Love & Resistance: Van Jones on his Progressive Path Forward

Love & Resistance: Van Jones on his Progressive Path Forward

– And I’m here on behalf of the
Center for Public Leadership and the Institute of
Politics to welcome you. – Woo!
– It is my, yes. You know, what I wanted to
say to Van backstage is that we get a lot of speakers here at HKS and every once in a while, a lot of times, you hear a little bit of grumbling, “Well, I disagree with
them on this or that.” I have heard nothing but
excitement and positivity about us welcoming Van Jones here today and I think that speaks a
lot to who is as someone who we can learn a lot from. We’re having really difficult
conversations here at HKS and what he models for all
of us is not pushing back, but pushing forward,
not calling people out, but calling people in, and that’s why I’m proud to introduce Van Jones and David Gergen for
our conversation today. I’m proud to call Van
somebody who’s been a friend and inspiration for actually 14 years now. So we’re so happy to have two CNN giants in our midst tonight. David Gergen is a giant at HKS too. He’s the faculty director of the Center for Public Leadership
and the Kennedy School Public Service Professor
of Public Leadership teaching Becoming a Leader this semester, one of the most in-demand
classes on campus. Professor Gergen, we’re
grateful you are tonight to moderate a discussion with your friend and someone who will be all of our friend by the end of the evening, Van Jones. When I first met Van in 2003,
he was the executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. His vision was bold and simple: to make Oakland poverty free, crime free, and carbon neutral at the same time. This is the kind of revolutionary, common-sense approach that has made Van one of the greatest social
innovators in America today. It was on that fateful
day that he also became my greatest hero and inspiration. Back in 2003, I remember
Van standing in front of a room full of environmental leaders in a dark time for the movement. The Bush administration was dismantling EPA regulations and potentially opening the fragile Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge for drilling. And what Van chose to talk
about when he got up onstage was juvenile over-incarceration
and young people who didn’t have the dignity of work and were coming out of prison
with no future and no hope. And what he said that room
full of environmentalists was that in order for
your movement to survive, you have to think of these young people as part of your movement
too, that unless you find the light at the crossroads
between the environmental and social justice movement,
your movement will fail. I think about that light at the crossroads in everything I do, and Van
has continued to seek it out, most recently and as the
founder and visionary of the Dream Corps, which
bring thousands of Americans together under the
banner of Green for All, #YesWeCode, and the #LoveArmy. Speaking of a love army,
tonight, we also celebrate the release of Van’s new
book, Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How
We Come Back Together, and I would daresay that
having read Van’s books before and knowing that this builds on them, I’m gonna make the bold
statement that to me, it is giving depth and definition
to Martin Luther King’s beloved community, that we are
going have to find this light at the crossroads, and that
starts with figuring out how we have everybody the dignity of work and see each other’s humanity. Van, thank you for
continually being a light at the crossroads of
America’s promise and future. Thank you for helping
to turn to each other, not turn on each other,
thank you for reminding us that when it gets harder
to love, love harder. On behalf of Harvard
Kennedy School, let me say how grateful you are to
welcome you here today. Ladies and gentlemen,
David Gergen and Van Jones. (audience cheering and applauding) – Van, welcome, you have
plenty of friends here and– – And I’m not in Washington, D.C. Whoo, I’m so happy!
(David laughs) – Both of us wanna
recognize one other person who’s been such a good
friend at CNN and beyond and that’s Donna Brazile.
– Whoo! – Where’s Donna, over here, right here. (audience cheers and applauds)
Thank you. Van has written this wonderful new book. We recommend it to all of you. It’s his third book; it
will be his third bestseller and you wanna get there
while it’s still hot but let me ask you, there’s
a way to talk about your life a little bit, all the people in this room, especially the younger
ones who were students here really wanna make a
difference in the world and they’re trying to figure
out how best to do that. Is it best to go to a nonprofit? Casey’s here, go off
and start a nonprofit? Is it best to be a social activist? Is it best to work for government? Or is it best to go on television and be a go out and talk to the country? You’ve done all of those in your life and so what is your advice to young people in trying to sort that out? – Well, I think the answer
to your question is yes. (David chuckles) I think when you’re first starting, you tend to have a view,
and we were talking about this upstairs, that
you’re going to have a career and you have this career and how, oh my god, how is my
career gonna work out? You are not going to have a career. You are going to have many careers, multiple careers, if you are trying to make change, and so
it’s not what do I do, it’s what do I do now, what do I do next? And I was a grassroots outsider on the far left of Pluto. (David chuckles) I was, in the Bay area,
somebody who worked against police misconduct back in the ’90s. We were working to close
prisons, successfully closed five abusive youth prisons in California in the early 2000s,
stopped them from building a sixth super jail, reformed
two police departments, got a horrible police officer fired. I was doing the stuff
that they talk about now. We were doing it before it was cool and when you do that kind of stuff, you learn and then I
wasn’t an elected official. I was an activist; you
learn a particular way of getting things done,
you develop certain skills. But within 15 years, I’d got from being a radical progressive outsider to being a White House insider and that’s a completely different set of skills. I’ve been a target of the media. I’ve been now part of
the mainstream media. I grew up in the rural
South, but I graduated from Yale Law school, taught at Princeton. If you are serious about change,
hey you, glad you’re here, thank you, thank you, if
you’re serious about change, you wind up picking up
lot of different tools. I think the through line
has to be two things: excellence in service. I say that because, unfortunately,
it has become the case and you guys, especially young
people who are all innovative and disruptive and
using your Snappy Chatty and all the different things,
(audience chuckling) you may notice that right
now, the public service sector feels stuck, government feels stuck, Don’t even tell me about the
person who’s been elected, just the institution itself feels stuck. The not-for-profit sector
feels like it’s stuck. By the time a social
movement has taken off, the foundations often
haven’t even been able to rewrite their grant deadlines. Last time I talked to a
head of a major foundation, I said, how are you guys
going to fund a hashtag? Because things move at
the speed of hashtags now, so it’s gonna require excellence. It’s gonna require innovation. It’s gonna require a
willingness to bring new tools, to bring in technology, finance, as well as that public
service and civility so I was encourage you
to, most of you guys, if you’re young enough,
you might live to be 150. You’ll be cyborgs before you’re done. You’ve a lot of time; don’t
stress yourselves out. Just do the next thing really
well with a lot of love and then do the next thing really well with a lot of love and you’ll get there. – Yeah, it reminds me so
much of taking a class to see Barack Obama when
he was then senator, and Samantha Power was his
foreign policy advisor– – I remember those days.
