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The Operation: A Response to Van Jones on Pacifica Radio’s Letters and Politics, 7/7/11

by Felipe Messina (messinamorrissey [at]
Van Jones retreads MLK’s “Dream” with Rebuild the Dream campaign. Van Jones’ website entreats, “The American Dream is under siege -- but a new movement is rising to fight back. Stand up to say “No” to right-wing attacks on the middle class.” Yet, this approach leaves the Democratic Party and Obama’s virtually right-wing administration off the hook. Why not say no to all corporate political parties? Yet, Van Jones dismisses critique and dialectic, preferring instead to blame the victim.
Van Jones is so effing annoying these days since self-ejecting himself from Obama’s administration. Mitch Jeserich even shows some weariness with VJ's penchant for sloganeering: "Van Jones has a new campaign," as if it were a new Coca-Cola or Nike campaign. But, alas, VJ is a celebrity "leftist" (or the term he favours is “progressive”), so of course MJ has to give him a V.I.P. platform. Enter the "Rebuild the Dream" campaign, VJ's latest effort to siphon away real human energy and anger against the twin-corporate party status quo (namely the corrupt Democratic Party and the even worse Republican Party) and toward, yet, another amorphous and vague "campaign" engineered to (what?) beg brutal corporate profiteers for compassion?

Yet, we know all too well, as did Howard Zinn, “Men who have no respect for human life or for freedom or justice have taken over this beautiful country of ours. It will be up to American people to take it back.” Taking is not asking. Taking our political process back does not involve supporting the same two political parties sponsored and controlled by the same fascistic elites engaged in shredding our Constitution, legal system, and monopolising our political process. And here is Van Jones, wilfully refusing to challenge this power structure by attempting to speak some sort of non-partisan language when we know very well refusing to criticise the two corporate political parties is to enable them. And we know, as did Howard Zinn, one cannot be neutral on a moving train.

With Van Jones' latest marketing effort, "Rebuild the Dream," VJ is essentially pillaging Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy by misappropriating MLK's sincere 1963 civil rights appeal toward his own narrow ends. VJ talks about a "disconnect" between Washington D.C. rhetoric on Capitol Hill and people’s kitchen-table conversations about real economic hardship. But perhaps we should be talking about the disconnect between VJ’s approach of supplication and Democratic Party apologism with the real need for building a grassroots movement with enough courage to oppose the Democratic Party and support independent or third-party candidates.

Van Jones’ website entreats, “The American Dream is under siege -- but a new movement is rising to fight back. Stand up to say “No” to right-wing attacks on the middle class.” How easily we throw the language of “movements” around. As VJ is now a bona fide celebrity his pet projects must be called “movements,” yes? Can we really call the next movie star or pop star to yield 10,000 fans to sign a petition online a “movement”? Or even the next petition to hit 10,000 signatures a “movement”? I doubt it. Yet, why do we allow tin-pot celebrity leftists to bandy the term “movement” around so cavalierly without so much as minimal dialectic?

Van Jones talks about “house meetings next week to talk about how we can make a difference…” but not about taking to the streets as the Greeks have recently done, nor about challenging the two corporate parties in the U.S. VJ prefers to challenge an amorphous “D.C.” instead, as if there aren’t already third-parties that have been doing this for years in obscurity without celebrity star power, nor the ability to get on the radio or TV on command as he can. VJ claims, “We have not created the movement, the mechanism to bring those [progressive] ideas to light and to bring that movement to, to full force to change the conversation in America and change the direction of America’s government. And that’s what Rebuild the Dream is all about.” Changing the conversation is OK with VJ, but I guess seeking to change the two corporate parties in power for the last two centuries would be too ambitious…or dangerous for the dreamer.

Of course, we shouldn't forget we've been here before. We all fell head over heels for Van Jones’ sensible "Green Jobs" agenda. Yet where is Green For All now? It’s mired in the myriad splintered organisations vying for a slice of the marginal progressive political market-share with life-style-change politics of supplication at the feet of our two corporate parties that have little impetus to go “green” when they only respond to “greenbacks.” VJ even went so far as to join Obama’s White House. But after the corporate rulers sat him down for a reality check, VJ shrunk easily away claiming unconvincingly that he didn't want to be a distraction away from Obama. Come again? Right, we don’t want to distract away from Obama’s betrayal of every campaign promise, as he sells out his constituency ad nauseam.

