Book review by Ron Blascoe
Van Jones’ premise is that we need to build a broad-based grassroots movement in this country that is capable of pressuring politicians to do the right thing. But, we also have to elect politicians who are susceptible to our pressure. That is, first we have to re-elect Barack Obama.
His new book, Rebuild the Dream, is being billed as the first by an Obama White House insider. Jones, you may recall, was hired by the newly-elected Obama as a “special advisor” on green jobs. If you watch much Fox News, you may also remember that he was hounded out of that post by a concerted right-wing campaign, led by the likes of Glenn Beck and picked up as a cause by the emerging Tea Party.
On the one hand, Jones’ premise is that it was we, the “99 percent,” the “middle class,” that failed to take advantage of Obama’s electoral victory in 2008. We, he says, were taken up by the “movement for hope and change,” that mobilized broad swaths of ordinary people to get to the polls. On election night, many across the country celebrated, thinking that their hopes would soon be fulfilled.
But, as soon as the confetti was swept up, we settled back, demobilized, and waited for Obama to fix things. That was our big mistake, he says. We went from “’hoping’ too much in 2008 to ‘moping’ too much in 2010.”
So, basically, that right-wing assault on unions and the standard of living of working people over the past three years, further government undermining of your civil liberties, the on-going wars and record military spending, Wall Street bailouts, the stepped up war on women’s rights, the expanding rift between the rich and poor, expanding “free trade,” extending the “Bush tax cuts,” the rise of the Tea Party (need I go on?) are all your fault!
It’s not a new idea. FDR was supposed to have told John L. Lewis that the unions had to force him to do the right thing, and it was one of Saul Alinsky’s founding principles. The Civil Rights Movement made LBJ do good. Lesson being: we have to rebuild a mass, grassroots movement to pressure Obama to do the right thing.
But first, of course, we have to re-elect Obama.
Some of the more entertaining parts of Rebuild the Dream are Jones’ take on Obama’s “big mistakes” in his first three years. The President, he says, should have been more forceful in taking on the banks over the economic collapse. He should have held mass rallies and built a movement for health care reform. And, most interesting perhaps, he should have mounted a campaign to explain why capitalism is better than socialism. In a recent interview on Democracy Now!, Jones focused on Obama taking a dive on the race issue as well.
This failure to address important issues head on, Jones charges, left the field open for the rise of the Tea Party and an emboldened right wing.
Of course, we can imagine why Obama didn’t “spank the banks,” involve masses of people in the health care reform debate, take the race issue head on or utter the “S-word.” Obama was in bed with Wall Street bankers from the start, the masses likely would have demanded single-payer health care. We live in a deeply racist country and Obama was hoping a lot of people wouldn’t notice he was Black. And, of course, how does one defend capitalism in the midst of an economic meltdown due to a classic crisis of over-production?
Yet it’s hard to argue with Jones’ (and Allinsky’s) fundamental idea that we need to build strong social movements, whether to force Democrats to do the right thing or to simply wrest power and resources from the employing class.
But, if you’ve been around for awhile, you may have noticed something about the ebb and flow of social movements. We were able to mobilize 8,000 people on the steps of the Capitol to demand an end to “Bush’s War.” “Obama’s War,” in contrast, only drew a few hundred protesters. And, back when it was “Clinton’s War,” we could have held anti-war rallies in a phone booth.
It’s pretty much the same with the labor, women’s rights, gay rights and environmental movements. When the Dems are out of power, we mobilize the masses. When it’s the Dems who are in charge, we “mope.” Or, more exactly, we don’t want to do anything that would embarrass those who are making bad decisions.
Van Jones and Rebuild the Dream are getting a lot of media play these days. A cynic might think that the timing and content of the book is part of an effort to overcome the “enthusiasm gap” among 2008 Obama voters that some fear could cost him the election this time.
You can pick up a copy of the book for $25 at Rainbow Bookstore Coop, 426 W. Gilman Street, Madison. It’s an easy read.