Love Thy Enemy: Van Jones Points the Way to Change
By Julie Freestone
The event was almost surreal: smoked salmon with caviar passed by fresh faced servers, mostly white people pouring into the Mill Valley, California Community Center, eager to hear Van Jones- t.v. commentator, founder of the Dream Corps, one-time Obama administration staffer. Wine. Cheese. Hundreds of happy people.
For those of us from less affluent communities across the Bay, this Marin County event was almost embarrassing. And when the formal program finally began, it didn’t look promising. Six fairly young mostly women with names like Tiffany and Jessica representing the organizations co-hosting the program. They could have been a cheerleading squad from a nearby college. And the mayor, long straight blonde hair, looked and sounded like a sorority president.
Oh my, were we wrong. It turns out that Mayor Jessica Jackson Sloan, activist, politician, mother, prison reformer, had a mission and a message. “Leave your boots on and put your seat belts on,” she said as she introduced Van Jones.
And Van Jones’ message rocked — and surprised — the jam-packed auditorium. Jones was blunt about his assessment of where the country is and where we are going.
“The bad news is: this is very very bad. Trump will prove to be much worse than his hysterical critics thought he would be. It won’t get better soon. It won’t get better on its own.”
Then the talk took on a surprising note. Jones described recent trips he’s taken to red states and talks he’s had with Trump voters. “He is much worse than you feared. His voters are much better.”
Stressing that every “breakdown leads to a breakthrough,” Jones listed three reasons the Democrats lost: they took Trump too lightly. They didn’t understand the new media system: “In reality TV, being a jackass is expected. Trump was following the rules of the new media system.” And although the Democrats spent a lot of money on ads, their ads campaign normalized Trump and didn’t speak to or connect with grassroots voters.
Jones wasn’t short on suggestions for what to do. Borrowing from Martin Luther King,Jr. and Robert Kennedy, he urged the audience to “stand with the most vulnerable — Muslims, Dreamers, Jews. Those groups need support, money. “Building a Love Army is Job #1. Common pain should lead to common purpose.”
Besides banding together with the vulnerable, Jones said it was important to build a bridge of respect. “If you voted for Trump, I’ll find a way to redeem you.”
Perhaps the most surprising piece of advice was to break up Trump’s coalition. “We need the conservatives to be better conservatives. They believe in the constitution, in clean government. They are patriots who are strong for America.”
Jones pointed out that only 70,000 voters would turn the tide and “we could get a million” if we started treating those who voted for Trump with respect. “This was a referendum on elitism,” he said, adding, “If we’re so smart, how come we have Trump as President?”
There were questions from the audience and Jones had some strong suggestions for what to do to thwart Trump, including “Filibuster everything forever,” and “listen to Trump supporters in an effort to understand them.”
The real pitch — and maybe the purpose for the wining and dining — was to ask for support for the Love Army, which plans teach-ins, parties with a purpose and big festivals. He laughingly said, “Since it’s hard to make the rich groups more diverse, why not make the diverse groups more rich.” (Learn more about the Love Army and Dream Corps).
“We have to come back together, pull the world back to our level,” Jones concluded to a standing ovation — and a stream of eager people who lined up to donate.
Julie Freestone is a retired reporter who is considering coming out of retirement to write about resistance. She and Rudi Raab wrote Stumbling Stone, a literary memorial to one German who resisted the Nazis.