– And people asked him about a career, and he said,
“Don’t think about a career. “Think about your purpose.
– Yeah. – “If you have purpose in
life, things will come to you. “Opportunities will come
your way if you’re excellent “and you really think
about it in service.” It’s very strikingly similar
to what you’re saying now. You’ve been spending
a lot of time thinking about the two political
parties, where the politics goes here, the importance of the parties looking in the mirror, but you say that with particular emphasis
about the Democratic Party and where it is as a progressive party and where it should be going. Unpack that for us and
where you’ve come out now after your time on the road and time on television and the like? – Well, I’m lucky, I work
at CNN, and by the way, as somebody, I grew up,
again, in the rural South. I remember watching CNN with my father and him debating, you
know, and always winning. My dad always won these debates (David chuckles)
with the television. He got the last word somehow. – You’re winning your share now, I’m sure. – Yeah, I’m trying; Willie
Jones was amazing though. And I find myself now being on the other side of that camera and it’s really an
extraordinary experience. I get credit, I think, for
maybe trying to be humane or fair, I have to
admit, I didn’t start out humane or fair on CNN.
(David chuckles) My first couple of weeks
on, I was a little happy to be there and luckily, David Gergen, as is his role at CNN, took
me to the men’s restroom. (laughing) It’s a true story, and he
had this look on his face. It’s kind of like, I imagine if a doctor has to give you bad news
(laughs) you know, this is like, and he explained to me, “This a CNN. “This is the most respected
brand in the world. “The conversation we’re having here, “we’re modeling a conversation
for the entire country “and when you run over people
and you talk over people “and you tell people they’re wrong, “it sends a wrong signal to the country.” And it takes, by the way,
it takes a certain amount of courage and character
to actually tell somebody when they could be better. Often, we’ll think that
thought and we’ll tell everybody else but we never tell them, so I just wanna take this
opportunity personally (David mumbling)
to thank David Gergen for his mentorship and the mentorship (audience applauding)
and not just me, but a lot of people at
CNN; he’s a gold standard. – Thank you.
– He’s a gold standard. So, but–
– You’ve been watching too much Trump; you know
how to divert (laughs) (audience laughing)
deflect, let’s go back. – Yes.
– To the Democratic, but thank you.
– Yes, I appreciate it. – Let’s go back to the
progressive party in this country. – Well, look, I think we’re in trouble. I think we’re in trouble,
and I wanna say something that I hope doesn’t offend anybody, it does make anybody too mad at me, but given the performance
of liberals and progressives and Democrats since that
guy came down the escalator, get ready for eight years of Donald Trump because we say he’s
crazy and I can tell you I don’t think we’re wrong
but there’s a definition of crazy we need to look at
which is doing the same thing over and over again and
expecting a different result. My concern, and again, I
don’t wanna offend anybody, we’ve done one thing
right and it’s important but we haven’t tracked,
there’s something unexpected, unintended that’s not right
that we’ve got to take responsibility, let me tell you
what we’ve we done is right, which I’ll defend to the last dog barks. We have brought into our
circle, without apology, people who, in this
country, have been shunned and mistreated for generations and centuries, without apology. We brought in LGBTQ folks proudly and loudly and that’s right. We should have that community
at the center of our circle. We brought in immigrants,
not just Dreamers, the entire immigrant all 11 million folks, we speak to their humanity and we speak to their contribution; we
brought them into the circle. Women, African-Americans,
Muslims and, by the way, I’ll never speak without pointing out the Muslim-American
community, American Muslims, are the best Americans that we’ve got! (audience laughing)
I mean this is objective.
(audience applauding) This is objective, this is objective. They have the lowest crime rate, the lowest divorce
rate, one of the highest educational attainment for women. Every Muslim you know either has a college degree, a job or a business. If a Muslim family moved
in next door to you, you would say hallelujah
because the chances of your kids getting in
trouble just went way down, way down because Muslim
Americans are amazing. Why are we supposed to be mad at them? I would say, look, lift them up. You wanna have a counter
propaganda to ISIS? Just put the spotlight on what
American Muslims do every day and it’s game over, set,
so to me, I’m proud, and we can go through
the whole list of people that we’ve brought into this
circle who’ve been shunned and mistreated and we
should never stop doing that but sometimes you can do the right thing but not do it exactly the right way and have an unintended consequence. And I think it’s okay for us to admit that as beautiful as our circle is, we may have drawn it too small in 2016. We may have drawn that circle in a way that left a lot of folks
who are white and male and living in red states
feeling that they’re not welcome at this party, that they’re the bad guy and that the only thing we want them to do is to own their privilege
and maybe sit down and maybe shut up for a while and it’s hard for us
because we’re softies. We see ourselves as the
most inclusive people ever. I mean we love everybody. We love critters. (audience chuckling) I’m a Southerner, critters.