To seriously challenge the rulers, it seems, is a frightening proposition once one realises individuals are crushed by the powers that be, whether it's with smear campaigns, as visited upon Cynthia McKinney's political career as well as Van Jones’ once in the White House because of his erstwhile stance on 9/11 and his inability to defend his early political positions which garnered him his popularity he now enjoys, or whether it’s total exclusion as endured by alternative candidates like Ralph Nader. Further, we know by now, all too well, the fate of the truly principled, such as MLK, Malcolm X, and Fred Hampton, even the not-so principled, such as the Kennedys. Instead of retreading corporate America’s caricaturisation of MLK’s “Dream,” why not pick up where MLK left off before he was assassinated and help U.S. workers in their struggle for a living wage against the corporate political parties all-too willing to sell them out or challenge our imperialistic foreign policy of war and aggression? We know the dangers lurking behind such endeavours. And we also know the longevity guaranteed to the peddlers of supplication and half-measures. Just ask Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. They’re all too aware of the inevitable martyrdom awaiting the truly principled voices of the people. Instead, we have Van Jones here for us ready to organise us to chant ‘shame’ on the shameless in the hopes we can somehow guilt-trip them toward justice. If it hasn’t worked thus far, what makes VJ think it will work now with his new “Rebuild the Dream” campaign, which may be seen as a 2012 Presidential Election primer?

As Frantz Fanon wrote decades ago in Les damnés de la terre about colonial rulers and which today echoes the U.S. people’s struggles against modern-day corporate rulers and their obedient political parties, “…the elite of the colonial countries, those slaves set free, when at the head of the movement inevitably end up by producing an ersatz conflict. They use their brothers’ slavery to shame the slavedrivers or to provide an ideological policy of quaint humanitarianism for their oppressors’ financial competitors. The truth is that they never make any real appeal to the aforesaid slaves; they never mobilize them in concrete terms. On the contrary, at the decisive moment (that is to say, from their point of view the moment of indecision) they brandish the danger of a “mass mobilization” as the crucial weapon which would bring about as if by magic the “end of the colonial regime.”

Frantz Fanon also addressed the capturing of the vanguard by the ruling class. Fanon wrote, "Their purpose is to capture the vanguard, to turn the movement of liberation toward the right, and to disarm the people..." In this “Rebuild the Dream” case, to lull the people into the bankrupt politics of supplication and mass-marches, which satisfy the egos of "liberals" and assuage the consciences of "progressives" and always deride the most radical arguments capable of proving the corruption of today's U.S. "left" vanguard and their money men, not to mention those who siphon away the hard-earned dollars of working class people in $25 and $50 increments to 'send a message' that we won't take it anymore.’ Won't we? Yet, we do. Don't we? And we will again in 2012, won't we?

I’m all for mass-marches, provided we’re clear on the demands and they don’t involve letting corrupt corporate political parties off the hook with illusions of non-partisan neutrality. Make no mistake, the corporations and the U.S. ruling class are in firm control, as it’s been since day one. Howard Zinn never equivocated on this fact. One must question the type of sit-down Van Jones must have gotten when he reached Obama's corporate-run White House. We can't make charges without evidence. But we can raise questions. We can critique the obvious, especially when wilfully avoided like the cholera by dubious celebrity leftists.

KPFA’s Mitch Jeserich played devil’s advocate and asked about the role of being an antidote to the so-called Tea Party. Van Jones claimed the so-called Tea Party hijacked the national discussions of “hope” and “change,” presumably related to Obama’s campaign. Yet, VJ refuses to address how Obama has betrayed his constituency at every turn in virtually every campaign promise. Does VJ mean, working class people across the country were to be able to afford to miss work days to ‘mass mobilise’ every time Obama betrayed them since 2008? Then VJ went on to differentiate his “movement” from the so-called Tea Party by saying that unlike them he’s willing to promote a progressive tax code. Fine, but why not speak plainly here instead of posturing as an innovator? Ralph Nader and others have been arguing for a progressive tax code for at least the last decade. When VJ then says, this is “not just left versus right, but really right versus wrong for America,” he’s obfuscating the very real and deleterious class warfare waged daily against working class people in the U.S.

Wow, “and you think you’re so clever and classless and free…” (sang John Lennon, Working Class Hero.)

