top bar
Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
speak truth to power
defenders images arts and human rights telling stories backstage pbs broadcast credits
defenders images
backstage conversations
side bar
side bar
bottom mapquotegrey
van jones picinterview with van jones

 Van Jones is the National Executive Director of The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which houses the New York City Police Watch Project and the Bay Area Police Watch Project.

Q What is significant about this gathering?
VJ Obviously something incredible is happening, because you have the opening of a new century, you have the Kennedy Family stepping forward and saying that they are willing to put their prestige and their influence behind, not the Civil Rights Movement which they did forty years ago, but a Global Human Rights Movement. That is an incredible development for this family to now project its influence and its prestige internationally, and to use its name to pull together the best of this new emerging movement.
It's a powerful development. For those of us who are a part of that movement, who have seen ourselves in isolation and who have been fighting our own battles individually, for us to see ourselves as part of a worldwide movement is an amazing thing. One of the things that's
really, really powerful and really important now is to see the last century as the century of destructive violence. The new century can be a century of creative non-violence redemption if Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and families like the Kennedys, come together. It's just a question of us deciding what the new century is going to be about. The new century is going to be about creative redemption. It's going to be about people coming together in unexpected ways. No one would have predicted two years ago that a police brutality activist from the Bay Area would be sitting here with world leaders. He is sitting here with the Kennedy families, sitting here with celebrities talking about what is going on in the United States. He would have not predicted that. But there are changes happening. Things are beginning to move and flow in a new direction.

Q How did you make a connection with Kerry Kennedy Cuomo?
VJ It's really because of the issue of police brutality in the United States has moved from the margins of public consciences to the center of moral concern—because of what the police are doing and what they are getting away with. Kerry Kennedy Cuomo was a part of that process (the Reebok International Human Rights Award, which Kerry has been a part of, was given to me in 1998) and she has been really working very hard to make sure that if she speaks about human rights she is not just talking about somebody else's country or somebody else's problem. She is one of the few American leaders who is willing to put herself into indictment and say, "My country, too." That's what has given me more authority to speak to other people around the world.

Q Human rights issues are not always on the radar scope. Do you think that is changing now?
VJ We have seen the new economy and new technology create a lot of opportunities to make profit. We have not seen those tools being used help the human family make progress. That's what's starting to happen now. So you going to see again websites--Silicon Valley stepping up. You're going to see a lot of the good things that have come out in the past couple of years being used to much better purposes and that's what this is about.

Q How do you respond those who say, "This isn't a human rights issue," regarding situations like the Rodney King beating?
VJ Well, the thing is that human rights violations can occur whenever there are human beings. This is not just a problem limited to somebody else's country. This is not true. In the United States, we have some of the best and the most beautiful things happening—and also some of the worst. We have to take responsibility in our country. If we want to stand on the world's stage and say to others, "Do better by your own," we have to do better by our own. And this effort of U.S. activism transforms the whole debate. It makes all of us responsible for the solutions and that's the power. Once you begin to say, "This is my problem, this is our problem and I have a role to play," then you unleash the energy and creativities of untold millions of people to solve the problem. But as long as we distance ourselves from the problems, we not only cut ourselves off from other human beings, we cut ourselves off from the energies that we need to solve those problems in the first place.


Interview by OFFLINE ENTERTAINMENT GROUP



back to top

Arts & Human Rights I Telling Stories to Effect Change
Backstage I PBS Broadcast I Credits I Home