(David chuckles) We love polar bears. We cry about polar bears. A polar bear would come
in here and eat everybody. (David and audience chuckles)
The polar bear doesn’t love you, but you’re crying about polar bears and trees and stuff.
(audience chuckling) So when I come here and say you don’t love enough,
that’s triggering, see? I’ve learned the language.
(audience chuckling) That feels unsafe and triggering. But it’s true. I’ve been now to West Virginia, as you know, Indiana,
Arizona, Mexico border. I’ve been to a lot of red America and I want you guys know what I’ve seen shocked me and made me feel embarrassed about my own self. In case, you guys haven’t got the memo, Mayberry is gone, okay? You think, oh, white people
who live out in the suburbs or live in small towns, you think Mayberry and Andy Griffith and how are you doing? Uh-huh, that’s not what it is anymore. I’ve been to towns that
are just complete shells, American towns that literally
are just complete shells and I write about in the book. I kind of create a composite character but only because I met
so many guys like this, I didn’t wanna pick one over the other, but can you imagine 55-,
56-year-old white guy, been out of work for
three years, maybe four, ashamed to go to the VFW now, doesn’t want to talk to his
buddies who don’t have a job and definitely don’t want to
his buddies who do have a job, just literally ashamed,
ashamed to go to church, doesn’t want people looking
at him with that look, two kids, older son, hooked on painkillers, opioids, and losing everything. Every time the phone
rings, is this the morgue? Because in some of these
towns, the coroner’s office, you don’t know this, we don’t live this. The coroner’s office
in some of these towns, every Friday, orders of freezer truck, a refrigerator truck
because they know by Sunday, the morgue is going to be
filled with people with people who have died from overdoses. More people are dying in America of these painkiller overdoses
every year they were dying of HIV-AIDS at the height
of the AIDS crisis. This is a catastrophe and
his son’s caught up in that and there’s nothing he can do. Every time the phone rings,
afraid that it’s that phone call that has hit so many homes
in that neighborhood. Daughter, the good one, the
baby gone off to college, hope of the family,
pride of his existence. Before she comes home, he gets in the car and tries to go to get some groceries. He’s got to pass strip malls,
oh, they want factories back. The factory’s been gone;
they don’t have stores. The strip malls are standing empty. You got Blockbuster Video sitting
there empty for six years. The chains have actually
rusted to the gate. You got grass growing
up through the asphalt. This guy remembers this was a good town and he had a place in it in and it worked and now it doesn’t work and
he doesn’t know what to do. But at least he’s got his baby girl. He gets home, the baby girl comes home. They’ve made the best
casserole they can make. She comes in from college and sits down and within 10 minutes,
“Daddy, you’re a bigot. “Daddy, you’re a racist, Daddy, you need “to own your heterosexual privilege.” Where do I go? Maybe I said it wrong but I’m trying. Does anybody care about me? I’m trying. So he goes in the
basement, closes the door, cuts on the TV and there’s
a guy there saying, “You know what, I understand, you’re good “and nobody cares about you, but I do, “and I’m gonna make America great again.” When those factories closed, I didn’t go. NAACP, we didn’t go, National Organization of Women,
big environmental groups, we didn’t show up. They say, “Well, they
didn’t show up for us,” well, then fine, you can’t
run a kindergarten like that but if that’s how you wanna be, fine. They didn’t show up for us
and didn’t show up for them. And I can’t unsee what I saw. I can’t come back in the liberal bubble and say, oh, these people
are terrible people. They’re horrible people, they’re bigots. If you vote for a bigot, you’re a bigot. If you vote for a sexist, you’re
a sexist, blah, blah, blah. You got to be an idiot
to blah, blah, blah. Can’t these people see, what
wrong with these people? These people, and when I come back, these people this and these people that! I’m like, wait a minute. We’re starting to sound like the orange dude. (audience chuckling) Are we feeding what we’re
fighting, are we becoming? These people this and those people that and sometimes it feels to me, Mr. Gergen, like liberals and progressives
are starting to look at red state America
the way that colonizers looked at third-world countries, that these are some unwashed,
ignorant backwards back waters and we need to go in
there and convert them to our NPR religion. (audience laughing) And we need to force-feed them some kale. (audience chuckling) And raise them up to a civilized standard, so we can interact with these people. And I’m gonna tell you, that don’t work. Now, does that excuse voting for somebody that the Klan endorsed, that Nazis are proud of? No, I don’t write excuses for anybody. I’m tough on everybody,
but what I’m trying to say is that if we cut the
cord of empathy ourselves, if we start throwing
people out of our circle, if the progressives can’t
find a way toward empathy, then maybe it’s gone in America. And if it’s gone in
America, we’re in trouble because we sometimes,
Mr. Gergen, underestimate the heroism of our cause trying
to get 300 million people, every color, every faith, every sexuality, every gender,
every kind of human being ever born in one country
trying to do democracy? That’s a miracle in human history. 10,000 years people
chopping each other to bits ’cause they’re in different tribes. You got countries, they
got two different groups and they fight the whole time. I’m like, you can’t get along with two? (audience chuckling)
You got two groups that can’t work it out? We got 300 groups in a subway in New York! And we mostly get along, but it’s tough. America’s hard to do and
the progressives decide that we are going to cut the bond and we are not gonna have
any sympathy for them. We’re not gonna forgive them, I’m worried. I’m still a follower of Obama. I’m still a follower of Obama
and her husband, by the way, and her husband
(audience laughing, clapping) I don’t want him left
out, I’m tired of y’all leaving him out, it’s not
right, it’s not right. But I’m a follower of
Obama, when they go low, we’re supposed to go high and
I want us to keep going high. (audience applauding) – Tell these good folks
what concretely they can do to understand, empathize,
and to make a difference in that part of America,
red state America. – Look, a lot of y’all
ran from red state America to get here, you know? She like, “I sure did.”
