I first saw Van Jones speak at the Pegasus conference last year, and I know of his work through some of the people I have been working with in the Food and Society network. Here is an article summing up his thoughts on a New Green Deal, which brings social and economic justice together. Having done some work this past week setting up a national network of urban Aboriginal economic development practiitoners and thinkers, I think what Van is pointing to here has immediate relevence for Canada as well:
To change our laws and culture, the green movement must attract and include the majority of all people, not just the majority of affluent people. The time has come to move beyond eco-elitism to eco-populism. Eco-populism would always foreground those green solutions that can improve ordinary people’s standard of living–and decrease their cost of living.
But bringing people of different races and classes and backgrounds together under a single banner is tougher than it sounds. I have been trying to bridge this divide for nearly a decade. And I learned a few things along the way.
What I found is that leaders from impoverished areas like Oakland, California, tended to focus on three areas: social justice, political solutions and social change. They cared primarily about “the people.” They focused their efforts on fixing schools, improving healthcare, defending civil rights and reducing the prison population. Their “social change” work involved lobbying, campaigning and protesting. They were wary of businesses; instead, they turned to the political system and government to help solve the problems of the community.
The leaders I met from affluent places like Marin County (just north of San Francisco), San Francisco and Silicon Valley had what seemed to be the opposite approach. Their three focus areas were ecology, business solutions and “inner change.” They were champions of “the planet”–rainforests and important species like whales and polar bears. Many were dedicated to inner-change work, including meditation and yoga. And they put a great deal of stress on making wise, earth-honoring consumer choices. In fact, many were either green entrepreneurs or investors in eco-friendly businesses.
Every effort I made to get the two groups together initially was a disaster–sometimes ending in tears, anger and slammed doors. Trying to make sense of the differences, I wrote out three binaries on a napkin:
1. Ecology vs. Social Justice
2. Business Solutions (Entrepreneurship) vs. Political Solutions (Activism)
3. Spiritual/Inner Change vs. Social/Outer Change
People on both sides of the equation tended to think that their preferences precluded any serious consideration of the options presented on the opposite side.
Increasingly, I saw the value and importance of both approaches. I thought, What would we have if we replaced those “versus” symbols with “plus” signs? What if we built a movement at the intersection of the ecology and social justice movements, of entrepreneurship and activism, of inner change and social change? What if we didn’t just have hybrid cars–what if we had a hybrid movement?