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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Transcript: Van Jones urges netroots to lead the way in rebuilding the American dream

Editor’s Note: One of the highlights of Netroots Nation 2011 was Van Jones’ Saturday keynote addres urging the community to lead the way in rebuilding the American Dream, which repeatedly brought the convention to its feet. NPI has transcribed the speech for the benefit of progressive activists who weren’t there to hear it in person. We encourage you to watch the video of Van Jones’ remarks (his speech starts at 16:15) in addition to reading the following transcript.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen…. a man who needs no introduction to Netroots Nation… Please welcome Van Jones!


VAN JONES: [Makes record-scratching motion]: Scuntz-Scuntz-ScuntzScuntzch …Scuntz-Scuntz-Scuntzch…[Pause]

Well, what happened? I’m back! [He Laughs] But y’all are different now. Last year I was here, y’all were depressed, sad, mopey, grumpy, despairing. This year y’all [are] fired up, y’all [are] fired up! [Applause] I think y’all are ready to fight again.

And I’m not surprised… I’ll tell you why I’m not.

I’ve watched this movement that we’ve built up go from hope to heartbreak.

I’ve watched our values slandered. I’ve watched our leaders attacked. I’ve watched our organizations destroyed, and I’ve watched many of the people in this room go deep, deep down and find something in you… and I’ve found something in me, I didn’t know was there. I’m sick of us getting kicked around, folks.

I’m sick and tired of it… I’m sick and tired of it. And I’ve got one thing I can guarantee you, but I’ve got something else I’m going to need your help with.

The fight back has begun. The [traditional] media wants to ignore it; we expect that. But the fight back has already begun. It’s not just Madison, as extraordinary as Madison was, that’s not the great exception: That’s the great example. I guarantee you, people across this country feel the same that you do, in the tens of millions. We’re not alone, we’re not the little marginal voices that they want to pretend that we are. I’ve been all over this country.

In the past year I’ve talked to thirty thousand people, face-to-face in rooms just like this. And people are ready to stand up again for the best in this country.

I guarantee you; the labor movement, that has been under such vicious attack, I guarantee you they’re going to fight back, and fight back well.

I guarantee you that: They’ll fight back well.

These millennials, these young people who are graduating off a cliff into the worst economy in two generations, the worst economy since World War II.

It doesn’t matter if they finish college or drop out; it doesn’t matter if they finish high school or drop out, they wind up on the same couch anyway. These young people are not going to stay on those couches, they’re going to start marching and demanding an economy that can have the place for them in it. These young people are not going to put up with this.

I guarantee you… I guarantee you these young veterans who are coming home: we’ve put them in a military battleground, and we bring them home and we dump them off in an economic battleground.

With no hope, a little help; some people in D.C. want to cut back even more, and now seventeen suicide attempts a day for our young veterans coming home. Well if we can stand with them when they were overseas fighting, we should stand besides them when they’re fighting for jobs and respect and dignity in this country!


They’re not going to stand for it and they shouldn’t stand alone! They shouldn’t stand alone. We’re a better country than this.

I guarantee you, they’re going to fight.

I guarantee you… Homeowners, American homeowners, who bailed out the banks. It was American homeowners, and taxpayers, who bailed out these banks. Had it not been for the generosity of the American people, the bankers themselves would be homeless, the bankers themselves would be homeless!

America doesn’t owe these banks, these banks owe the United States of America, and they need to start respecting the people who they’re trying to throw out of houses, they need to start respecting the people, “We the People”, who stood with them in a crisis; and now they just want to jack up our credit card rates and pass out eviction notices. We’re not going to stand for this.

I guarantee you, people are going to fight.

Here’ what I can’t guarantee, here’s what there is no guarantee of, except for our commitment, and our willingness as a movement to meet the challenge.

Yes, all of these people will fight.

The people fighting against Citizens United will fight. The people fighting against the abuses on Wall Street will fight. The people fighting against the tuition cuts will fight. The African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, women of all colors, lesbians and gays, who are not just fighting the downturn but who are fighting against discrimination, will fight and fight well; this is guaranteed.

The question is: Will we fight together, or will we fight alone? That’s the question: Can we fight together? Finally, finally can we find a way to fight together?

We have a common enemy, and we face a common peril. The common threat that we all face is that we have forces now gaining momentum in our country, who are committed to one thing, and one thing only. They are committed to killing the American Dream. That is their agenda: They want to kill the American Dream.