(audience laughing) (panting) Just got here.
(David laughs) Don’t send me back, I just (chuckles). I mean let’s not act like we don’t know how our cousins are and folks
we went to high school with. We’re not separate species
on separate planets and depending on where
you are in your process of healing, from all the traumas of male supremacy and white
supremacy and hetero supremacy and not-me supremacy, whatever, I mean I understand I’m asking
people stuff that’s not fair. Please understand I know that. You got people here
saying, “This man is crazy. “After all we’ve been through? “After all these kids getting shot down “by police and nobody’s gone to jail? “Dreamers being lied to,
tricked, now throw out of the, “you’re expecting us, Van Jones is saying “that we the ones that
supposed to be (mumbles)? “You better take that over
to your right-wing friends.” I’m asking you to do
something that’s not fair. But if you don’t do it, who’s gonna do it? That’s the thing I think
you have to remember. You asked the question,
what can people do? My book, by the way, is full of that. I mean there’s a whole third
of the book that’s groups you can join, left or right,
documentaries you can watch, podcasts you can get to, really trying to help us understand each other better. We don’t have to agree with each other. We’re supposed to fight on the
stuff we’re supposed to fight about, but in democracy,
you’re at least supposed to try to understand so that’s a big part of it but each individual person, first of all, you got people who have
unfriended their friends on social media, people who
are actually your friends, over politics and politicians. I would consider refriending some folks. By the way, ’cause they still are there I mean it’s not like
because you unfriended them, they disappeared from Earth. (audience chuckling)
I mean there’s, you know, it’s like they’re gone,
no, they’re still there. So I think that’s important, number two, and you don’t have to
argue about politics. Ask them about their mom,
ask them about something else but we need to continue finding ways to care about each other, number two, your social media feed is doing more damage to you than anything else. You went on Instagram or Snappy Chatty or whatever you went on
and Twitter, whatever, and you followed one
liberal and then they say, “I have a suggestion for you,
here’s three more liberals “for you to follow,” and you followed them and then they say,
“Well, here’s 300 more.” You just kept following those suggestions and now, your social
media feed is wonderful. (audience chuckling)
Every tweet is just amazing and Instagram (chuckles) so clever, like. (audience laughing) And you just think to
yourself, how can anybody in the world think that Donald
Trump is a good president? Because look at all the, don’t you know that if you
had followed one Republican, you’d’ve then followed 3,00 of them and you would have a completely
different world view? I deliberately, I’m not
joking, I deliberately put in the question, you know
how you do the query, white nationalist, and
I follow like 50 of them and then I put in right wing,
I put in a Conservative, I put in pro-Trump, and
now my social media feed is horrible!
(David and audience chuckles) It is just awful, it’s like playing Russian Roulette, man, I was like oh! Okay, breathe.
(audience laughing) But it helps me understand. People say how can you be so calm on CNN? You guys actually don’t
watch TV, you’re too young, but there’s this thing called CNN. (audience laughing)
It’s a feeder into Facebook, (David chuckles)
where we work. That’s the only place y’all see us and they say, “How can you be so calm “and how come you don’t
scream and yell at them?” Well, I already did that in
the Uber on the way there (laughs) because I’m seeing all the stuff that they’re saying, but sometimes, sometimes they’re right,
sometimes they actually catch us on some stuff and I’m like,
I’m not gonna admit that on TV but that’s kinda clever,
and you start realizing in this back-and-forth, which is never, now it’s just all back and
forth, there’s no back-and-forth, you start realizing the
same event can be seen so many different ways and
by smart clever people too and you start realizing, it’s
like when you’re a child. Whose parents divorced when
you were little, anybody? Not that many, y’all from,
that’s why y’all in the elite. Y’all from same families
that stuck together and had two incomes, okay. There’s this thing called divorce, anyway. (audience laughing)
My parents did not get divorced, though, they should
have ’cause it was just. (audience chuckling) But if you’re a child and
your parents are divorcing, you have two good people
that are just talking past each other all the
time and it’s very painful for children when that
happens, if it happens in that way, and that’s
what I feel like now. The Nazis, the people
who want to kill people, that’s a different group;
I’m not talking about them. But there’s a bunch of other
people who are conservatives, who are some of the
best people in America, white, male, over 50,
red state, Christian, vote for Republicans, love Donald Trump and some of the best
people in the country. I’ve met them, and I
will vote against them and they’ll vote against me. They’ll champion their
policies and I’ll champion ours and on Election Day is all
holds, you know, no-holds barred. All bets are off on Election Day. We’re not on the same team in Election Day but the day after the election, if we can’t find some way to
