In the book's introduction, Van strikes me as overly careful. He writes
Nonsense. I remember seeing Van a week or so after the vote and asking when he was going to DC. That night he scoffed, but soon he was off to work in the White House for a green economy. And not long afterward, the wacko right media whiners successfully made an example of him for having come up in genuinely leftist circles in the San Francisco Bay area. Here, actual communists were plentiful and leftwing nut-cases all too common as well. Not surprisingly, Van could be tied to some of our outliers and he was, becoming an early scalp for Obama's right wing foes. He still appreciates the President:
This book is Jone's effort to figure out where do we all go from here. In that effort, he recalls the struggles of the Bush era, recounting a movement history that is in some danger of being erased under the burden of subsequent disappointments. In his view, the struggles of that era gave birth to the movement that eventually elected the President and we'd be swallowing a right wing narrative if we forgot that.
Obama's election in 2008 was the ultimate fruit of that movement -- a movement that said "Yes WE can!" not "Yes HE can!"
So what went wrong after 2008? Jones rehashes, briefly, the administration's political mistakes and especially the contradictions that killed Organizing for America once it became a subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee (and thus could not push Democratic party obstructionists.) But he focuses on what happened among social movement activists:
Of course it didn't matter what we fantasized -- political struggle flowed on and pretty soon rightwing populism (and racial anxiety) was as energized by the Obama presidency as we had been by Bush's usurpation and his wars. But with people continuing to suffer from the one percent's depredations and unable to get any relief from the political system, people took to the streets in the Occupy movement last fall and gave us the 1% v. 99% political frame we all struggle within today. Jones affirms the Occupy movement -- but he insists that to remain significant, the movement kindled by immediate need has to move into new arenas.
These conclusions underly Jone's current initiative, the Rebuild the Dream movement. In the movement's own words:
Color me a bit of a skeptic. Movements are made when people who feel they have nothing left to lose take extraordinary action -- this has a whiff of think tanks and funder focus-groups about it, not people's enthusiasm. Time will tell whether it can grow into authenticity.
But like Jones, I believe that progressives win the changes we need when we pursue both an inside and an outside political strategy. He says this clearly:
This seems quite right to me.
There have been several generations of highly talented, charismatic progressive citizens who failed to grasp or were unwilling to take up the arduous work of carrying left ideas inside the halls of power as well as on the streets. Van Jones' life is actually an example how many of these potential leaders seem to have ended up on side tracks. If he had come up in the 1950s in a place where there was any chance for a Black lawyer of his talents, most likely he would have tried his hand at electoral politics. But in the '80s and '90s, outside advocacy careers seemed possible and to have more integrity, so politics was often left to less capable and less committed community leaders. Part of retaking our democracy has to be reaffirming the moral respectability of political struggle inside institutions. It's all very well to be pure, but somebody has to get in there and govern. Those people should include the best of our community leaders, not just the most ambitious. Democracy only works for the people when the people are willing to struggle within it. That, for some, means taking up the demeaning life of day to day politics.