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Jan. 26, 2017, Mill Valley, CA
I was lucky enough to be in the audience last Thursday, Jan. 26th, when Van Jones spoke at the Mill Valley Rec Center. Jones is a personable, humble dynamo—not so impressed with himself that he couldn’t be giddy and lose his mind when Oprah called him in his hotel room recently. He told me I had a wonderful last name, I told him I’m sure we’re cousins—feels like he could be that handsome cousin all the girl cousins have a crush on and the boy cousins want to be. Then the mayor of Mill Valley, CA, Jessica Jackson Sloan (herself a surprising breath-of-fresh-air-tour-de-force) introduces him and he takes the stage, speaking in truisms like a young, hip college professor wise beyond his years, so smart and savvy it makes your head spin.

Jones, a commentator, author and attorney, has co-founded many non-profits, including Dream Corps—which he founded with his pal, Sloan. He served as President Obama’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs. He applies an holistic approach to the social/political issues close to his heart: prison reform, bipartisanship, political and economic equality—all issues that are made complex by our anger at each other (hence our quickness to demonize the other) and the media’s skewing of the facts.

Jones looks at issues from unsuspecting angles then deconstructs them in front of your eyes. When he puts them back together they don’t resemble the issues you thought you had a handle on when you walked through the door. Now you can’t justify just being pissed and talking smack about Trump supporters (as much as it’s entertaining and feels oh so good) because ultimately it is not the best thing for our democracy, so —if you don’t want to be a part of the problem—you have to be human and willing to LISTEN to your enemy.

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VJ: How did we get here…why are we now afraid to watch the news?
When we forget to stand up for each other it affects every single one of us.

Many political/social issues are related but at the core: we let folks be labeled and thrown away. Even those of us who would never miss a recycling bin are throwing away people in our own communities:

AGJ: …such as the homeless and low income families and prisoners, and yes: students in some public schools—especially some alternative education schools.

VJ: I spent my 20’s in a drug infested din of iniquity called Yale University and nobody went to prison—they went to rehab for doing the same drugs [that disproportionately send African-Americans to prison].

We can’t slip over this issue of prison reform because—and this is why everything is related—the African-American vote is the core vote for every progressive cause.

Keep reading for What to do Next….

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VJ: Where are we, what can we do?
The bad news: this is very bad. Trump will prove to be worse than his most hysterical critics thought he could be and it won’t get better soon on its own.

VJ: Every break down in your life has led to a break through.
The good news: I visited Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and other states and met with Trump supporters in cafés, at kitchen tables and they are much better than you imagine. Racists are better than Trump; they think whites are good. Trump thinks everybody’s stupid. [Unlike when Obama ran,] there was NO grassroots for Hillary.

AGJ: So true. I campaigned hard for Obama in 2008: phone banks, camp Obama, house meetings, tabling, etc. Kept thinking during 2016 campaign, we need to be working even harder for Hillary because Obama’s election showed that sexism trumps racism in America. Maybe you were like me and thought we’d have a white woman president before a black man. We forgot that sexism is something all kinds of racists can agree on.

VJ: 70K people in three states jumped the fence because they were unheard. That’s fixable [for 2018 & 2020]  first by looking at the three main problems:

  1. Democrats took Trump too lightly and he played us all [GOP included] and we push people over to him. Just because republicans are stupid, it doesn’t make Democrats smart.
  2. Democrats didn’t understand we are in a new media:
    • FDR had radio
    • JFK had television
    • Obama had the Internet
    • Trump had reality T.V. and now has Twitter
    And he follows the rules of the new media system: You don’t get fewer followers for being a jerk—you get more.
  3.  False Debate:
    • “African-Americans and Latinos didn’t turn out”
    Here’s what actually happened: Democrats set $1 billion on fire on ads that normalized Trump: “He’s saying something terrible again…” while putting no money in the Rust Belt or in African-American and Latino communities. Dems spent on ads and data and 100K didn’t vote. Again: no grassroots for Hillary. AND…data don’t vote!

What about the Popular Vote & Electoral College?