Letters and Politics host Mitch Jeserich again plays devil’s advocate, giving credit to the so-called Tea Party for “going after Republicans,” in other words those of their own ilk. Exactly, Mitch, that’s why it’s crucial for us to expose the Democratic Party for the sham that it is because “liberals” and “progressives” fall for their deceptions and false promises every time. Of course, Van Jones didn’t jump on MJ’s train to credit the so-called Tea Party with self-critique, as VJ seems totally averse these days to any meaningful critique of the Democratic Party or his own decisions.

Almost as if to help Van Jones, sensing the silence, Mitch Jeserich shifts, “…‘cos there’s a lot of people that are angry with Democrats, right now, Van Jones.” Then VJ takes his cue with his favourite current talking point today (and the last few times he’s been on Pacifica’s airwaves), “Well, I, I, I know that, that, that is true and I’ll tell you what. One of the things that I think we should be mad at, first of all, is ourselves as progressives. Uh, eh, eh, Democrats didn’t tell progressives not to, eh, to go three years in to the worst economic crisis and for us not to have a single march on Washington for jobs. Uh, you know, uh, at a certain point, uh, this movement somehow went from being ‘Yes, we can’ to ‘Yes, he can.’ And, uh, then it was ‘maybe he can’t.’ And then it was all, we’ve spent two years criticising what the White House hasn’t done and criticising what the Tea Party has done and what Fox News is doing. But we haven’t critiqued what we haven’t done.”

Exactly, “we,” being Obama’s administration, including Van Jones, firstly (if we’re the kind to own our actions and take responsibility for ourselves). We know all too well what Obama and Jones refused to do in Washington, respect their constituencies.

Van Jones continues, “The missing element in America is not these other folks, it’s us. And it’s, it’s when progressives stand, it’s the progressive patriots in America, the people who love this country, not the cheap patriots who just love to, to have the symbols and the slogans, but actually don’t even love most people in America. They only love a tiny number of people in America. We’re the deep patriots. We love everybody. …” Here, as any good politician does when substantive policy discussion chafes them, Van Jones shifts away from real policy decisions to touchy-feely emotions, pandering to alternative audiences with piercings and same-sex life partners, and otherwise creating smoke screens. VJ says “we are the deep patriots,” yet says “we are the ones who have been quiet” and talks about the “relative silence” of progressives whilst refusing to admit how the corporate media heavily promotes so-called “Tea Party” propaganda--and, of course, at the same time demonising its opposition and otherwise censoring them.

Van Jones criticisms seemed shallow and convoluted. Van Jones argued, “…the Obama movement seemed to come out of nowhere…” This differed from what he said previously on Letters and Politics about activists having been long active before Obama’s campaign. “[T]hen Madison came out of nowhere…” says VJ, contradicting himself again, as he’d said moments ago in the interview the U.S. people hadn’t rallied themselves enough. Mass-marches on Sacramento, Madison, and other respective capitals weren’t enough in VJ’s view. The economically hard-hit should have saved up for gas money, food, and lodging to take their grievances to D.C., then perhaps VJ and Obama wouldn’t have abandoned them as they did. Next, VJ urges us to “use the technology, that’s why has been established,” again contradicting himself when just earlier he had derided progressives for merely “writin’ the little blogs or whatever” and not mass-marching enough. Now, VJ’s calling on us to blog on his website and “put stars by the [ideas] we like…”

Host Mitch Jeserich again plays devil’s advocate, citing critique written about Van Jones trying to redirect anger against President Barack Obama back into support for his bid in 2012. VJ says he hasn’t read that and acted surprised about this. VJ then turns to claim “…our view is that both political parties are stuck on stupid right now…” Oh, really? Then why hadn’t VJ mentioned that before MJ hit him with that critical question? Of course, the key words here are “right now,” which leaves VJ’s lead to persuade people that if they just invest more time, resources, and energy into the Democratic Party and/or Obama it won’t be “stuck on stupid” later, say in 2012. (And indeed, VJ lauds “some good Congressional Democrats that are standing up,” yet whom refuse to put one foot in front of the other and leave the clearly corrupt Democratic Party leaving us to wonder if they don’t serve the function of the safety valve for that very pent-up anger amongst progressives, which would otherwise view the Democratic Party as utterly useless.)

“And so, our view is we wanna stand people up based on principles and values,” says Van Jones. One only wonders, what does that even mean? Stand up citizens, activists, voters, candidates? What “people”? Why not oppose the Democratic Party and its candidates if they are, indeed, “stuck on stupid”? Why apologise for them? Moreover, why did VJ defend the Democratic Party earlier with apologism trying to literally redirect the people’s anger with the Democratic Party against themselves for not mass-marching on Washington enough?