work on something together, that’s on them and that’s on us. This addiction crisis, we
should be working together on. Prince, one of my closest
friends in the world, Prince died of the same opioids that are
killing these coal miners. We can’t work together
on that, shame on us. This criminal justice
system, Republican governors have been closing prisons ’cause
they know they don’t work. But now, because you got this orange dude in the White House, all
that’s supposed to stop? No, we should be working on that. If we don’t do that, shame on us. We know we’re not training these young people for the jobs of tomorrow. I don’t care if you’re
black, white, brown. I don’t care if you’re
red state or blue state, your young people are not being taught about artificial intelligence
and space exploration and robots and all this stuff, so our kids aren’t being prepared. I’m not talking about school reform. I mean curriculum reform,
we need to make sure, I don’t care if you’re in a
voucher or a private school, our kids need to be better prepared or we’re gonna have a major
problem in this country. That’s stuff we can work on right now. You stay a Republican; I stay a Democrat. If you’re a Republican, I don’t want you to become a Democrat. If you’re a Republican, you
don’t believe that women have the right to choose
and you scared of Muslims and you don’t like multiculturalism, please stay in your party,
don’t come over here. I got enough problems, but
vote for better Republicans. Vote for better Republicans and I’ll vote for better Democrats, maybe
we can get something done. That’s got to come back to America and if we don’t start talking that way, if we don’t start acting that
way, if you start feeling that way, we’re supposed to
fight where we don’t agree. But we’re supposed to help
each other where we do and we’ve got to a point
now, we fight so hard and so nasty and so mean
where we don’t agree, that now he won’t even help
each other when we do agree and that is, you’re one step away from a civil war and you don’t know it. Democracies can fail,
democracies can fail. They usually fail and they
usually start just like this: economic pressure, tribalisms. Yes, the right wing has its role in that, but can do a better job too. – Let me ask you one last question. Let’s go to the floor, you
talked about excellence in service.
– Yes. – In terms of bringing us together, would a restoration of national
service make a difference? – You know, I haven’t
thought about that idea for a long time, but it might be time. My problem is if you had
everybody in the national service and they’re still looking at
their phones the whole time, it’s like, “I’m cleaning up the street (David chuckles)
“and painting some stuff “but I’m still looking at the same feed,” I don’t know if even that’ll
do it, I mean we are, people literally live in
different factual universes, so I think national service
might be a good thing to put out there, but honestly,
we just have to make it cool not to be an asshole
(audience laughing) I mean because, I don’t
mean to be rude, but– (audience applauding) but presidents have a
lot of spiritual power. I know y’all are secular East Coast people but I’m a Southerner, I’mma tell you presidents have a a
lot of spiritual power. JFK as president, everybody
wants to join the Peace Corps, Ronald Reagan as president,
people want to Wall Street ’cause that is what he honored. When Obama was president,
even the Republicans stopped fighting so hard
against marriage equality. He just put a certain tone out there and now you have this guy as president and everybody is just mean, just mean, thoughtless, it’s horrible, and I don’t know. I can remember, I mean, look, I’m a historian. I can go way back in
history to find examples of where were better; I
can go all the way back to, I don’t know, 2012.
(David and audience chuckles) We had two good people running for office against each other and I voted for mine. You voted for yours and then we moved on. 2008… I remember how that felt. I remember how that felt. I had my, now very big person, but at the time, very little
person, sitting on my lap. We didn’t have any money, I’m not a rich man’s child. I wasn’t a well-known
person, but I had knocked on doors with that little guy on my hip and he got to see them
come out, the Obamas. And I was hugging him and hugging him and talking to him and
my boy got off my lap and went over to my wife
and climbed up on her lap and she said, “Go back
over to your daddy.” He said, “I don’t wanna go over there.” He said, “Why,” he just
shook his head, he said, “Mama, what is history and
why does it make Daddy cry?” (David and audience chuckling) That’s who we are.
– Mm-hmm. – That’s who we are and… we don’t wanna admit this, Mr. Gergen, we didn’t work hard last year. We didn’t do anything last year remotely like what we did in 2008. People went to swing states in 2008. People had house parties in 2008. People sent in money, people phone-banked. People gave it their all. It was a complete investment of trying to make something happen. 2012, people were terrified
that he was gonna be a one-term president,
people gave it their all. 2016 comes along and everybody posts very,
very angry Facebook posts. (audience laughing) Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! Your Facebook post says that
a white supremacist fascist is about to take over America
and you’re now Netflixing and chilling!