Now, some of you all are liberals. [Laughs, applause]

We might have a few progressives in here. [More laughs, applause]

So let me make sure you understand what I mean when I say killing the American Dream. I’m not talking killing American Fantasy, okay?

The American Fantasy: Everybody’s going to be rich, you buy a lot of things, you’ll be happy. No, that’s the American Fantasy, which has led to an American Nightmare. That needs to go, that needs to go, that needs to go… we don’t believe in that, we don’t believe in that at all.


I’m talking about something much, much deeper than that, something that we had in this country before the commercializers turned it into something else: The American Dream, which is simply the idea that hard work should pay in our country, that you should be able to get up in the morning in America, and if you’re willing to and able to work, walk out your front door, go to a dignified job, put in a good day’s work, and come back home with a paycheck and can feed your family with it and give your children a better life: That’s the American Dream.


That is what our parents fought for and our grandparents fought for, and we should not let it be taken away from us on our watch. That’s the American Dream.

And we have dream-killers. We have dream-killers who have a wrecking ball agenda for our country, a wrecking ball for America.

But they’ve painted that wrecking ball red, white, and blue, and [if] they think that we’re going to stand here and salute their red, white, and blue wrecking ball, they’ve got another thought coming in the United States of America!

No, it’s time for the deep patriots to stand up to the cheap patriots.

It’s time for the deep patriots who love this country – and who love everybody in this country, no matter what color you are or who you want to marry or what kind of piercing you’ve got in your nose, we love everybody – [to stand up].

We’re the deep patriots. They’re the cheap patriots, and I’m tired of them questioning us and what we stand for. So are we going to stand together?

Well, let me tell you something. I’ve done a little study.

[Smiles, audience laughs]

I’m a nerd, last time I got in trouble saying some nerdy-type of things, but I’m a nerd, and I’m a proud nerd, and I did some studying.

I tried to figure out what might bring us together. We have a common fight against these dream-killers. Can we march now under a common banner? And we know what that feels like when we do. Let me show you.

[Pulls up graphic]

You may remember, before the Obama campaign, the way we were organized, into all of these little silos, you see. And if I had a longer screen I’d have fifteen more silos; I’m not trying to leave anybody out, but it’s just an example.

Again, I heard there might some liberals in here.

[Smiles, audience laughs]

I’m not excluding your group, I’m just trying to have some, so work with me, just work with me.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Amen, brother!

VAN JONES: Thank you, thank you. Talk to me afterwards, just stick with me.

[More laughs]

And we were all divided. Up in during those silos we’d do the best that we could, and every now and again we’d have something called a coalition. Remember those?

[Audience laughs]

How’d those work out for you? Fast track to therapy: coalitions.

[More laughs, applause]

And so, along came Barack Obama, and Barack Obama had what I want to call – back in the old days we’d call it a common banner – but see, I’ve been upgraded now; I’m going to call it a meta-brand.

[Smiles, audience laughs]

I’ve got some millennial friends. I’m trying to keep it slick!

[More laughs]

A meta-brand. And how does a meta-brand work?

Now look, some of y’all are looking down, moving your thumbs: Freeze on the thumbs for one second. [More laughs] I’ve paid two hundred dollars for this next effect. [Laughs continue] Thumbs can wait, thumbs can wait. Alright, here we go – did my coalition joke – okay, now I’m ready.


So when Obama came along he had a meta-brand, and we all had a chance to affiliate to it.

[Flashy graphic appears, audience applauds]

Maybe you missed it!

[Smiles, audience laughs , he laughs]

So we had Obama the meta-brand, and then we all affiliated to it.

[Audience applauds]

And that’s why 2008 felt so great. You know why? Because you didn’t have to quit your labor union to be a part of this meta-brand. You didn’t have to leave your lesbian rights group to be a part.

You got to keep everything you ever had, you got to keep your identity, everything you were passionate about. You could still put on that baseball cap and a be a part of something bigger: That’s a meta-brand.

And we thought “Well, you could only do that if you got a presidential candidate”.

But our friends in the Tea Party said, “Au contraire”. Look at it. They have their own groups. They have their own causes. But they came up with a meta-brand too, called the “Tea Party”. And they affiliated to that.

[Graphic appears on screen]

No special effects.

[Audience laughs]

This is an upgrade, though, on what we did. This is not about a person, it’s not about a single individual, no matter how awesome.

