Van Jones: Making sense of the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement

Rebuild the Dream by Van Jones

I always knew Van Jones was smart, but I didn’t know just how smart until I read Rebuild the Dream. In recent years, Jones has emerged as one of the most charismatic and outspoken younger leaders of our time. This book proves he has also become one of the most insightful, too.


Rebuild the Dream by Van Jones

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)


We live at a time when far too few of us can make sense of what’s happening around us. With the incessant noise of the news media, our full immersion online from dawn to dusk, and the endless distractions of entertainment reflecting a thousand subcultures, it’s all too easy to just lie back and let it all happen, convincing ourselves that no one could possibly perceive meaningful patterns in this donnybrook we call contemporary American life. Jones does, though.

In Rebuild the Dream, he asks — and answers — three questions:

  • “What can Americans who want to fix the system learn from the movement for hope and change that united around Barack Obama in 2008 — and from its collapse after he entered the White House?
  • “What can we learn from the Tea Party’s equally impressive capture of the national debate in 2009 — and its successful pivot to electoral politics in 2010?”
  • And what can we learn from the startling success of Occupy Wall Street in elevating economic inequality to the top of the political agenda in 2011 — and of its failure to translate that success into the electoral arena?

Rebuild the Dream has been greeted as a call to arms to progressives, an exhortation to reenergize ourselves for the November 2012 elections. That’s true, so far as it goes. But this book is far more valuable for its clear-eyed analysis of today’s political scene. Van Jones has devised a simple analytical framework through which we can see — clearly — the similarities and differences among the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements and the 2008 Obama campaign and its aftermath. If Rebuild the Dream is useful as a guidebook for activists determined to swing the pendulum back to the left, in the long run it will be an even better resource for historians and social scientists attempting to understand this tumultuous era in American history.

However, simply as a call to arms, Rebuild the Dream is compelling: “The time has come to turn things right side up again and declare that America’s honest, hard-working middle class is too big to fail. The aspirations of our low-income, struggling, and marginalized communities are too big and important to fail . . .  The American Dream itself is too big to fail.”

I’ve known Van Jones for more than a decade, first through the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which he founded in Oakland in the mid-1990s, and later through Social Venture Network, of which we we were both members. Van also co-founded the online activist organization Color of Change and later, reflecting his turn to environmental activism and his passionate belief that the environment and the economy both benefit hugely by creating “Green Jobs,” he founded Green for All. Along the way, he also managed to write a New York Times-bestselling book, The Green Collar Economy. Having accomplished all this, however, Jones is nonetheless best-known for his six-month stay in the White House as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation to President Obama.

It is clearly no coincidence that Color of Change is credited with triggering the successful boycott of Glenn Beck’s hysterical outbursts on Fox News that was responsible for his leaving the network, and that Beck in turn was a central figure in the Right-Wing smear campaign that drove Jones out of his job in the White House.

Jones is a Yale-educated attorney who was born and raised in Tennessee. He is African-American. He is also a very good person to have as a friend. You’ll find an extensive biography of Van Jones here.

For further reading

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[…] Rebuild the Dream, by Van Jones. One of our nation’s most passionate and insightful young leaders, building on his experience both as an activist and in the White House, analyzes the similarities and differences among the Tea Party, the Occupy Movement, and the 2008 Obama campaign and its aftermath. He advocates a grassroots citizens’ movement to regain political advantage over the extreme Right Wing. […]

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