It’s Not About Van Jones. It’s About Barack Obama.

September 11th, 2009, byROSA CLEMENTE

Over the Labor Day weekend, Van Jones, a member of the hip-hop generation and special advisor for green jobs at the White House Council for Environmental Quality, tendered his resignation, and it was accepted by the Obama administration. I will be the first to say that I never found Van Jones to be a radical, a Black Nationalist or a communist as Fox News suggested.

Although I appreciate his book The Green Collar Economy, I never believed that a green economy would save working people. I felt that the book gave solutions on how to save the current capitalist system. And fundamentally that presents a problem, as many in this country are suffering because of capitalism and its failures.

No matter my political differences with Jones, I will never discount his work, energy, community organizing skills and progressive tendencies, which have reconnected urban youth with Mother Earth and have inspired many in my generation to create space in the predominately white liberal “green” movement.

And as the former Green Party vice-presidential candidate who campaigned against the Obama administration, I am not surprised that Jones turned out to be a high-profile casualty of an administration that started at the center and continues to move to the right.

But what has surprised me is that people are not calling out the Obama administration for its role in the matter. Do not be fooled. There is no doubt that the Obama administration knew about Jones’ so-called “radical” past. I am not willing to believe that they never did a Google search on Jones or looked at his past comments, speeches or actions.

By accepting Jones’ resignation, the Obama administration essentially gave a victory to the very racist Glenn Beck and the most vile “news” station in modern time. By accepting Jones’ resignation, they have put a target on all of us who would be deemed “activists” or “radicals.” Accepting Jones’ resignation is a slap in the face to all of us.

So for those who voted for Obama, when will you let him know that you will not accept Van Jones as a casualty of an administration capitulating to the right?

And for those who are still not convinced, Dead Prez said it best:

“Everywhere we go, everyday on TV, they be talking about who you gonna vote for,
Got a Black man running but I wonder if he get in, who he gonna open up the door for
I don’t want to discourage my folks I believe in hope I just want us to want more
Politics is a game, how they keep us contained, there’s gotta be more that we can hope for
democrats and republicans just two sides of the same coin, either way it’s still white power, it’s the same system just changed form,
You wanna vote, please do, cast your ballot, let your voice be heard
But what I do wanna say is after the election you’ll see, mark my word
It’s Politricks time again.”

Where do we go from here?

First, I caution people, do not make Jones into a martyr. I am urging people to go back to the grassroots, go back to the local community to organize and support progressives and third-party candidates in local elections.

Next, we need to support our progressive media. Malkia Cyril, the Executive Director of The Center for Media Justice says, “We need to create an echo chamber of progressive media to counter the echo created by the right.”

And finally, we need to learn from this experience. The Van Jones takedown has revealed our own frustrations and inability to build and sustain a powerful multi-faceted, multi-racial movement.

I hope that people take one lesson that I learned from Van Jones’ book: Stop fighting against something and start fighting for something.

Maybe our fighting for something began Labor Day Weekend. If that is the case, we should all thank Van Jones for leaving the manicured green lawns of the White House.

Rosa Alicia Clemente is a community organizer, hip-hop activist, journalist and the Green Party 2008 Vice-Presidential candidate. Rosa resides with her husband and daughter in the South Bronx and is currently on her speaking tour, “It’s Bigger than Black and White,” and is writing her first book, When a Puerto Rican Woman Ran for Vice-President and Nobody Knew Her Name. She can be reached at

  • Yanira Castro

    I definitely know Rosa Clemente’s name and she is a breath of fresh air as a guest blogger. It’s nice to get advice on how an indivdiual can make a difference. I love the “Where do we go from here?” portion of the blog. Great insights Rosa, thanks for sharing. Too bad the Van Jones excommunication did not get more play in the mainstream media.

  • Tolu

    This is timely and thoughtful. It needed to be said, and I’m glad Rosa Clemente is at the forefront.

  • Angelika Peacock

    This was vey thought provoking! Thank you for continuing to open our eyes to the fact that we have different options and need to start looking at things in new ways.

  • Orlando Green

    We need more articles and voices like these to give a full and balanced view of our diverse nation.
    Thank you Tavis for posting Ms. Clemente’s insightful article.

