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 MoveOn.org 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 RebuildtheDream.com, RebuildtheDream.com 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 RebuildtheDream.com 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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