Van Jones should ask himself the same thing, as he repeatedly cites Why didn’t Move On organise more mass marches. I watched the so-called ‘Tea Party’ placed slick signs all over the S.F. Bay Area. It was obvious to me then, this was no grassroots effort. Those signs aren’t cheap (neither are the A.N.S.W.E.R. signs or Code Pink signs we often see, for that matter). Is VJ saying working class people were supposed to afford that many slick signs all over California and the country on their own dime to counter the billionaire Koch Brothers’ and other corporate funders’ high-cost propaganda? Get real, Van Jones. Working class people have done what they could. They should be commended. It is an insult to them to blame them for being outdone by multi-million dollar propaganda campaigns and a lock-step corporate media. Most importantly, working class people have voted for and supported candidates they believed in, like Obama and like Van Jones, who in turn and in gratitude for their hard-earned cash support, time, and energy betrayed them once in office, as Obama did, or abandoned them as Van Jones did when he decided to high-tail it out of there after six months under pressure from Glenn Beck, Fox News, and who-knows-who-else. Van Jones didn’t even stand up for himself, much less the people who believed in him.

Nevertheless, Van Jones whined during the interview about having a hard time getting his message across and even took a swipe at KPFA, sticking to his talking points: “The thing is that the cynicism that exists on the left, anybody, and you know, and you, you see it at KPFA, anybody that tries to do anything positive, the first thing you gotta deal with is the left tryin’ to shoot you down. But, I, I, we, it’s too big for that now. And we are in a situation where, uh, uh, our, you know, we have had overwhelming positive response, uh, from people across the board who are just saying it’s, it’s about time somebody talked some sense. …” Well, Obama was talking some sense in 2008 wasn’t he? But we learned all too painfully since then, if we had any illusions going in, actions speak louder than words. (So much for talk, right?)

Van Jones says “Wall Street is sittin’ there laughing at us. The country’s not broke. The country was robbed.” Well, Obama and the Democrats supported the so-called bailouts and the betrayal of the U.S. people and here VJ is offering apologism for those politicians, hoping the people won’t notice and be distracted by the bogeymen of “Wall Street.” Well, we haven’t forgotten Wall Street is exactly whom Obama chose to put into key positions within his cabinet. Apparently, VJ has forgotten this.

I guess we're supposed to accept VJ's jingles (“we’re the true patriots”) and hollow arguments on face value because he's simply so darn charismatic and can oscillate between down-home street charm and Princeton erudition. Instead of making principled arguments and substantively supporting his agenda, VJ tries to smear any criticism to the left of him as "cynical" and dismisses any critique without affording it the due respect of a sincere rebuttal.

Van Jones reiterates: “This is a (c )3, (c )4 effort. This is not a PAC. This is not associated with the Democratic Party.” No, but it’s not associated with any sincere opposition to the “stuck on stupid” Democratic Party either. “This is and the labour unions…” urges Van Jones. Exactly, it’s, which didn’t organise those mass-marches on Washington VJ was so sorely missing and those beloved labour unions, which we all know have long since compromised their primary power of striking for access or, worse, close proximity to the Democratic Party.

In VJ's vacuous sales pitch on Pacifica’s Letters and Politics, he boasted commanding ‘10,000 brilliant ideas’ from the many fans he's able to wield on the internet, but then didn't mention a single one. Instead, VJ took us around the block with the same exercises in futility of vaguely challenging the bad guys around dreamy slogans of ‘Rebuilding the Dream’ without naming names or engaging the very real political process that will, yet again, be manipulated by big money into electing yet another corporate candidate for the Oval Office in 2012. As long as charismatic leaders, such as VJ continue to wilfully avoid rallying people against the Democratic Party (and any corporate parties), nothing will change. This is not cynicism. This is realism. I’ve been watching Executive and Congressional elections since I was old enough to vote and it’s clear the only hope the U.S. people have is to tear down the Democratic Party and the Republican Party with a third-party challenge to the corporate dictatorship of our political process. (Beyond that, those further to the left of yours truly remember all too well a famous speech entitled “The Ballot or the Bullet.”)

