News from the Field

CNN commentator Van Jones breathes life into national conversations around racial & political divides

On July 24, the night before the opening of the Democratic National Convention here in Philadelphia, Van Jones—CNN commentator, social activist, author and president & co-founder of The Dream Corps—offered his candid thoughts on the state of our increasingly divided nation. At an event organized by Media Impact Funders, Jones set the stage at the Prince Theater for a frank conversation around the 2016 presidential election, our criminal justice system, and why he thinks it’s important to understand and empathize with Trump voters. (Watch some of his Facebook Live videos for more on that topic.)

Jones also shared his vision of what’s possible in the field of social justice (and credits the late Prince in getting him to change his mind about what was going to be effective). Jones is a longtime progressive but has little interest in taking sides. Rather, he works across the political spectrum to achieve social change. “We need to be able to fight for solutions no matter who wins the election,” he told the crowd of philanthropists and educators. (And nonprofits and foundations should take on a bigger role in finding these solutions, writes our executive director Vince Stehle. Read more about that here.)

Enter The Dream Corps, an organization that supports initiatives to end mass incarceration and connect communities of color to 21st-century jobs. Jones spoke passionately about two of the organization’s initiatives: #YesWeCode, which helps land tech sector jobs for people with low-opportunity backgrounds, and #cut50, which works to reduce the U.S. prison population by 50%.

You can read and watch excerpts of some of Jones’ comments below.

“Prince asked me a question that changed my life”

“When you see a black kid wearing a hoodie, you think, ‘There’s a thug.’ But when you see a white kid wearing that same hoodie, you think, ‘There goes Mark Zuckerberg.’ Why is that?”

Creating opportunities for people of color with The Dream Corps

“On the one hand, you have the threat of the past re-asserting itself. The idea that the way you get ahead in America politically is that you pick on somebody. You demonize some little subgroup. There’s a danger that … those politics are going to drag us down.”

“The other danger is that there’s a future coming for which these communities are not ready anyway. It’s very easy to get upset about a political candidate and what he said, but if that political candidate were to go away, we would still have a bunch of problems.”

“The work I do with Dream Corps…is trying to figure out where the opportunity is.”

“It’s time for a very different kind of leadership”

“I spent a week in a clown car in a train wreck passing through a circus on the way to a zoo of hate. I came away from it very, very convinced that we are at a moment that every kind of leadership is required to go to a different level.”

The economic fall of the West & “whitelash”

“The West has to deal with the economic rise of Asia and soon the revival of Africa and Latin America, and economic challenges externally, and demographic changes internally. Any time you take a country and say we’re going to bring you down a peg economically relative to other folks, but internally we’re going to bring a whole other group in and possibly up, you’re going to have anxiety. And that’s what you’ve got right now. You’ve got a whitelash throughout the West. [Donald Trump] could go away, and we’d still have this problem of ‘What are you going to do about the sense of loss?’”

Educating our children for tomorrow’s jobs

“Our kids know how to download everything, but know how to upload nothing. As long as you’re downloading an app, but you don’t know how to make your own and upload it, you’re always going to be on the losing end.”

The role of the criminal justice system

“It’s going to be impossible for any of the things we’re talking about to work if we keep putting certain communities under this massive over-policing, excessive incarceration program. If you have a felony, there’s basic stuff you can no longer do. I never want anybody to think that you can do all this great stuff without dealing with this criminal justice system. You have to deal with it.”

“We are all hurting”

“At what point can we all confess that we dehumanize each other? If all you see is the anger, you’re missing the picture. Because underneath that anger is fear and grief and loss that they don’t know how to deal with.”

“We need to understand what that guy is going through”

“I went to Indiana. I was there for like three days. I thought to myself, if I was a white dude, I would vote for Trump as many times as I could. It’s very clear that nobody cares about those white guys. We have to be honest about that. Forget factories; they don’t have stores. You’ve got a Blockbuster video that’s been empty for six years. Nobody’s even going in there and looking around. You have grass growing up through the asphalt. You keep driving and there’s strip mall after strip mall. Empty. You’re a 47-year-old white guy and you remember when your hometown was working and it was a source of pride. And now it’s an assault on your dignity every day you get up and drive your kid to school. And you’re quite clear that basically, you got forgot about. You remember where it used to be. The best days for your whole town and your family are behind you. And then you see someone on TV who says he’s gonna make America great again. That’s medicine. It’s important that we understand what that guy is going through. Nobody wants to feel like they’re losing, that they’re not good enough.”

“Black strategy” & getting organized

“I think there’s a battle now within the black community, at least among the 20-something set, about how much of what’s going on comes down to structural racism, about which you can do nothing about except do protests and conscious-raising, and how much of it has to do with bad black strategy.”

“I want to fight against [structural racism] against a position of strength.”

Thanks to Kim Spencer, co-founder & senior programming executive of LinkTV, for providing these videos. Read LinkTV’s news and political coverage here.

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