It’s about a principle of liberty, in their mind, and their meta-brand got 3,528 previously existing groups, all with different names, all with different causes, to affiliate to something called the ‘Tea Party’.

I’ve studied the Tea Party, I want you to know something: There is no Tea Party.

There is no Tea Party. You can’t go to Washington, D.C. and go to the Tea Party Headquarters Building, buzz on the buzzer, go into the lobby, steal a mint – ’cause that’s what you do [laughter] – chat up the receptionist, and ask to talk to the president of the Tea Party. Why not?

There is no headquarters, there is no lobby, there is no receptionist, there is no mint, and there is no president of the Tea Party. This is an open-source brand, that 3,528 affiliates have agreed to use, but nobody owns. They operate off of an operating system called the “Contract From America”. The Contract From America was written by 100,000 people, as a wiki. Check this. This is an upgrade.

They talk – here’s the hypocrisy, the irony. They talk rugged individualism – that’s their whole schtick, right? This is the Tea Party. “If you had a problem, don’t look to the government. Just be more rugged, and more individual. ”

[Audience laughs]

“And your problem will be solved”.

That’s their schtick, rugged individualism.

But they have enacted the most collectivist strategy for talking power in the history of the Republic. Because they use an open-source meta-brand that they all share, they wrote their document as a wiki, and they’re based on a principle and a value. And as a result, you now live in their world, twenty-four months after you thought we had changed everything.

Here’s the irony. They talk rugged individualist, but they act collectively. Where am I going? [Smiles] Where am I going? We talk, “kumbaya”; we talk, “Solidarity Forever!”; we talk, “Can’t we all get along?!” [Laughter]; but we have enacted the most individualistic approach to politics. “Why she’d get that grant!?” [More laughter, he smiles] Did I get somebody?

What’s the cost? Our guy got a promotion. Now we’re back to where we were.

Can we find a common banner to march under, that nobody owns, that speaks to an American value, that we can all affiliate to-not in a coalition.

[He smiles, audience laughs]

Not in a coalition – I’m sorry, I’m still recovering. [More laughter]

But in a movement.

Maybe we can call it – since it’s the American itself that’s under fire, and since it’s the American Dream itself that we care about, and since Dr. King himself, the very first thing he said about his dream, was “I have a dream. It’s a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.”

Since we have something that precious that’s about to be thrown under the bus so rich folks don’t have to pay taxes, maybe we can have a movement to restore and rebuild and reclaim and honor the American Dream.

[Audience applause, applause continues]

And let that be the common banner that we march under. Let that be the common banner that we confront the dream-killers with, the cheap patriots, are going to have to deal with deep patriots.

The cheap patriots are going to have to deal with people who believe in liberty and justice for all: That’s us. Maybe we can have, in our country, a real patriotic movement; maybe the time for that has come.

But here’s the real key. You’re the key. We can no longer rely on a single charismatic individual. Full pause. Because people are fallible. People let you down. I’m fallible, you’re fallible. Nobody’s perfect. People let you down.

But principles are enduring. And values are enduring. And it’s time for us not to just have a charismatic leader, but a charismatic network. That’s the genius of the Tea Party. They have charismatic leaders…of a certain kind.


But if Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and Dick Armey had a press conference tomorrow and said, “The Tea Party is over”, it wouldn’t be over.

Because the values and the network wouldn’t let it. They built a starfish and not a spider, and that is the next challenge for our movement.

If we meet that challenge, I think we can deliver on the promise that we make our children every day when they say the Pledge of Allegiance, when they sing those songs: “America the Beautiful”. Nobody is fighting harder to defend America’s beauty than the environmentalists and people in this room: We’re the deep patriots.

We tell our young people to respect the Statute of Liberty; “Give me your tired, give me your poor, give me your huddled masses yearning to live free“.

There’s nobody fighting harder for those values than the immigrant rights movement and the people in this room who believe in that cause, nobody. We’re the deep patriots. We’re the deep patriots.


So how do we build this thing?

They had their “Contract From America”; we’re going to do five things.

I’m so honored to be a part of some people who are not scared to put out an audacious idea and hope that we don’t get put out into a circular firing squad for it. Honored to be working with and the Campaign for America’s Future and Center for Community Change and Progressive Strategies and so many, many organizations who said,”Let this be the summer”.

Let this be the summer, for we have house meetings all across America to talk about this American Dream and what we want it to mean, so that we can own it, and crowdsource – oh, I’ve got some millennial friends.

