Dear Van Jones: We Need a Dream Party as well as a Love Army



When I first heard Van Jones call for the widespread mobilization of a Love Army to stand against Trump’s legions of haters, I was taken aback by the juxtaposition of Love, the life-giving force of pure positive energy in the universe, with Army—a hierarchical human structure organized in the service of war, death and destruction.

I’m still not crazy about the term, but I do appreciate the sentiment behind Jones’ call, especially after reading this excellent interview with him in Rolling Stone.

“Tight around Trump is a little hate army… of very cynical, nasty people who took over our government. We have to build a massive Love Army that can take the country and the government back in a better direction. That is completely doable. Because there’s now many more people wanting to get involved than were trying to get involved a month ago, when it would have mattered. [bitter laughter]

“The problem is not the abundance of people with bad intentions; it’s the superabundance of people with good intentions who don’t know what to do yet.”

Jones suggests we people of good intentions get organized in order to fight back in the service of Love. Impossible to argue with that, and bravo to him and other leaders, from Standing Rock on down the line, to getting right back on the horse after that wild bucking bronco episode otherwise known as the election.

The Army metaphor conjures up a vision of many people coming together in a common cause, carrying out a vision set by the politicians and crafted into an actionable agenda by the generals.

That would be OK if we could trust the politicians to actually represent us. But one thing this election season has made quite clear is the extent to which our political elite has become alienated from the ordinary folks. Bernie Sanders aside, both the Democratic Party and the Republicans showed themselves to be equally tone-deaf to the concerns of masses of Americans in every state who are just barely scraping by in an economy entirely rigged for the rich and powerful.

To use obsolete terms that suddenly seem relevant again, America is host to a huge Third World within its own seemingly First World borders. This has always been the case—ask any denizen of a rural trailer park, a city public housing project, or, for that matter, an Indian reservation.

But now the middle class is slipping into the abyss of poverty too. Between the credit card shysters with their 35% interest rates, the mortgage loan sharks, the exorbitant cost of health care and higher education, the takeover of Main Street by the big box corporations and the steady erosion of working class jobs to other countries and to robots….the middle class is going, going, gone.

Why these folks thought Donald Trump, of all people, might serve their interests, is a puzzle for the historians. It seems mainly to do with the dumbing down of our general populace, raised on reality TV and shoot-em-up video games, trapped in oppressive school systems that discourage creativity, questioning and independent thought, and insulated within conservative communities that fall back on a passive, fatalistic acceptance of “God’s will” that can be easily manipulated by unscrupulous politicians.

That this is the reality for millions of people in “Third World America” is an outrageous truth that Democrats must bear responsibility for, as well as Republicans. President Obama did his best to be the president of “all Americans,” but with the Republican Congress blocking him at every turn, his hands were largely tied. And even he supported the TTP agreement, another trade deal that embraced globalization without accounting for the harm it might do to working Americans or to the environment.

As Van Jones says in the Rolling Stone interview, both parties sold working Americans down the river—and they’ve been doing it for many, many years, it’s nothing new.

What’s new is the social media technology that enables us to know about it, practically as it’s happening.

Even when we’re talking about Big Espionage operations, like the Russian hacking of the U.S. election, now information that would have been sealed away behind CONFIDENTIAL barriers for years is suddenly rip-roaring through social media channels, totally out of the control of the politicians or the generals.

This can seem scary, but it is also a huge opportunity. If we’re to create a Love Army, it will be a decentralized one, mobilizing from individual communities and operating through household computer networks, connected by telecommunications satellites open to any user with a smartphone.

The elites who developed the technology that is so ubiquitous now did not anticipate it would eventually have the potential to be used in the service of populist goals. Donald Trump, with his simple but effective use of Twitter, is so hard to understand because he’s playing both sides so well: the populist general mobilizing the working class to follow him…while at the same time courting the rich and powerful and promising them total control.

What does “populist” mean in these topsy-turvy times? It means Bernie Sanders as well as Donald Trump—both of these guys tried to work through established channels, the Elephants and the Mules, to gain the power to remake the country in their image. Bernie might have succeeded if the Democrats hadn’t stupidly shut him out, leaving the field open for Trump and his Russian allies to sweep to victory.

van-jones-fist-in-your-faceBut here comes Van Jones and his Dream Corps with a new definition of “populist” and a new, 21st century vision of how to mobilize a decentralized army in the service of Love.

His reset at the values level starts with national teach-ins, “once a week, every week, standing up for the most vulnerable people: Muslims, the DREAMers, Jewish people, women, trans people, black protestors. And once a week, give the whole country a chance to show a whole lotta love – both to demonstrate and deepen a solidarity with those groups, all under one hashtag. #LoveArmy is an opportunity to reassert at a values level….And it has to be inclusive, by the way, of rural poor people, of people in coal country, red-state and industrial Heartland voters who are also going to be let down by Trump, who are also going to be in a lot of pain.

“If you’re building a Love Army that includes all of the usual suspects that Trump went after and also people that Trump tricked, you start building a majority movement. That’s what I’m trying to do. The people that Trump attacked, but also the people that Trump duped.”

The truth is that the Democrats have not acted with sufficient love either. As Jones puts it baldly, “Both political parties suck right now. The Democratic Party has become a hidey hole for all kinds of elite snobbery, and Democrats won’t confess to it and deal with it. The Republican Party has become a hidey hole for all kinds of bigots, and they won’t confess or deal with it.”

Maybe we are at the point in our Union, almost 250 years on, when another party is needed—a party that is truly in the service of all Americans, and even bigger—in the service of Life everywhere on our planet.

This new party needs to go beyond tribalism to work on behalf of the health and well-being of the entire planet and all its denizens, from the rainforests to the boreal forests, from the Arctic to the Antarctic and everywhere in-between. We are all connected—we know that know scientifically, and our values, as Jones says, must come from that profound awareness of interbeing.

