This harvest was co-written by Nancy White, Teresa Posakony and Chris Corrigan
Van was nervous prior to his talk – some “jackass” came up and tapped him on his shoulder and interrupted his contemplation. “Don’t mess with me! I”m a spiritual agent.” I turned around and it was Peter Senge trying to wish me some good luck. We face the challenge of helping people to rise to the occasion of their lives. You get better, stronger, clearer, more articulate – a global phenomenon. At the same time the external world gets more complicated, scary, difficult to deal with. Both a sense of hopefulness and overwhelm and urgency. We are caught in between.
Out of that paradox we will find incredible answers.
It began with being pissed off about racism – a fundamental orientation towards the world. Born the year Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy were killed, school integration – wanted to prove something to the world about Black excellence and competence. But it was carried with anger. It brought Van into activism and a complete emotional and psychological breakdown.
After 10 years on the front lines, going into public schools, 30-34 kids and one teacher, six books, no chalk and no TP. Seeing kids frustrated in that situation, understandably. IN a place to do something stupid that landed them not in the principles office, but in the police station. Into detention centers where staff made more than teachers. Going to a lot of funerals. Kids in caskets with the elders crying. Three year olds who saw flowers or balloons would cry with the association of funerals or pavement memorials. Van worked 20 hours days, slept in his clothes, pushed to a point where he was sick all the time. Would start all his speeches – excuse me, I’m not feeling that well today, but I’m not as sick as this system we are trying to fight. Work it into the speech. Can laugh now, but on July 17, 2000 something went “bop.” IN bad shape. And the system was still standing there… The system didn’t even say “owie!” Just doing its thing. And Van was lost.
Van was looking at a newspaper and read about a spirituality retreat. “I can’t tell nobody in Oakland that I’m going to a spirituality retreat, but I felt called to go.” SO being a brave, principled person, he lied. “I’m going to the Raider’s game.” Because he knows his people. As a Black activist, working 20 hours a day, twitch when you talk and snap – people don’t’ think you’re crazy. You don’t want to be in the neighbourhood when they say “you’ve been out in the wood beating drums with white people? You are SICK!” He knew he could not bring it to the community directly. He’d sneak to Marin in the night. He got there and said “what is this? This is 20 minutes from the neighbourhood and everybody’s happy!” They carry these big rolled up weapons – their yoga mats. “What is this!” “They eat this ambrosial food that makes them happy, called tofu, and cars that don’t pollute – priusie – I said to myself, how did this come to be, 20 minutes from my house you have all of this going on and back in Oakland we have cancer clusters, learning disabilities, birth defects, off the chart pollution.” Two different realities. In his broke down state, he had to just be a witness and get help. He realized the best people he met before his breakdown lived 20 minutes from the best people he met after his breakdown and they did not know each other. If this kept going, we’d have eco-apartheid. The eco haves and have nots. Within 20 minutes of each other. Four syllables. A prayer. A hope. Imagining the young people he worked with that this could be available. Green jobs, not jails. Just came to him. All of these new products and services – hybrid cars, organic food – the positive green wave with solutions to global warming. Will this green wave lift all boats? Will it include everybody?
Held as a prayer and it became a CURSE!
He went back to the neighbourhood, “We must begin to focus on the solar power, permaculture, and organic food, this is the path to freedom… where you going don’t leave me.” Going back and forth to marin county and oakland telling them all they have in common.
He’s saying these ideas have become popular because “the age of issues is over” – poverty, civil rights, crime. Issue is another word for the word problem…. so social activism has been stuck in the problems with all it’s cynicism. MLK did not get famous for saying, “I have a problem, I have a critique, a have a bunch of issues and I’m thoroughly pissed off.”
The age of issues is over, the age of solutions is here. We need to dream again and bring people together around actual possibility. Being present to a prayer.
Now he’s taking us to the “fourth quadrant” – saying he’s holding
Horizontal. Gray problems to Green Solutions
|Rich and gray
The conversations about environmental problems among affluent classes: polar bears, global warming, rainforests and other charismatic mega fauna. These are the right conversations from the place of self-preservation AND these are beautiful beings that are disappearing because of our actions. It’s good work
|Rich and Green
Affluent solutions…green consumption like hybrids, light bulbs, organic food, solar panels on the second home. Business opportunities for rich people and employment opportunities for others. This is good…better to invest in and buy things that help the planet and not harm the planet.
To see these as all correct and good is to see a bigger picture than the environmental movement sees, which is to say that there is both/and about the environmental movements and environmental justice.. If we get these right, we bring down the system that believes that it is alright to have disposal stuff and disposable people. There is nothing that is throwaway, not species, goods, people or neighbourhoods. The fourth quadrant helps us to imagine radically different partnerships, full of green health, wealth, employment and prosperity for poor people. It is the quadrant for green collar jobs.
People’s Grocery in West Oakland. West Oakland has 35,000 people and no grocery stores, but i almost exclusively liquor stores which just serve crap. Or you take five buses to go to Whole Paycheck Foods. 35,000 people stuck in an island of poor nutrition in a sea of abundant fresh organic produce. The kids that started People’s Grocery deliver fresh organic foods in the ‘hood.
Green collar jobs can’t be exported…they have to be local. Millions of buildings need to be retrofitted for millions of green collar jobs. The job is to connect the people who most need work with the work that most needs doing. This brings neighbourhoods together because they all have something to offer to the fourth quadrant.
Van designed the Oakland Green Jobs Corps program…this could happen in Vancouver with Aboriginal youth and workers in the downtown eastside. Van is great…I’m just imagining this happening in Vancouver, Aboriginal youth riding this wave of green prosperity and need in Vancouver and the building boom which right now gives them skills that can be used in this emerging economy.
Van closes by showing a picture of three kids. Everyone has a plan for these kids but not US. The only way to make these kids part of the world is to deal in solutions that recognize that we are all in this together. Everywhere.
Someone in the audience asked what his connection is in the UN. They saw the green jobs idea taking off with connections through UN and internationally before taking off locally. Which just goes to prove it’s all magical, you can’t predict it… it’s all just intention and a prayer. Just keep going!
Another audience member talked about the Youth Ecopreneurs Program and asked if there are venture capital programs working with programs to support green jobs. Van did a keynote at the Investor’s Circle. They liked it and asked “how can we help you?” Van didn’t have an answer… he walked into the room assuming he would not get support. He told the story as an example of why it’s important to withhold judgement.
Finally an audience member asked Van how he sustains his vision. He replied that when he started out with this new way of seeing the world there was no one around him who got it. So he created a Board of Directors for himself. He invited Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley and others to be on his Board. He consulted the imaginary Board on a regular basis when he needed advice, imagining what they would say, the points they would argue with one another and taking inspiration from their writings and speeches. I turned to my friends and said that this is the kind of thing you do until you find real people that will spar with you and make you better. Very cool idea.