(audience laughing) There seems to be some disconnect here because you almost got, you know, put in the hospital trying
to stop John McCain. You almost went bankrupt
trying to stop Mitt Romney and now you have this guy
and retweeting clever things is enough, and so I don’t accept, we can talk about Comey and
that stuff if you want to. We didn’t do our job. We didn’t do our job, so
(audience clapping) now, we wanna sit here and
act like America is terrible. Oh my god, these horrible
people and everything is horrible, well, yes,
everything gets horrible when you don’t do your
job and you don’t fight and you let bad people
do, you know, bad votes but we have got to get up and remember who we are. I mean they shot Dr. King in the face in front of his friends and John Lewis and Jesse Jackson and all those
guys kept right on working. Ella Jo Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, all them kept right on working; that’s who we are. Yeah, it hurts, it hurts, but pain should be instructive and motivating to change behavior. If you’re making the same comments now you were making two years
ago, something’s wrong. I don’t want this to ever
happen to America again and it will happen again
if we don’t recognize our role in it, we made
our circle too small. We didn’t work hard, we
believed these data dummies who told us that it was already in the bag and we got beat, but this is still, you look around this country,
and we’ll go to questions, but I’m gonna tell you right now, I’m a long way around the
barn back to patriotism. I was on the left side
of Pluto for a long time but I believe, everything I’ve seen, the good in, the bad out and vice versa, if we can’t get it right here,
the whole world’s in trouble, ’cause the whole world’s global now. The whole world looks like
this mix and this mess and if we can’t hold onto democracy here, if we can’t hold off
authoritarianism here, if we can’t hold off white nationalism white supremacy, male supremacy here, if we’re just gonna turn
this country over to somebody just because they’re on
Twitter and you can’t get out of bed in the morning, ’cause
that’s how you are now. You can’t even get out of
bed, you’re like (shrieks). (David and audience chuckles) He didn’t do it again (shrieks) and your whole morning
just ruined, you know? (audience laughing) You can’t survive a bad
tweet, remember Dr. King and those those folks and
what they went through. (audience applauding) – Van, we welcome your questions. I see a microphone here,
one there, and one there but I don’t see one here, is there? There is another microphone here. You’re first up, sir, please
come over to that microphone, if you would, and we’ll be
coming around from here, please. – Okay, first things first,
speaking with us today, my name is Malcolm and I’m a Master in Public Policy student
here at the Kennedy School. A big emphasis of our
program is using data to make evidence-based policy decisions
and my question for you is as the country seems to
become increasingly disdained with facts and expertise, how
do you think we can get people to care about facts? – You know, I don’t think we can until we get a better
handle on people’s feelings. There’s a particular kind of person in America that really likes facts but nobody cares how much you know until they know how much
you care about them, and the reason a lot of
people reject our facts is because we reject their feelings. It’s tough being a human being, period. And when we say it’s one group of people, well, you guys are all great
and fine, you just need to sit down and shut up and
you got too much privilege and the only thing you
say to them is that, they’re not gonna listen
to you, and so I think there’s a lack of emotional intelligence that’s crippling us now;
we are very intelligent but only in one way, I’m
talking about liberal, secular people who like data and facts and au contraire. (audience chuckling)
I mean… it hasn’t worked yet,
maybe it’ll work tomorrow but I think people have
to know that we love them. – Yes.
– I think they have to know that we care about them. We have to know that, just
like when you’re a parent and you got two kids fighting
and one might be really wrong and the other one might
be just kinda wrong and you gotta tell the
one that’s really wrong, “Hey, you’re not acting right,” but you put too much bass in your voice, you’ll push that kid into
a gang or into suicide. You have to correct people with love. You have to tell people,
“I’m calling you up. “I’m calling you in. “I’m only mad at you ’cause
I know how awesome you are “and how great you can become.” And we’re not saying that,
leftists are not saying that to our opponents,
you know, we’re saying “You suck, you’re a
bigot, you’re a racist. “You’re not smart, you
won’t listen to my facts,” but there’s no love and
when there’s no love, ain’t nobody gonna listen,
and so I’m not worried about the facts, I’m
worried about the feelings. (mumbles) – Thank you so much, sir, for being here. My name is Colin Kil-ik,
I’m also a Master’s in Public Policy student
here, many of these groups that you alluded to that have
been historically beaten down in this country: people
of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities,
in my case, are today facing essentially
daily existential threat from the policies of this administration. How in these communities
can we find the power and the wherewithal to begin
trying to make things better when we’re burning all
the resources we have to keep them from getting worse? – Well, any individual may just be able to hold
on and just barely hold on and may not be able to do that, so I can’t tell any
individual how to handle it. And I’m telling you right now, people are being retraumatized on
a daily basis and trauma is a real thing, in the
brain, it’s a real thing, so I’m not trying to tell any individual what they’re supposed to do,
if you’re barely hanging on, then hang on and hopefully,
we come help you, but some days, you may have
a little bit more capacity than others, and on those days, I would ask you to reflect on people like Nelson Mandela, who came out of prison,
27 years, he’d seen people tortured and murdered and he had the opportunity to sit down across from his jailer, across from the man who had tortured and murdered his friends. F.W. de Klerk, he got a
Noble Prize but he was a terrible dude, and when the ANC, this is one of the most important
stories I’ve ever heard. ANC leadership came in, sat down across from the white racist Afrikaner leadership to figure out how to go
forward, and the whole world was predicting a civil war. And Nelson Mandela had the
option to speak and to speak, not just for himself, but so many people had been run out the
country, killed, murdered, tortured, and he looked right in his eyes and in Afrikaans, Nelson Mandela told him the story of the Afrikaner
people and their greatness and all that they had had to go through. He named every major
general in the Boer War to get them independent from Europe. He cited and quoted their poetry. He talked about their
economic achievements. He talked about their cultural
achievements and he said, “With a people as great as you, “I know a just peace is possible.” Everybody in the room at
that minute knew it was over because he was able to project a future that included dignity for
himself and for his opponent and he saw more beauty in his opponent than his opponent even
had seen in himself. I’m asking you to do
something that’s not fair. That’s not fair; Nelson
Mandela, he could’ve turned the table over, he had the right to. He could’ve started a
war; he had the arms to. I’m asking you to do
something that’s not fair. I’m saying don’t deny the
pain, never deny the pain. They’re gonna tell you,
“Quit being a snowflake. “Quit complaining about your disability. “Quit talking about slavery,
oh, women, come on, come on. “You’re coming on too hard,”
they’re gonna tell you deny the pain and that’s
your price for admission. Never deny the pain,
but don’t let the pain have the last word
either, don’t let the pain have the last word, and
don’t let their refusal to see your humanity trick
you into not seeing theirs. That’s the challenge, it’s every breakdown can lead to a breakthrough if you let it. This is a character test for us. This is a horrifically unjust outcome and we are going to suffer
in ways we never expected to, possibly for eight years and maybe longer. The question is are we
going to come through this better or bitter? Are we gonna let this turn
us into the very thing we’re fighting or we gonna
find something in ourselves that is so transformative
and powerful and beautiful that even our opponents will
have to take a step back in awe and wonder and disbelief? And that’s up to me and you,
that’s up to me and you. And it’s been done in human
history and it’ll be done in our time by us if we choose it. – Thank you.
