Apr 11 2012

Rose Aguilar on Van Jones’ Claim that Grassroots Activists ‘Sat Down’ During Start of Obama Tenure

Activist BeatThe Activist Beat with Rose Aguilar, host of Your Call on KALW in San Francisco is a weekly roundup of progressive activism that the mainstream media ignores, undercovers, or misrepresents.

Van Jones, the long-time racial and social justice activist who served as the green jobs adviser in the White House in 2009, is currently doing a media tour for his new book, “Rebuilding the Dream.”

In the book, he reflects on his journey from grassroots outsider to White House insider and reveals why he chose to resign from his post after being attacked by the now former Fox News talking head Glenn Beck.

He argues that the White House misunderstood the grassroots and the grassroots misunderstood what the White House could and couldn’t do.

He also takes a swipe at activists. He writes, “Too many of us treated Obama’s inauguration as some kind of finish line, when we should have seen it as just the starting line. Too many of us sat down at the very moment when we should have stood up.”
He’s repeated different versions of that line on a variety of media outlets, including Democracy Now, CNN, and ABC’s Sunday show This Week.

It’s rare to see a progressive person of color on any TV news show, especially the Sunday shows. For “balance,” This Week sat Van Jones next to the conservative talking head Ann Coulter.

In response to a question about disenchantment with President Obama on the April 1 broadcast, Van Jones said, “We sat back and we let the Tea Party crowd dominate the protest world in the streets. For the first time, we had the biggest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. And there was not one left wing protest. The right wing was marching. The left wing was munching popcorn, hoping that Obama would do it.”

What he fails to mention is that the Tea Party was bankrolled by the billionaire Koch Brothers. Would we even be talking about the Tea Party if it weren’t for the Kochs and Dick Armey’s Freedom Works, the other major sponsor? When the Tea Party took to the streets, every media outlet was there; when labor groups or anti-war activists took to the streets, they were mostly speaking to themselves. Why doesn’t he mention this?

Van Jones went on to say that in order to change the country, “you have to have a head of state willing to listen, and willing to move, but you have to have a movement willing to do the movement.”

I have to say, that munching popcorn line and his overall argument about too many activists sitting down makes me cringe. Not one left-wing protest?

First of all, you can’t blame activists for taking a much needed break after eight horrific years of George W. Bush, but the break didn’t last very long. The problem is, the national media ignored most of the activism.

Over the past few years, I’ve been writing articles about undercovered activism for Truthout and I started doing commentaries for Uprising in January 2011. While it’s inspiring to interview and give a voice to people who are standing up for a more just and equitable society, it’s incredibly frustrating to see these actions ignored by the media and people like Van Jones.

I wonder if Van Jones is familiar with the incredible organizing happening within the disability rights movement. They didn’t munch popcorn after President Obama was elected. On April 27, 2009, disability rights activists from across the country marched on Washington, many in wheelchairs, to speak out against the administration’s failure to include long-term care in the healthcare bill that would allow them to live independently rather than in a nursing home. Ninety-one activists were arrested for chaining and handcuffing themselves to the White House fence. They chanted, “I’d rather go to jail than die in a nursing home.”

A number of single payer rallies and arrests took place that year. I remember attending a single payer rally in October in Washington DC. Not one media outlet bothered to send a reporter. In that same month, 61 activists were arrested for protesting the occupation of Afghanistan, and thousands of immigrants marched on Capitol Hill calling for comprehensive immigration reform. Many more actions took place at the state and local levels.

I could make a separate list for every month in 2009.

These people weren’t munching popcorn. They were out on the streets building upon their movements and pushing the administration when it wasn’t popular. Give the President a chance. He hasn’t even been on the job for a year. Look at the mess he has to clean up. Remember those sentiments?

The activists who took to the streets back then saw through the ‘Hope and Change’ PR campaign. Despite the fact that they rarely get the attention they deserve, they’re still in the streets raising their fists for what they believe in. Let’s give them the credit they deserve.

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