A Just Cause

“The green movement is not marginal hippie stuff, you know-your grandmother’s environmental cause,” says Van Jones, founder and president of Green For All in Oakland, California, and co-founder and former board president of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, also in Oakland. A strategy and action center that promotes alternatives to violence and incarceration, including its successful “Books Not Bars” campaign, the Ella Baker Center has helped reduce California’s overall youth prison population by more than 40%. Jones, 39, founded the Center in 1999 and Green For All in 2007.

With a staff of 20, the Ella Baker Center works to create opportunities in the green economy for poor communities and communities of color in the Bay Area and around California. “We want to make sure that African Americans and other disenfranchised communities reap work, health, and wealth benefits in this changing green economy,” Jones says. He adds that too many African Americans are slow to understand that the shift toward clean energy and energy conservation (in the wake of oil shortages, rising fuel prices, and global warming) affects them as well.

But jobs aren’t his only focus: According to Jones, one of his goals is to take the best of the technology revolution and wed it to the green revolution. For example, the Ella Baker Center uses its Website to promote online advocacy campaigns, which allow visitors to take action in support of the Center’s Green-Collar Jobs campaign and other community projects. Jones believes that greening the U.S. economy in a manner that includes underserved communities will take a network, not just individual groups. “If a community college president wants to institute a solar-panel building curriculum at his institution, or if a high school or co-curricular program wants to teach students to build green roofs, we want to be able to link them with people who have used and/or are knowledgeable about these particular technologies,” he says.

In 2007, Green-Collar Jobs campaign pushed the City Council of Oakland to fund a Green Jobs Corps to educate and train approximately 40 Oakland-area youth in green trades in its first graduating class. The Ella Baker Center and Green For All worked to help pass HR 2847, the Green Jobs Act, in the U.S. House of Representatives, which authorized up to $125 million to fund a federal green job training program. The program will help address job shortages in industries such as energy-efficient buildings and construction, renewable electric power, energy efficient vehicles, and biofuels development. The Green Jobs Act will also help identify and track the new jobs and skills needed to grow the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries. “Greener technology could represent up to or even upward of $70 billion per year of government funds, while billions more in private funds will be flowing into the creation and adoption of clean energy technologies and processes,” Jones says.

“Green values are very consistent with African and indigenous values in the first place. Western society is coming back around to values that were and