VJ: Every time Democrats get fed up and frustrated and change the rules they regret it ten minutes later. We just changed the rules in the Senate to screw up Republicans because they were being obstructionists and terrible. And now those same rules are going to be used against us. How about this: get the 70K people back. Just to that and you won’t have to worry about the other stuff. {applause} Seventy thousand people jumped the fence; six million people have felony convictions and can’t vote: I’d rather fix that.

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VJ: What to do now:
1. Stand with the most vulnerable:
Muslims, dreamers, homeless…basically everybody. Help build a Love Army to support red states messed over by Trump. Coal miners pensions were stolen and Trump’s doing nothing about it.

2. Break up his coalition. We need conservatives to be better conservatives; clear patriots. Trump is not a patriot that makes any sense to me. We need to deal with our snobbery; stop saying red states are stupid—you only need 70K—treat red states with respect. Build a better bridge of respect by redeeming the folk that voted for Trump: that’s the politics that can win: JFK, MLK,  Fannie Lou Hamer—they all did it by working with poor blacks and whites: common pain leads to common purpose.

3. Listen with empathy and expect to learn. The challenge is not how to talk to Trump supporters; it’s how to LISTEN and SEEK to understand..

AGJ: A woman raised her hand and said what was on the minds of many: “I HAVE truly been trying to listen (to friends and family members) and it is impossible! We all agreed that we need a LOT more time with Van to figure out how to listen and seek understanding, because really: how can you  engage with someone who is drinking the Trump Kool-Aid!? See. There’s the problem. I have to stop thinking that way. That thinking makes me a part of the problem.

I missed my chance to ask Van this question: “What do you say to a 17-year old white girl who said if she could vote she’d vote for Trump?”  This conversation took place at a community service program where I volunteer. This was right after Trump bragged about groping women—so I asked how she could possibly vote for him given his treatment of women alone. She shrugged and said, “At least he’s not a liar.” I was dumbfounded; didn’t have an elevator speech for that moment and I still don’t. All I could manage to say was, “Oh but he is. He lies as much as he opens his mouth.” Needless to say THAT only served to shut her down (not up, but down). But after listening to Van I guess I know what his answer would have been: work  on redeeming the 17-year old and finding our common ground—apparently we both believe in community service—so that can be our common purpose. She and I can be humans around that idea, because as Van said:

VJ: There’s not enough blood pressure medicine in the world for trying to talk things out because the conversations are polarized—”I’m right and you’re wrong”—and lead to demonization, criminalization and incarceration.

VJ: Everybody’s inundated with a hundred things, nobody knows the one thing to do. I think you should be betting on the groups that nobody bet on before. For example: people give money to the Sierra Club and God bless Sierra Club, they’ve been there for us, but d*#n! How many more millions of dollars does one group need? [laughs & applause] And then you have to ask, “Why are you guys 99% white when the majority of the neighborhoods suffering from environmental pollution are not white? [AGJ: Sierra Club has been “working on this” for ten years and they asked Van to be on their board to which he said, “No”… he has a better idea]:

VJ: So I have a challenge: since it’s so hard to make the rich groups more diverse; why don’t you make the diverse groups more rich!? {huge applause, yells & laughs}

We have groups out here that can’t get a half a million dollar budget; environmental organizations fighting on the front lines. $50K would be a huge deal, $100K—huge deal—but they have to crawl for $5K and then $500K is given to Sierra Club. I don’t mean to single them out, there are a thousand groups like that.

And then we wonder why people don’t turn and won’t turn out for the mid-terms. You want people to turn out for the mid-terms? Then get behind the groups that support the issues people care about. Put criminal justice on the ballot and you’ll get those young people rushing over each other trying to vote….what is Sierra Club going to do about voter turn out?

This is the stuff people have to start thinking about—if you don’t know who to give money to, well just Google somebody and try! [laughs, applause]…because it can’t be worse than what we’ve been doing.

Colorchange.org is a good group. I encourage people to give a chance on the young folks, the brown folks, females, new people—give them a shot and see if they can get somewhere.

AGJ: I loved the way he ended the talk:

VJ: Here’s the thing—we are the coolest, funky, party-with-a-purpose people and Trump wants to steal our joy! We must come back together and realize that we can build up to our level and beyond.

Yes. Thank you Van! Fight On everybody!

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