(audience applauding) – Please. Did you have a question, yeah. – Hi, Mr. Jones, thank you for being here. So I’m Esteniolla from Youth
On Board and essentially, we a youth-led organization in Boston and we are currently working
on a national project called Open Doors where
essentially, we offer healing from personal, systemic
and historical trauma and support techniques
based on listening skills and empathy and the communication
skills to movement leaders and organizers taking on
exactly what you want us to do, which is bridging the
gap across differences. We’d love to connect with you afterwards and anyone else in the audience
who would be interested, but our question is, you
talked briefly about processing your feelings in an Uber before a debate or interaction on CNN, can you talk more about the importance
of processing feelings and how do you envision
that happening systemically for the Love Army and
for the movement overall? – Thank you, what’s your name? – Esteniolla. – Esteniolla, give her
a round of applause. (audience applauding)
I’m so glad for what you’re doing, that’s really good, man. You from here? – I am from Boston, yes. – Born and raised?
– Raised, yes? – Where were you born?
– Brooklyn. – Brooklyn.
(laughing) – You weren’t fooling me with that accent. I knew you weren’t from Boston. (David and audience chuckling) Look… I’ve had a lot of therapy. I’ve had a lot of counseling. I left the White House under fire, and I wasn’t emotionally or
spiritually healthy to handle it right, so I was clinically
depressed for a year. Clinically depressed means
the chemicals in your brain are so off, it’s basically
cooking your brain. They wanted to put me
on all kind of drugs, which I refused to take. People forget I was the
first victim of all this. When the whole first backlash against Obama started, the Tea Party, their hit list was Acorn,
they took Acorn off the map, Van Jones, and Shirley Sherrod and… they came down on me like a ton of bricks. At that time, Obama was too
powerful, e was too strong, you couldn’t go after
Obama, so they tried to find some other black dude
that they could take down and I was a littlest sheep on that farm and they tore me apart. And my whole life, I had
been trying to build up all these credentials
and accolades and awards. I remember the one time
my father smiled at me ’cause he was an athlete,
I wasn’t an athlete but the one time he smiled
at me, I won an award in sixth grade for history competition. (David chuckles)
And i looked down in the audience, and my dad was smiling and I realized later
on in life, I was like, okay, that’s how I can get him. I can win these awards,
I can get these grades. I can go to Yale, I
can do all these things and then my father died in
2008 and here I am in 2009 and I’ve made it to the White House, but i’m just an Easter
egg painted on the outside with all these credentials,
but on the inside, I was still hollow, I was
still just a little nerdy kid trying to impress my dad and
trying to show the bullies that I could make it and
get a cute girlfriend or whatever was in my mind, and when they came after me, I didn’t have any resilience. I had gone from win to win
all the way to the White House and then out the back door and I had no, I mean it was terrible. I would have panic attacks. It was bad. I say all that to say
that this is eight months for you guys, it’s nine years
for me dealing with these kind of people but here’s
what I know is possible: the people who paid the money
to Americans for Prosperity to the lead the campaign to get Van Jones out of the White House, the
people who wrote the check for that campaign are from a
company called Koch Industries. (audience murmuring)
Okay? Koch Industries paid to take Van Jones’ scalp and was successful with
it, and went on to fund the Tea Party and the whole deal. Do you know who I work with every day now on criminal justice reform to close prisons and to bring folks home? That same Koch Industries. I fight against them on their
horrible environment policies, but when it comes to
criminal justice reform, the Libertarian Right is actually aligned with the liberals, and
people say, “Oh my god, Van, “how can you work with Koch Industries? “How can you work with Newt Gingrich? “How can you work with all of these “different people, these right-wingers?” And I said you know
what, it’s not about me. I’ve never met somebody
in prison who said, “Van, i need to get out of
here, help me get out of here “but whatever you do, don’t
work with no Republicans.” (audience laughing) I’ve never heard that. I’ve never heard that, so I’m
trying to tell you something ’cause you’re a special
person, I can tell, and you work with a bunch of
young people who are special and what I’m trying, I
just want you to understand that you’re gonna go through things. You’re gonna see bad
things; things will happen that are not fair, but
it’s who you choose to be in the face of that,
that’s the only the thing anybody wants to hear about. They wanna know, there’s
something in the universe that wants to know who you are and the only way to find out who you are is to put you in that fire. No pressure, no diamond. No pressure, no diamond, and
so you’re asking me a question. You’re reading it off your phone but I’m gonna tell you
there’s a deeper question in your heart, which is how
can I make a difference? And the fact that you’re here
and that’s your question, to me, that’s the most important thing. And I’m gonna tell you, I have no idea how you’re gonna make a difference. Only thing I can tell you is this is: it’s worth the struggle, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to go out there and take on these impossible fights
and hold on to these folks who nobody’s gonna take
of and nobody cares about, not because it’s gonna
make the world better but it’s gonna keep the
world from making you worse and that’s enough, so
thank you for being here. (audience applauding) – I’m sorry we have time
for just one more question but sir, you have the final question. – So thank you for being here, Van. My question relates to your early work as an environmentalist;
I’m curious, do you think, why do you think that the
environmental movement has failed so spectacularly with those white poor rural voters
you’re talking about? And do they have a role going
forward in approaching them and bringing them into the fold? – Does who have a role going forward? – The environmental
movement, environmentalists. – Well, look, I’m gonna say
something and then we’ll get out of here, but the
environmental movement as we call it… is the only progressive movement that I’ve ever heard of that is officially racially segregated. I’ve never seen anything like it. They don’t say that,
but you have mainstream environmentalists, which is
basically white organizations, very affluent and they’ll have
$100-, $120 million budgets a year every year, as they
say in Latin, e’r time, see? (audience laughing) That’s not Latin?