[Audience laughs]

I’ve could have said “write together” – no, I said crowdsource.

I’m bad, I’m learning, I’m part of the new stuff. Crowdsource! [Applause]

We’re going to crowdsource an agenda, a People’s agenda.

If you want to be a part of it, you can go to, and sign up and help us have thousands of house meetings, we can crowd-source this agenda. We have a contest on Twitter, @RebuildDream, where you can tweet what you think the American Dream is in 140 characters.

We’ve got a conference coming up in October, Take Back the American Dream. We have a launch next week, which you can go to to find out about, where The Roots are going to come out.

I”m sorry, y’all must have got back to the thumbs… I said, next week, The Roots are going to come to launch this movement!


I said, next week, The Roots, are going to come to launch this movement.

But we’re not going to wait, even really one more minute, one more hour.

The fifth thing I need you to do is to start this movement today. Go on Facebook, go on Twitter, but we want to move more than just your thumbs. Today, at 2:00 PM, just out these doors and to your left– such a nice direction.

[Laughs, applause]

At the Westley United Methodist Church, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, SEIU, Change to Win, and Keith Ellison are going to have a Speakout for Jobs Now! and to rebuild the American Dream.

Will you go and stand with the labor leaders and the elected officials who want to be part of building this movement? Will you stand with them at two o’clock?

Please do it. Please do it.

Now let me close with [something] I’ve never done. I said I would never do it.

But when I was kid, I used to watch cartoons, and my favorite cartoon was my original green hero – well, he was a greens hero – was Popeye. [Laughs]

And Popeye the Sailor would get pushed around by the bad guys the whole show, didn’t he? And at a certain point, they would take it too far, at a certain point they’d cross the line, and Popeye would say, “I’ve had alls I can stand, and I can’t staanndds no more!!


Well, I’m here to tell you, after a two-year, unmitigated smear campaign – not just against me, but against you and every value we hold – I have had all I can stand, Fox TV, and I can’t stand no more.

So you listen to me, you listen to me: These are our values. Don’t you mess with our values! Don’t you tell us what no more, “We don’t love our own country”!

You don’t know this country! We work in neighborhoods you won’t even go into! Fighting for liberty and justice for all! Don’t you tell us who we are!

Now, I’m tired of this!


We stand up for folks, and we help people, and we love people, the people y’all run over, the people you laugh at and mistreat. We hold them and help ’em. Now we’ve seen the effects of your cynicism and your disrespect and your hatemongering! And it’s not just immoral, it’s un-American to abuse the airwaves and abuse the ears of our children with your lies and your filth! We’re tired of it! We are tired of it!

[Uproarious applause]

We’re sick of it! We are a better country than you acting like! You’re not America! You’re not America! All of our children are better than how you all act! Every one of our children act better than how you all act! You’re not America!

Quit abusing our country. Quit abusing our country!

So I issue a personal challenge right here, right now… to my beloved brother Glenn Beck.


No, no, I love him. Dr. King said never – listen up, no, no – Dr. King said never let anybody drive you so low that you will hate him. That’s not our movement.


That’s not our movement. We can be outraged, but we don’t hate anybody.

The people watching his show can’t afford the cuts he’s calling for.

We don’t want the Tea Party members to live in a neighborhood where they smell smoke, they can’t find a firehouse for twenty miles because of these cuts.

We don’t want the Tea Party movement to suffer because of the catastrophe which would result from their victory.

We don’t just fight against our opponents, this is a moral movement: We fight for them too. We fight for them! We fight for them, it’s a moral movement!

We don’t want them – let’s be clear, I’m mad, but I’m not hateful – we don’t want them to have their grandchildren going to schools with forty-five kids in a classroom, six books and no chalk.

We don’t want them to have to wait seven minutes, fifteen minutes on a 911 call. No, we love everybody. We’re the deep patriots.

But I issue a personal challenge to my beloved brother, Glenn Beck: I will debate you, anytime, anywhere, at any point. [Applause] I give you an hour, you give me five minutes, and I’ll stand up for our values… but you would have to stop talking about us and start talking to us. You’ve got one week until your show goes off [the air]… my phone is ringing! Call me! Call me, Glenn Beck!

[Loud applause]

And let’s have this fight. Let’s have this discussion. Let’s have this argument, let’s have this battle of ideas, battle of ideas, and let’s fight for Liberty and Justice for All.

Thank you, very much.

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