  • la’keisha Gray-Sewell

    Very well stated Rosa. And while I do not fully agree with your statements, I fully embrace the sentiment that we are all “frustrated with the inability to build and sustain a powerful multi-faceted, multi-racial movement…”
    I believe it is largely due to that reality that what we hope/desire for our president to do, as he was propelled to the political empire he now reigns by many who consider themselves to be as progressive as Van Jones, he cannot accomplish without that very ORGANIZED and RELIABLE movement you speak of.
    We must, from the grassroots, those who are progressive, mildly progressive, or leaning any way but the right, we must be able to quantify our passion with outcomes. We must be able to ensure a consistent voice to support what we blog and lead workshops on.
    Because in the end, we can hope many things, but one thing is certain, this country was built many many years ago, and the mnisdeeds it took to secure the systems in place have been organizing and breeding heirs long before Barack Obama’s parents would have been legaly allowed to date in this nation.
    It’ll take a nation of millions to undo the house that hatred and misguided power has built. Once that nations of millions come together for action…it’ll take a nation of millions to stop us.

  • Holly

    Thanks, this is something a little deeper than the usual comments. Of course, the administration was aware of Jones’ “past”, which was hardly controversial except among far-right types like Glenn Beck….

  • Dave Schwab

    Van Jones is a visionary who understands how we can solve our economic and ecological crises together.
    Join the call to draft Van Jones for governor of California!

  • Rachel Treichler

    Thanks for posting this trenchant analysis by Rosa Clemente. I hope we can hear more from Rosa.

  • Oya

    I appreciate Clemente’s balanced and informed perspective. We watched the same practice of discarding people during Obama’s bid for the presidency. At what point do we stop blaming the racist media?

  • Jim

    You mean you wrote an entire piece on the ousting of Van Jones and never even mentioned the reason the White House let him go? That’s pretty poor, Ms. Clemente.
    He is a 9/11 Truther. And your article publishes on Sept. 11, of all days. You should be ashamed of yourself for attempting to suggest he was let go for anything less.
    And Fox News did not call him a communist. They broadcast Jones’ own words, in which he claims to be a communist.
    Your blog is riddled with error, aside from the fact that it is poorly written. Are there no editors at PBS?

  • Tian

    Thank You Rosa Clemente!

  • C. Cruz

    I believe Ms. Rosa Clemente offered up some solid advice when she urged us to start fighting for something (versus fighting against something) b/c really the energies we expend are similar, but the results differ greatly.
    The part: Where do we go from here, is spectacular. It’s like a voice whispering, this is what we still can do…and that’s inspiring b/c we must be the change we wish to see in the world (Ghandi’s quote) and if big Gov’t & Biz is turning themselves green we cannot fall behind b/c no one needs to be greener than our urban communities to relieve the ails of city pollutants & to give our children a better, greener, cleaner communities then we’ve known most of our lives, we do owe our children & their children that much at a minimum.

  • Rocky Stone

    With all this praise for Ms. Clemente’s remarks, I guess somebody has to be the first to disagree, so it might as well be me.
    She is right about one thing: this whole thing was about the Obama administration; not just Van Jones. Either way, it reveals a fundamental incompetency. Either they knew what he was about and hired him anyway, or they didn’t do their job and vet him properly. Of course, creating the position of a “Green Jobs Czar” was a fiasco in the first place, so hiring Van Jones merely compounded an already bad situation. The POTUS hasn’t done many things right so far, but I’ll give him credit where it’s due. Accepting Jones’ resignation was a smart move. Let’s hope it was the first in a very long line of them.

  • Renee Mickens

    I thought this was a great article. Refreshing to see people in the South Bronx doing positive things. I do not know anything about the Van Jones issue, however, this has motivated me to conduct some research to learn of the matter.

  • Troy Nkrumah

    You should post regular blogs from Ms. Clemente.. We need more voices from progressive women of color!!!!

  • Jody

    So, Mz. Clemente, what do you want with such a horrible nation? The one nation whose capitalist system seems to attract more immigrants than any other in the world. That would be people leaving “there” to come “here”. Which is a pretty powerful statement by action. Could it be they want to partake in the terrible system? Would they not be of every race that exists? They know what they want to do here.
    Capitalism, that has failed so FEW in comparison to other economic systems, should be transformed into what? A Marxist or Maoist system with You leading the way? Would You create an Oligarchy formed by a small sector of the racial minorities that you feel can not cut it in a free market system. Under this hegemonic rule by these great individuals, surly then a communist or socialistic society would thrive where no others have before. I am sure You could transform this faltering giant into the greatest “community” in the world. Then as all the capitalist scatter about the face of “Mother Earth” everyone could chip in and run all those wonderful new programs You would create.
    Capitalism has done nothing to advance life on this planet, no, nothing has ever been inspired by reward for effort.
    Jim, you are right. Paragraphs are not sentences, and sentences are not paragraphs. Unless, maybe, Dead Prez becomes the real “Prez”.