Even if celebrities like Van Jones (and Amy Goodman, Michael Moore, et al. for that matter) openly challenged the two corporate parties, it still won't happen over night or in one election cycle. It's going to take the prolonged building of a grass-roots movement that can support principled, independent or third-party candidates. It's going to take galvanising the masses under an umbrella of principled convictions against any and all corporate candidates in a broad grass-roots movement that can weather the inevitable shifts of spoke-persons and figureheads, not to mention a concerted will toward electoral reform and meaningful, open debate.

At least Medea Benjamin (not one of my heroes, mind you) had the guts to admit on Letters and Politics, in the wake of Obama's rise to power, the grass-roots fatigue and economic hardship facing today’s working class and preventing them from the types of mass marches we may have seen before The Great Recession. What the hell have they stuck into Van Jones? VJ continues to scold the "left" for not mass-marching on Washington enough, as if that will change anything. It didn't change the power structure in 1963 when it was spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It didn't change the power structure in 1995 when it was spearheaded by Minister Louis Farrakhan, nor two years later with the Million Woman March, nor any other time thousands of people have marched on Washington for peace and justice and throughout the country, even as increasingly repressive police forces brutalise and repress them.

Indeed, when scores of people marched against the Orwellian drum beat for war prior to our U.S. imperialistic invasion of Iraq, resident G.W. Bush simply shrugged and said he didn't bow to focus groups. GWB didn't have to because his gang knew the U.S. people, reeling from 9/11 and ‘terror-alert colour codes,’ had largely bought in to the election "spoiler" sham argument designed to exclude third-party debate, critique, and challenges to their regressive world-view. And today, Obama’s gang knows they don't have to worry about any number of millions marching on Washington or anywhere else because charismatic leaders such as Van Jones will never use their celebrity against the de facto two-party system (even as they bemoan the lack of such actions). Obama, the Democrats, the Republicans, and their money men know they've captured the "left" and its "vanguard" of left-like celebrities. They also know the bankrollers of today's supplicant "actions" such as and the like will never back a third-party or erode support for the useless Democratic Party.

In Van Jones’ zeal to blame the victim, as it were, he claims he can't be angry at the political "right" for their xenophobic and inhumane vitriol because the "left" hasn't marched enough. In today's KPFA interview (7/7/11, 10am), host Mitch Jeserich punted VJ a softball question likening VJ's new campaign as an antidote to the Tea Party. Yet, VJ refuses to admit there is no comparison between progressive grassroots anything and obscenely funded ‘Tea Party’ machinations. VJ refuses to utter the words 'billionaire Koch Brothers,' ‘Karl Rove,’ 'think tanks,' or 'front groups,' all of which funnel millions upon millions of dollars to shove their faux-grassroots Tea Party propaganda down the throats of U.S. people with the help of an all-too eager corporate media ready to acquiesce (at best) and promote (at worst). And to think, Van Jones is playing along with the false narrative that the ‘Tea Party’ is somehow a grassroots phenomenon, one which progressive grassroots people of conscience on the left should feel somehow ashamed for being outdone by.

Oh, “deep patriot” Van Jones, tell us you mean it when you say both parties are rubbish. Lead your followers to topple them then, won’t you? Somehow, I doubt it with your penchant to blame the victim and dismiss valid critique. Please do us a favour and tell the truth.

Recently, Van Jones vowed to face Glenn Beck in debate anytime, anywhere. But will he afford his own comrades to the left this same courtesy of such a dialectical dance which he extends to his peers to the right?

I leave the reader (and listener) with a, perhaps fitting, song entitled “The Operation” (feel free to sing along):

“You fight with your right hand
And caress with your left hand
Everyone I know is sick to death of you

With a tear that's a mile wide
In the kite that you're flying
Everyone I know is sick to death of you
Ever since
You don't look the same
You're just not the same, no way
You say clever things and
You never used to

You don't catch what I'm saying
When you're deafened to advice
Everyone here is sick to the
Back teeth of you

With a tear that's a mile wide
In the kite that you're flying
Everyone here is sick to the
Tattoo of you

Ever since
You don't look the same
You're just not the same, no way
You say pleasant things and
There is no need to

Still, you fight with your right hand
And caress with your left hand
Ooh, ooh ...

Sad to say ...
How once I was in love with you
Sad to say ...

You don't catch what I'm saying
When you're deafened to advice
Ooh, ooh ...

Ever since
You don't look the same
You're just not the same, no way
What the hell have they stuck into you?” --Morrissey

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