NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting 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-Scuntz-Scuntzch …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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