"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." -MLK

Monday, April 2, 2012

Van Jones: The Radical Pose

It would be in every American's best interest to know the name Van Jones. Moreover, people in the US need to know where this man's been, who he's been with, and understand who his associations are. He's "willing to forgo the cheap satisfaction of the radical pose for the deep satisfaction of radical ends".  These words are the road map between Jone's early visible radicalism and his recent "respectable" activism.  "The Radical Pose" is the first in a two part series focusing on President Obama's former Special Adviser Van Jones.

Born on September 20 1968, Anthony Kapel "Van" Jones grew up in West Tennessee where he graduated from Jackson Central-Merry High School in Jackson.  Jones went on to earn a B.A. in Communications and Political Science from the University of Tennessee at Martin and in 1993 earned his Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.

In 1992, while studying at Yale, Jones interned at Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in San Francisco where he acted as a legal observer during the trial of the four policemen charged with assaulting Rodney King.[1] 

If you're not familiar with the term, a legal observer is an individual who attends a public demonstration, protest or other activity where there is a potential for conflict between the public or activists and the police.  Jones' interaction during the King trial and subsequent protests was to monitor, record and report on any unlawful or improper police behavior.

As the riots broke out Jones' participation on the streets of San Francisco is a tad fuzzy. In an essay he wrote soon after the rioting and republished in The Huffington Post in May 2007, Jones said he "just marched around and chanted slogans" as other protesters set trash cans afire, smashed car windows and threw rocks at passing motorists.  However, he is later quoted as saying,
"Yes, the Great Revolutionary Moment had at long last come. And the time, clearly, was ours! So we stole stuff. Y'know, stole stuff. Radios, tennis shoes. Well, not everybody, of course."[2]
As a result, Jones and many others were arrested.  He wrote of his jail experience:
I met all these young radical people of color - I mean really radical, communists and anarchists. And it was, like, 'This is what I need to be a part of... I spent the next ten years of my life working with a lot of those people I met in jail, trying to be a revolutionary...I was a rowdy nationalist on April 28th, and then the verdicts came down on April 29th..By August, I was a communist.[3]

In 1994 Jones went on to join and lead a prominent Bay Area communist organization-Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM).[4]  They held study groups on the theories of Marx and Lenin and dreamed of a multiracial socialist utopia. They protested police brutality and got arrested for crashing through police barricades.[5]

STORM also had ties to the South African Communist Party and it revered Amilcar Cabral, the late Marxist revolutionary leader (of Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands) who lauded Lenin as “the greatest champion of the national liberation of the peoples”. In 2006 Van Jones named his newborn son “Cabral”-in Amilcar Cabral’s honor.[6]

According to former Jones colleague Nina Rothschild Utne in every e-mail Van Jones sends, he includes this quote from Amílcar Cabral;
“Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories... Our experience has shown us that in the general framework of daily struggle this battle against ourselves, this struggle against our own weaknesses... is the most difficult of all.”[7]
This quote is also found under the preface section of the STORM Handbook.

In 1995, Jones started Bay Area PoliceWatch. PoliceWatch was a hotline and lawyer-referral service for alleged victims claiming police abuse to speak with bar-certified lawyers.[8]
We designed a computer database, the first of its kind in the country, that allows us to track problem officers, problem precincts, problem practices, so at the click of a mouse we can now identify trouble spots and troublemakers. This has given us a tremendous advantage in trying to understand the scope and scale of the problem. Now, obviously, just because somebody calls and says, 'Officer so-and-so did something to me,' doesn't mean it actually happened, but if you get two, four, six phone calls about the same officer, then you begin to see a pattern. It gives you a chance to try and take affirmative steps.[9]
Building off the success of PoliceWatch, Jones created the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996. The center is named after the unsung hero of the civil-rights movement Ella Baker who worked closely with communists for years including secret party member Stanley Levison (for many years the CPUSA's top money man).  Based in Oakland, CA, the organization is a "non-profit strategy and action center " with the stated aim of "to work for justice, opportunity and peace in urban America."

Jones helped organize an October 1999 rally in Oakland, California, calling for a retrial on behalf of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal. Around 2002, Jones, who had experience as a record producer, produced (for the Ella Baker Center) an album that starred Abu Jamal. That album featured lyrics depicting America not only as a place where "terrorists are made," but also as "a piece of stolen land led by right-wing, war-hungry, oil-thirsty ... mother f***ers" who "got people of color playing servant to do that sh** for them."[10]

The radical pose is only part of Jone's story.  In part 2, Van Jones: Radical Ends, we'll take a closer look at his transition to a "respectable" activist, his new found credibility, and what he's setting up for next.


Other links used in this article:

No comments:

Post a Comment