czar" term sometimes applied to his job, and described his position as "the green-jobs handyman. I'm there to serve. I'm there to help as a leader in the field of green jobs, which is a new field. I'm happy to come and serve and be helpful, but there's no such thing as a green-jobs 'czar.'"
Controversy and resignation
After his White House appointment, Jones began receiving criticism from media sources such as WorldNetDaily and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, who featured Jones on fourteen episodes of his show. They criticized Jones for his past political activities, including his involvement with STORM (Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement) and his support for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a prisoner sentenced to death for murdering a police officer in a highly controversial trial. In July 2009 Color of Change, an organization that Jones founded in 2005 and left in 2007, launched a campaign urging advertisers on Beck's Fox News show to pull their ads, in response to comments by Beck stating President Obama has a "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." In September 2009, a video on YouTube was circulated of a February 2009 lecture at the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative at which Jones used strong language to refer to Congressional Republican lawmakers, and himself, when conveying that Democrats need to step up the fight. Jones was asked how Republicans could manage to pass measures through the Senate without a supermajority, yet Democrats, with 58 votes of their own, were being blocked by Republicans. Jones explained, "Well, the answer to that is, they're assholes. As a technical, political kind of term. And Barack Obama is not an asshole. Now, I will say this: I can be an asshole, and some of us who are not Barack Hussein Obama, are going to have to start getting a little bit uppity." Jones apologized, "for the offensive words I chose to use during that speech. They do not reflect the views of this administration, which has made every effort to work in a bipartisan fashion, and they do not reflect the experience I have had since I joined the administration."
Several days later, Jones came under additional criticism for his name appearing on a 2004 petition from 911Truth.org that suggested the Bush Administration "may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen". Then-Representative, now Governor Mike Pence (R-Indiana), the chairman of the Republican Conference in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, publicly criticized Jones, while Senator Kit Bond (R-Missouri) urged Congress to investigate Jones' "fitness" for the position. Bob Beckel, a Fox News political analyst who was formerly an official in the Carter administration, became the first prominent Democrat to call for Jones' resignation. In response to the criticisms, Jones issued a statement that said, "In recent days some in the news media have reported on past statements I made before I joined the [Obama] administration – some of which were made years ago. If I have offended anyone with statements I made in the past, I apologize." Of the 9/11 petition specifically, he said, "I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever."
After what Jones described as a "vicious smear campaign" by "opponents of reform [of health care and clean energy]", he resigned on September 5, saying that he could not "in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future". During an interview on ABC's This Week, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs thanked Jones "for his service to the country" and said that Obama "doesn't endorse" Jones' previous association with the 9/11 Truth movement, his comments regarding race relations and politics, and his support for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Some liberal commentators expressed continued support for Jones, singling out the efforts of Glenn Beck to force his resignation. Arianna Huffington predicted Beck's efforts would backfire by freeing Jones from being "tied to his desk with a sock in his mouth". John McWhorter, in The New Republic, related his analysis to the Obama presidency in general, saying that allowing Jones to resign was "spineless".
In a post-resignation interview with The Washington Post, Jones said he did not have "any bitterness or anger about the situation" and expressed his "hope and belief" that people would judge him based on his work. Later, in an op-ed about the resignation of another Obama administration official, Shirley Sherrod, Jones described the media as having "rushed to judgment" about him, and he denied having ever signed the 911Truth petition. On July 27, 2010, the group911truth.org released a statement that they had "researched the situation and were unable to produce electronic or written evidence that Van agreed to sign the Statement". In 2009 when first questioned about it, Jones said that he hadn't fully reviewed the statement before he signed. Two other signatories of the statement, Rabbi Michael Lerner and historian Howard Zinn, told Politico's Ben Smith they felt they had signed a petition of more limited scope, one that asked only for an investigation into the attacks.
Janice Matthews, Director of 911Truth.org, said Jones and two other signatories "requested their names be removed. That has been done."
Post-White House activity
Jones speaking at Power Shift 2011, an annual youth summit, in Washington, D.C. on April 15, 2011
In February 2010, Jones became a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he leads their Green Opportunity Initiative "to develop a clearly articulated agenda for expanding investment, innovation, and opportunity through clean energy and environmental restoration". At the same time, he received appointments at Princeton University, as a distinguished visiting fellow in both the Center for African American Studies and in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Jones is also a senior policy advisor at Green For All.
On February 26, 2010, Jones received the NAACP President's Award at the 41st annual NAACP Image Awards.
On October 2, 2010, Jones spoke at the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, DC, where he spoke about linking the fight against poverty with the fight against pollution, saying that green jobs would bring "real solutions" instead of "hateful rhetoric".
On April 15, 2011, Jones spoke at Powershift 2011 in Washington, DC, where he addressed over 10,000 students on issues of climate justice and standing up for underrepresented communities. Powershift 2011 was the largest youth activism and organizing training in U.S. history.
In 2011, Jones worked with MoveOn.org to launch the Rebuild the Dream campaign, which was intended to start a progressive American Dream movement to counter the Tea Party movement. Following a kickoff on June 23, 2011, Rebuild the Dream announced a "Contract for the American Dream", intended as a counter to the Tea Party-supported "Contract from America", and held house meetings in July. Jones claimed 127,000 people had become involved in the movement by the end of July 2011.
At the beginning of October 2011, prior to a Rebuild the Dream conference in Washington, DC, Jones compared the Occupy Wall Street movement to an "American Autumn" comparable to the Arab Spring uprisings, saying, "You can see it right now with these young people on Wall Street. Hold onto your hats, we're going to have an October offensive to take back the American dream and to rescue America's middle class."
At a speech in San Francisco in February 2012, Jones spoke out on behalf of underwater home owners, saying "”They call it class warfare…if anything, it’s warfare against people who have no class…they won’t even return our phone calls when our houses are underwater.”
CNN announced on June 26, 2013, that Jones will join a new version of Crossfire re-launching in the Fall of 2013, with panelists Newt Gingrich, Stephanie Cutter, and S.E. Cupp.
Awards and honors
Jones' awards and honors include:
1996 – Brick Award Now renamed as Dosomething Awards
1997–1999 – Rockefeller Foundation "Next Generation Leadership" Fellowship
1998 – Reebok International Human Rights Award
2000 – International Ashoka Fellowship
2008 – Best Dressed Environmental List (#1 of 30); Sustainable Style Foundation[relevant? – discuss]
2008 – Time Magazine Environmental Hero
2008 – Elle Magazine Green Award
2008 – One of the George Lucas Foundation's "Daring Dozen"
2008 – Hunt Prime Mover Award; Hunt Alternatives Fund
2008 – Campaign for America's Future "Paul Wellstone Award"
2008 – Global Green USA "Community Environmental Leadership" Award
2008 – San Francisco Foundation Community Leadership Award
2008 – Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship
2008 – World Economic Forum "Young Global Leader"
2008 – Essence Magazine 25 Most Inspiring African Americans
2009 – Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award
2009 – Eco-Entrepreneur Award, Institute for Entrepreneurship, Leadership & Innovation; Howard University
2009 – Individual Thought Leadership, Energy & Environment Awards; Aspen Institute
2009 - Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World
2010 – NAACP President's Award
2010 – Commonwealth Club of California – Inforum's 21st Century Visionary Award
2010 – Global Exchange Human Rights Award Honoree.
2011 – Ebony Magazine's Power 150
2012 – Rolling Stone Magazine 12 Leaders Who Get Things Done
2013 – The Root Magazine 100 Honorees
2013 – Ebony Magazine's Power 100