The Activist Beat with Rose Aguilar, host of Your Call on KALW in San Francisco is a weekly roundup of progressive activism that the mainstream media ignores, undercovers, or misrepresents.
Van Jones, the long-time racial and social justice activist who served as the green jobs adviser in the White House in 2009, is currently doing a media tour for his new book, “Rebuilding the Dream.”
In the book, he reflects on his journey from grassroots outsider to White House insider and reveals why he chose to resign from his post after being attacked by the now former Fox News talking head Glenn Beck.
He argues that the White House misunderstood the grassroots and the grassroots misunderstood what the White House could and couldn’t do.
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He also takes a swipe at activists. He writes, “Too many of us treated Obama’s inauguration as some kind of finish line, when we should have seen it as just the starting line. Too many of us sat down at the very moment when we should have stood up.”
He’s repeated different versions of that line on a variety of media outlets, including Democracy Now, CNN, and ABC’s Sunday show This Week.
It’s rare to see a progressive person of color on any TV news show, especially the Sunday shows. For “balance,” This Week sat Van Jones next to the conservative talking head Ann Coulter.
In response to a question about disenchantment with President Obama on the April 1 broadcast, Van Jones said, “We sat back and we let the Tea Party crowd dominate the protest world in the streets. For the first time, we had the biggest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. And there was not one left wing protest. The right wing was marching. The left wing was munching popcorn, hoping that Obama would do it.”
What he fails to mention is that the Tea Party was bankrolled by the billionaire Koch Brothers. Would we even be talking about the Tea Party if it weren't for the Kochs and Dick Armey's Freedom Works, the other major sponsor? When the Tea Party took to the streets, every media outlet was there; when labor groups or anti-war activists took to the streets, the media were missing in action.
In the summer of 2010, a peace rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin's inner city drew about 100 people calling for the US to get out of Afghanistan. Milwaukee Labor Press editor Dominique Paul Noth told me there was no coverage. "I was the only reporter there." The next day, 40 people attended a tea party rally in Milwaukee and every local media outlet sent a reporter to cover it. "If there's a peace rally or a worker's rights rally, it's ho hum. You might find a reporter or two. The tea party would gather five people on the corner and there would be coverage," said Noth. Why doesn't Jones mention this?
He went on to tell This Week that in order to change the country, "you have to have a head of state willing to listen, and willing to move, but you have to have a movement willing to do the movement."
That munching popcorn line and his overall argument about too many activists sitting down makes me cringe. Not one left-wing protest?
First of all, you can’t blame activists for taking a much needed break after eight horrific years of George W. Bush, but the break didn’t last very long. The problem is, the national media ignored most of the activism.
Over the past few years, I’ve been writing articles about undercovered activism for Truthout and I started doing commentaries for Uprising in January 2011. While it’s inspiring to interview and give a voice to people who are standing up for a more just and equitable society, it’s incredibly frustrating to see these actions ignored by the media and people like Van Jones.
I wonder if he's familiar with the incredible organizing happening within the disability rights movement. They didn't munch popcorn after President Obama was elected. On April 27, 2009, disability rights activists from across the country marched on Washington, many in wheelchairs, to speak out against the administration's failure to include long-term care in the healthcare bill that would allow them to live independently rather than in a nursing home. Ninety-one activists were arrested for chaining and handcuffing themselves to the White House fence. They chanted, "I'd rather go to jail than die in a nursing home."
The disability rights community is constantly raising hell and getting arrested, but because they're not calling for small government while on Medicare, their actions fail to get the coverage they deserve.
A number of single payer rallies and arrests also took place that year. I remember attending a single payer rally in October in Washington DC. Not one media outlet bothered to send a reporter. In that same month, 61 activists were arrested for protesting the occupation of Afghanistan, and thousands of immigrants marched on Capitol Hill calling for comprehensive immigration reform. Many more actions took place at the state and local levels.
Van Jones should give them the credit they deserve.