I would like to see Jones stir up not just an army, but a political party that could advance his inclusive activist vision and mobilize those of us who want peace, prosperity and the happiness and well-being of all. Maybe he should call it the Dream Party.

I’m in, Van! Sign me up!

Resisting the Zombies: At what point will we stop bearing witness to ecocide and begin to act?

My favorite chapter in Derrick Jensen’s new book Dreams is entitled “Zombies.”  Jensen describes the corporate elite as zombies, that is, as “flesh-eating…mindless monsters who are not only to be feared for their insatiability and ferocity, but because their sickness is highly contagious….Zombies eat human flesh, but they are also as relentlessly omnicidal as corporations.  They destroy forests, grasslands, rivers, oceans, mountain tops, and the mountains themselves.  They consume everything, and they shit out plastic” (367).

For Jensen, “zombie capitalists” are especially terrifying, because “on the one hand, they pursue their prey–I mean, profits–with an unfeeling, unrelenting, insatiable mindlessness, unheeding of all the pain and suffering they cause in their victims–I mean, in the resources they exploit (I mean, develop).  On the other hand, they fabricate extraordinarily complicated rationales for their zombie economics (or zombinomics) and for the further zombification of the world and all its inhabitants” (368).

Jensen imagines a “realistic zombie film” being made, in which “the remaining humans”–the ones who haven’t been consumed or infected yet by the zombies–are “refusing to resist, but instead hoping against reason that the zombies will stop on their own, that the zombies will undergo a miraculous awakening…or that if they personally could just live sustainably, then their shining examples will cause the zombies to suddenly stop, look at the torn flesh all around them, and say, ‘What have I done?  I need to make this right!’….In a realistic zombie movie,” Jensen says, “too many humans would try to stop the zombies by gardening, taking shorter showers, recycling, petitioning.  In a realistic zombie movie…many of those humans who opposed resistance would be revealed near the end to not really be on the side of the living but rather, unbeknownst even to them, already among the living dead” (369).

Unfortunately, all too often, even those who profess to be on the side of justice and environmental sanity are eventually shown to be soulless creatures of the corporate capitalist zombie machine.

It seems that the minute an authentic human leader arises who has the possibility of successfully resisting the zombies and making real change, s/he is either smeared and discredited; corrupted with financial payoffs; driven mad with frustration by repeated, humiliating obstructions; or simply imprisoned or killed off.

Thus we have watched with horror as our beloved Barack Obama, the young man we came to know and love in Dreams from my Father and The Audacity of Hope, has slowly had the soul sucked out of him by the zombification crucible of politics and media.  The face remains the same, but the eyes are hollow, and the spirit is clearly guttering.

Bill McKibben is still holding out valiantly against the zombies–maybe it’s that pure Vermont air that is keeping his head clear of contagion so far.  Derrick Jensen has some harsh questions for Bill, though, which I think are entirely reasonable.  Given the steady destruction of the planet by the zombie forces of corporate capitalism, Jensen asks, “Would McKibben ever countenance the physical dismantling of infrastructure in order to stop civilization from killing the planet?” Jensen’s question, “for McKibben and for everyone,” is: “What is your threshold?”  At what point will we stop bearing silent witness to ecocide, and begin to seriously resist?

The reason the Occupy Wall Street protests have so seized the American imagination is because the young people out there on the street are so clearly NOT ZOMBIES.  Not yet, anyway.  They have not been corrupted; their souls are intact.  That’s why they can see so clearly that what the zombie nation accepts as normal–the enrichment of the few on the backs of the masses–is not normal at all, and is neither just nor sustainable.

There is another up-and-coming activist who is right now wavering on the border between zombie and human.  His name is Van Jones, and he’s the man behind the Rebuild the American Dream movement.  Jones is all about developing “green-collar jobs”; in other words, rebooting the old American Dream in a new, more sustainable version.  Unlike Occupy Wall Street, Jones comes armed with a nice bullet-pointed list of “demands.”

Nothing wrong with his list.  But it’s just not radical or visionary enough to ignite the minds and hearts of the young people out in Liberty Park Plaza.  Even the way his website is presented, with red-white-and-blue stars and flashy campaign-style graphics, is very likely to turn a lot of the Occupy Wall Streeters off.  It reeks of zombification.

When you look into Jones’ bio, you see why: “Jones served as the green jobs advisor in the Obama White House in 2009 and is currently a senior policy advisor at Green For All. He also holds a joint appointment at Princeton University as a distinguished visiting fellow in both the Center for African American Studies and in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.”

I’m sorry, but once Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School get their hands on you, zombie contagion is almost assured.  You may not want to become one of them–the elite, the 1%–but like it or not, you will be beholden to them, and they will begin to mold you in ways you won’t even be aware of.

For example, contrast that slick Rebuild the Dream website, completely cleansed of its grassroots origins, to the Occupy Wall Street website, with its livestream coverage of the chaotic goings-on down on Liberty Square.  The livestream may be focusing on a dark corner, but you can hear people in the background singing together and talking in real human-speak–not the carefully crafted politician-speak of Rebuild the Dream’s “demands.”

I don’t like to dis Van Jones, any more than Derrick Jensen likes to dis Bill McKibben.  All of these men, including the old Barack Obama, are heroes for our time for having dared to at least try to resist.  Bill McKibben is still holding out, and we need to applaud him for it and help him in any way possible.

But most of all, we need to help those kids out in Liberty Square.  We need to make sure they know that what is best and most powerful about their nascent movement is the fact that it is not slick, not uber-organized, not hyper-networked.  It’s human, and I still dare to hope it will stay that way.  I still dare to hope that a real resistance to the zombie elite might just be getting underway.

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