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Van Jones on ‘The Enemy’


Van Jones’s extremist convictions, quick departure, and the refusal of the administration to mount a defense all lead one to assume that no reasonable mainstream figure would stand against Jones’s exit. Yet Newsweek is now questioning Jones’s resignation, while Sierra Club Executive Director, Carl Pope, mounts a belated (and very incomplete) defense. If some are now turning him into a martyr, it’s worth having a look at how Jones himself believed in treating his political opponents.

In an essay entitled “Organizing the Hip-Hop Generation” in That’s the joint! The hip-hop studies reader, Jones is quoted as follows:

“They’ve taken hip-hop where it’s never been before. They’ve taken hip-hop ciphers to the evening news,” boasts Van Jones, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in San Francisco, one of the principals of Third Eye. Mixed with hip-hop’s aggressive attitude, the political message can get “scary,” he says. “You won’t find it in a traditional civics-class curriculum: We’re willing to take issues into our own hands if the system won’t work. As scary as people thought gangsta rap was, it’s nothing compared to young people using hip-hop to express what they’re going through and targeting the people who are really responsible.”

Jones says he founded the Ella Baker Center–named to honor the soul mother of SNCC–in response to the failures of the civil rights establishment, which had become “too tame and too tired.” “I don’t believe the true power of the people can be confined to a ballot box,” he says, but must express itself in strikes, boycotts, pickets, civil disobedience. “We need to be about the whup-ass. Somebody’s f***ing up somewhere. [spelled out in original] They have names and job descriptions. You have to be creative about how you engage the enemy, because if you do it on his terms, the outcome is already known.” [pp.321-322]

So as the laments and defenses begin, remember that Jones is not exactly a passive victim. On the contrary, he himself apparently advocates Alinsky-style targeting and intimidation of political opponents. In fact the November 2005 profile in the East Bay Express that first got Jones into trouble says that his anti-prison group developed “a reputation for in-your-face tactics.” And don’t forget this. The main tactic used against Jones, on the other hand, has been simply to offer up his own words. By Jones’s own Alinskyite standards, that’s mild.