(David and audience chuckles) Every year, e’r time, they have $120 million budgets. That’s mainstream environmentalists, then they have the environmental
justice organizations and those are the front-line
folks who are poor, African-American, Latino, Asian
American, Native American, mostly women led who are
right on the front lines where they’re being polluted and poisoned, fighting for the lives,
they’re lucky to have a $30,000 budget, and this is going on now for 30 years and people
act like it’s normal and then you go to their
conferences and you say say, “Geez, it might be nice if you guys were, “I don’t know, fair.” (audience chuckling) And they go, “Van, you’re
right, my god, you’re right. “And we’ve been looking into this. “Will you serve on our board?” (audience chuckling) And I used to fall for
that trick every time and I realized like, they
just want me on their board. They don’t want to actually
change the organizations and it’s horrible but what does it mean? It means that we’re all gonna die. (audience chuckling)
because organizations that act that way can’t lead
anyone so now what happens? So you’ve got all the money
with the small little group of people and then the
people who are really on the front lines,
like I work with a group called Green for All and Green for All, that’s the people on the
front lines and listen, any one of those
grandmamas, they come here and sit down, you’re done.
(audience chuckling) You’ll be, “Yes, ma’am,
whatever you said.” (David chuckles)
Because they’re fighting for their lives, they’re not au contraire. They’re like, “My baby
has asthma and cancer “and it’s not fair, I need your help!” And you have to have a heart of stone, of frozen manure not to respond, but they get no money, no help, no support and so there’s something wrong and I think the environmental,
and I love everybody, I’m saying this with love,
but there’s something wrong and I think you should look at ’cause it’s a concentration of what’s wrong throughout the so-called liberal establishment. There’s something weird,
man, that still going on and I don’t have time to
talk about but i believe that a clean energy future is a future where it lets you fight pollution and poverty at the same time. Let’s put folks to work building, you wanna put the Rust Belt to work? Have a clean energy economy,
let them build wind turbines. Wind turbines have as
much steel as 50 cars. Smart cars, smart
batteries, do it all here. Put all those folks back
to work, repowering America with clean energy, that could
be done tomorrow but we don’t even talk to each other.
(audience clapping) We don’t even talk about that, so there is a future out
there’s a future out there but we’ve all got to look in the mirror and I’ll tell you, when I
was talking about that story, and this the last thing I wanna say, you find out who your
friends are real quick when you have a position and lose it. When I had a position in
the Obama White House, I had a Blackberry, this
is how long ago it was. As a phone, we used to, never mind. (audience laughing) I had an iPhone with raised buttons ’cause they don’t even know what a Blackberry is.
(audience laughing) My phone, literally, Mr. Gergen. (metallic clicking)
(David laughing) I mean it would just move
around like a little Pac-Man just all over and I’d
be at dinner or whatever and people would say, “Do
you need to get that?” Oh, no, don’t worry about it.
(David and woman chuckles) Got to keep it on though, I work in the White House.
(audience chuckling) Left the White House. (audience laughing) I thought the battery was dead (chuckles). (audience and David chuckling) But you know who called me? Donna Brazile called me. (audience applauding)
Donna Brazile called me. Donna Brazile called me, and
I never said this publicly because at the time,
politics was difficult but very few people in the Obama days had the authority and the courage to call and tell them anything. People would say, “I’mma call the Obamas,” and I’m gonna “Hi.”
(David and audience chuckling) “I was just thinking that” (mumbles). I called them! Like nobody would stand up the
Obamas and tell them anything but Donna Brazile, I can’t tell it all and I sure
can’t tell it with a camera but there is nobody in American
life or American politics with more courage, more
character, and more integrity than Donna Brazile.
(audience applauding) I’m seen myself, we love you, we love you and I thank you very much. Van, we’ve known each other
a number of years now. – Yes, sir.
– And ever since we first met each other, it’s been clear you have purpose in life
and what’s been so wonderful is that now you found your voice and you brought that voice to CNN and we encourage you to
take it across America. It’s really important
that people hear you. And thank you for coming
to the Kennedy School. (audience cheering and applauding)

2 thoughts on “Love & Resistance: Van Jones on his Progressive Path Forward

  1. Incredible synthesis of such a wide range of experiences, insights and perspectives walking in love in order to talk inconvenient truth while keeping on track with his vision at all times.

    Kudos Van Jones. Very refreshing!

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