Van Jones Returns

The Former Green Jobs Czar Makes a Comeback—and Shows Glenn Beck Some Love

Van Jones has been a tireless advocate for a new renewable energy economy that provides a future for poor, minority and underserved communities

The ousting of former green jobs czar Van Jones amid much right wing radio outcry, particularly from talk radio host Glenn Beck, was considered a victory for the fledgling "tea party" movement six months ago. As the founder of the organization Green for All and author of The Green Collar Economy, Jones has been a tireless advocate for a new renewable energy economy that provides a future for poor, minority and underserved communities who have in the past lacked the training and access to the kinds of jobs that provide a decent living.

It was his vision that brought him to the White House to head the country's green jobs creation program—and his fearlessness in speaking out that led him to resign. Beck—to an audience largely unfamiliar with Jones and his work—painted the green jobs czar as a “radical revolutionary communist.” When I spoke to Jones for a story focused on green jobs three years ago, his point was clear—the community colleges, the training grounds for jobs for young people with limited financial resources—were still training kids for jobs more suited to the old economy. Most of these local schools didn't yet have programs for solar installation, energy auditing, biofuel development and the like. He saw this as an opportunity with a limited shelf life. The green economy was coming, and the poor and disenfranchised had a one-time chance to get off the poverty track.

I saw his message then as one that acknowledged a difficult truth about opportunity in America. Who you know still trumps all. But the airing of such ideas, understandably, makes certain talk show radio hosts and their followers nervous.

Now, Jones is making a resurgence—and offering a conciliatory hug to Beck. Last week, Jones was named a senior fellow at the Green Opportunity Initiative at the Center for American Progress and he was also appointed as a fellow at Princeton University, where he"ll teach environmental and economic policy. While accepting a recent award from the NAACP, Jones said, addressing Beck: “I see you, and I love you, brother. I love you, and you cannot do anything about it. I love you, and you cannot do anything about it. Let's be one country!”

Today on his radio show, Beck insisted his smear campaign against Jones was not personal—rather, it was Obama's appointment of Jones that he questioned. Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, defending Jones in a recent op-ed, called Jones, possibly, “the most misunderstood man in America.” Writes Jealous on CNN, "Far from the divisive caricature painted by some cable news outlets, Van has been one of America's most effective and inspiring bridge-builders. He has successfully brought together labor leaders, business executives, civil rights champions, students and environmentalists to find creative solutions to the ecological and economic crises."

Which is to say, welcome back, Mr. Jones.

BRITA BELLI is editor of E.