Ware Lecture by Van Jones, General Assembly 2008
General Assembly 2008 Event 4061
Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, introduced the Ware lecture, recalling the list of past Ware lecturers—who have "given us the great gift of an outside view of what our faith ought to be paying attention to."
Sinkford then listed the organizations that this year's lecturer, Van Jones, has founded or been part of, including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which promotes positive alternatives to violence and incarceration; the center's Books Not Bars campaign, which has helped reduce California's overall youth prison population by more than 30 percent; Color Of Change, the nation's biggest e-advocacy organization tackling Black issues; a "Green Jobs Corps" that will train youth for eco-friendly "green-collar" jobs; a project of the center working with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) to create the country's first-ever Green Enterprise Zone to attract environmentally sound industry to Oakland; and, with the center, working with Congress to pass the Green Jobs Act of 2007.
Sinkford commented that Van Jones has "co-founded more organizations than many of us belong to," but that he was most enthusiastic that Jones "embodies hope, not despair."
In his lecture—though "lecture" doesn't do justice to the inspirational tone and spirit of the presentation—Van Jones began by acknowledging the "shadow" of homeland security over the event, and added that "there could not be any more important time to get together under any circumstance."
He spoke about the role and responsibilities of Unitarian Universalists now that "it looks like change is about to break out." He credited the resolve and persistence of Unitarian Universalists for the possibility of a "new era in American politics," and also reported bad news: "Y'all are about to mess up and be successful." Protest and critique of injustice is about to be replaced by a new challenge: "Prepare to govern." Whichever candidate one supports, there will be change, but some will be asking, "Can those people govern?" with stakes high. Whoever one supports in November, what's important is who can be re-elected four years later.
Jones reminded of the danger of stagflation, where rising energy prices raise other prices, while purchasing falls and job loss increases, causing tremendous social upheaval. Will the U.S. have leadership that is addicted to oil and carbon-based fuels, or will we "invent and invest our way out?"
He pointed to many ways in which a response could help bring energy use down while adding "millions of job," calling for a "Green New Deal." Those coming back from Iraq , often injured physically and emotionally, could be put to work rebuilding this nation. He offered the option of saying to "a whole new generation" that "we have a future for you."
Jones contrasted the ancient wisdom of indigenous peoples—in America, Africa, even Europe—with the "renegade minority" which historically took the attitude, "I can sell everything"—including people. He called for the wisdom of the "great-great-great-great-grandmothers." It is "now time to bring this wisdom fully back" and apologize to indigenous peoples for the "adolescent rebellion against Mother—she'll forgive."
It is possible, he stressed, to fight pollution and poverty at the same time. It's important to "green the ghetto first." Eco-apartheid, he said, describes the current reality where people who need healthy food can't get it. He compared Whole Foods, for most people, to "whole paycheck." He pointed out that in West Oakland, a city of 35,000 people, there are no grocery stores, but 43 liquor stores. He called for urban farms, rooftop gardens, and other "ways to lift people up."
He described winning the vote in Congress in 2007 for green jobs, despite skepticism that the training money would not go to "work-ready" people, with a lower cost per trainee. But in building a green economy, he stressed, it's important to count what you save, not what you spend. If, for example, past offenders are provided with opportunities, the cost of training may be greater, but society saves other costs, such as the costs of locking them up again and providing social services for their families. "If we are willing to invest in new clean and green jobs, we'll save money—and the soul of the country."
Forty years ago, both Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were shot; they were fighting for equal protection and equal opportunity. What does equal protection mean in an ecological age? "No more leaving people behind," said Jones. He pointed out that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was the "logical and necessary outcome of a worldview," of the idea that we "don't need government," that individuals should "sink or swim," and that "sink or swim" is good for people—until the television showed people literally sinking. A "green wave," he pointed out, can "lift all boats." "Ecopopulism" can "save the polar bear, Pookie, and the president."
He returned to the theme of governance, pointing out the need to get ready. One way is to choose different stories to inspire. He described the David and Goliath mentality, where we may feel small, embattled, noble, and pure—but the shadow side of the story is that it requires someone else to be our enemy, to be wrong, to be an adversary. We "get good with the slingshot," and that can mean that when Goliath is not in view, meetings can be "messed up" as we look for who is against us. He asked if any of have been in that meeting, and was met with the laughter of recognition from the audience. Instead, he suggested, we use the metaphor of the Noah family of builders in the face of a coming storm.
It's time, he said, to "reconnect with love and enthusiasm." Martin Luther King's speech was not "I Have a Complaint," "I Have a Critique," or "I Have a Long List of Issues." We need beautiful dreams; the country isn't looking for critique but inspiration to be our best self.
It's our turn again, Jones said—those who would "bomb and torture their way to peace" have had their turn. Homophobes have had their turn. "We have family values: everyone in the family has value."
In closing Jones stressed that we "insist on a green economy," adding that we need to do more than take America back—we need to take America forward.
Following enthusiastic applause and cheering from the audience, Sinkford returned to the stage and commented, "Van, you may have struck a chord here. The 2008 General Assembly has received its charge."
From the response of the audience, that charge was received and taken to heart.
Reported by Jone Johnson Lewis; edited by Dana Dwinell-Yardley.