  • I think Black People are racist

    Raise your standards people. Do that by reading!!! The laws and structures being implemented now were fathomed years ago. Obama is a face to a movement heavily seasoned and precooked. Stop being so gullible; that’s what racist people are to me: gullible.

  • zumbi dos palmares

    Ms. Clemente is dead on point. The Obama administration is shaping up to be a downright unfriendsly place for real progressives. And the designation of Jones as some kind of ‘czar’ was nothing but PR aimed at comforting some Obama supportes, making them believe his appointment meant more than it did.
    “Czars” were the emperors of Russia, wealthy as gods and powerful as phaoroahs. Jones was the assistant to a second-tier advisor. If he was actually a ‘czar’ in charge of green jobs they would have put him on a plane to Motown so he could run General Motors when the govt bought it, building hi-speed rail and such. Instead they let him make speeches about tax credits for windmills.
    The Obama administration’s dumping of Jones does mean that Glen Beck’s opinion counts for more than yours and mine. And finally, if doubting the official story of how the towers fell makes one a “truther” then a good third or more of the American people are “truthers”. Disqualifying people who ask for real investigations is enforcing a kind of “official truth” and poisonous to the Democratic discourse.

  • Ana

    Very refreshing and interesting point of view. Sounds objective and neutral.

  • JLove

    Rosa Clemente brings up important arguments that need to heard. I appreciate her perspective and her politics. I hope we get to hear more from her on this blog.

  • Coach D

    We all thought that we would never have a black President, and to all of our surprise, we now have one. Yes, the system is a mess across the board, but hasn’t it always been this way? The question we have to ask ourselves as a people is are we too become divided? The haves, the have nots, the acceptances thorough association, minus the character values? Preachers who have gotten filthy rich off of poor and middle class black folks? We never challenge the mess inside of us but we are quick to point it out in someone who steps up to the plate. This President is not perfect, but he is far better than the last guy we had in office. Where were all the negative comments then? Is Willie Lynch subliminally controlling our thoughts? I think so.

  • Ann

    This struck a chord with me. Pres. Obama seems unwilling to fight for anything. See what is happening in health care with the public option which he appears prepared to give up.

  • Ralph Desmarais

    Let’s correct Jim – the official reason is that he got fired for signing a petition calling for an investigation into the White House involvement in 9/11. That hardly makes him a believer – just an unwary petition signer – he has yet to make his position known.

  • Michael

    @Jim: although you seem to feel that truth is on your side, you don’t have enough detail to present a full understanding. some point-by-point responses:
    * there was not one “reason the White House let him go” — Van Jones was caught up in multiple hot-button criticisms (former political affiliations, some left-wing beliefs)
    * Van is not “a 9/11 Truther”. he signed one petition that was very detailed. most of the questions on that petition are very rational. for the language of the petition see, i.e.,
    * van said he was a communist once, 20 some years ago. he no longer professes such beliefs
    i guess if PBS edited your comment, it would be deleted?

  • Lah Tere


  • Ann Link

    second posting (first one never appeared):
    This struck a chord with me. Obama does not seem to be willing to dig in and fight for anything. For example it appears he will drop the public option in health care reform despite what he said in his speech last week.

  • David Cobb

    Insightful analysis from Rosa Clemente! It is refreshing to read a bit of honest, clear and cogent prose from a politician.
    I hope we will be hearing more from her…

  • Ms Bateaux

    Everyone seems to be speaking for Van Jones, maybe he should be speaking out for himself, I “ain’t” seen him trying to explain his position anywhere.
    It seems to me that his kind of “Green” was just to “Black” for those that opposed him. What was Obama supposed to do not accept his resignation only to have Van reject it, hell, he gave him the job?? Seems to me it was too much heat in the “greenhouse”.

  • Lillian F Santiago

    I appreciate very much Mr. Jones taking his stand. I believe President Obama just does not have the time at this moment to defend him as he does have to get a Health Care bill passed, and that is very important for all of us of all colors of a certain class. Then we can get green. I think Mr. Jones understood that we can do one thing at a time, sort of.

Last modified: May 4, 2011 at 9:53 pm