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Local responses to Van Jones’ resignation

As conservatives continue their victory dance over Van Jones’ resignation, local progressives are sounding pretty steamed.

Rabbi Michael Lerner of Berkeley, co-chairman of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and editor of Tikkun magazine, published a column today calling Jones’ forced resignation “a huge defeat for the forces of sanity and humanity, and represents a deep failure of the Obama-ites to understand the nature of the challenge they face from an increasingly fascistic Right wing.”

The forced resignation of Van Jones demonstrates the lack of backbone of the Obama Administration.

Jones was a rare progressive appointment among the wide array of Wall Street sycophants and Inside-the-Beltway pragmatists who have misled Obama into a path that has caused him to lose his initial popularity and severely endanger his presidency.

The notion that Jones’ past could have a serious impact on the future of health care reform defies all plausibility–those who will oppose health care reform will do so just as strongly without Jones’ presence in the White House as they would have had he remained. The message being given by the Obama Administration is clear: if you on the Right critique us, we will pander to you and abandon our friends.

In conditions of expanding prosperity, this would create the possibility of a resurgence of McCarthyism throughout the society. in conditions of growing economic pain, this kind of mimicking of the worst behavior of the German middle-of-the-roaders during the Weimar Republic sets the stage for the possibility of a genuine home grown fascism in the U.S.

If, God forbid, that should happen, people will look back to the capitulations on health care, human rights, and many other policy areas of the Obama Administration, but will give equal importance to the abandonment of Van Jones and the signal it gives to the Right.

Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which Jones cofounded and directed for many years, issued a statement in his defense:

At this critical time in our nation’s history, the Ella Baker Center champions policies that lift people up and bring about renewed hope and optimism for all. We were outraged by the attacks that Van and his family have suffered. Those who have made it their mission to derail a clean, green, and just future for our country have denied the nation our most talented advocate in the fight against climate change and for rebuilding our economy.

“Smear campaigns designed to sabotage the movement for an equitable, green economy are attempts to distract people from what really matters: building a future that is green and just for everyone,” said Jakada Imani, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “It’s our dream, shared by Van Jones and so many others, that this country once again becomes a beacon for the world by using innovation to simultaneously address both the economic and climate crises we face.”

Van Jones has been lauded as a modern day civil rights hero and champion of change. He has worked to bridge the gap between communities and across lines of race, class, and gender. For years, Van has helped lead the social and environmental justice movements with solution-oriented, market-based ideas that provide some of our most marginalized communities with effective tools to create lasting change in their lives — and for the greater good of their communities.

Under Van’s leadership, and continuing under the direction of Jakada Imani, the Ella Baker Center has led the charge to build California’s progression towards a green-collar economy that truly creates opportunity for all by fighting poverty and climate change at the same time. Through vibrant, cross-sector coalitions that bring together unions, green businesses, environmental organizations, social justice groups, and education and training institutions, we’ve helped craft cutting edge public policy solutions and pilot programs like the Oakland Green Jobs Corps that prove what’s possible. Our focus has always been — and will remain — providing solutions that lift people up rather than tearing them down. Solutions that unite, not divide. Our goal — and Van’s — is simple: save the planet and its people.

And Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who this year succeeded Jones as CEO of Oakland-based Green For All, used Jones’ ouster as a call to action:

While Van may have stepped down from his formal position, now is the time for all of us to step up. Thanks to Van and countless supporters like yourself, the foundation for change has been set. We must continue to strengthen it — to build a more secure, clean and equitable future for our nation.

Now is the time for an inclusive green economy. Now is the time for action.

We need climate legislation that includes access and opportunity for all Americans. And we need your help to ensure that these provisions are part of it and that the promise of a clean-energy economy is realized. (click here to take a stand for our future – and forward this to all your friends and help keep the momentum going).

In the face of disappointment, now is the time for renewed resolve for our common goals.

When Jones was appointed in March, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, had issued a statement expressing pleasure that “a constituent, friend and strong advocate for green jobs” had gotten the job.

“Van has been at the forefront of the green jobs movement and has shown us all the way to utilize green collar jobs as a pathway out of poverty. Were it not for Van, we would not have been able to establish the Green Job Corps in Oakland, which provides local Oakland residents with job training, support and work experience so that they can independently pursue careers in the new energy economy,” Lee said at the time. “His expertise and vision in the area of green jobs will be a wonderful addition to the White House CEQ.”

Lee’s office indicated today she had no comment on Jones’ ouster.

U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., also has praised Jones’ work in the past. Her office didn’t respond to requests for comment today.

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Governing from the center

Berkeley Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine and chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, sent out a missive early today discussing “why many of us were shocked and deeply disappointed when we learned on Thursday that Congressman Rahm Emanuel was to be the Chief of Staff in the Obama White House.”

Emanuel, for those who don’t recall, was the Congressman who traveled the country in 2006 finding “suitable” candidates in “swing districts” to run against Republican incumbents, and in many instances he succeeded. But his theory of how to succeed was destructive: he sought the most conservative possible candidates in each district, insisting that local Democratic Party organizations reject more liberal candidates who, he feared, might not win.

There were many among the House Democrats who deplored this tactic. The main issue on the mind of the electorate was the war in Iraq, and public opinion had moved so far in opposition to that war that the Democratic leadership in the House was pushed to proclaim that it would cut off funding for the war if Democrats won control of Congress. Well, the outcome was that Democrats did win control, but since the candidates that Emanuel picked were more conservative and militarist than the mainstream of the Party, they were not reliable allies when it came to voting against war funding. Instead of cutting fund for the war, Nancy Pelosi’s House increased the funding, explaining that they had to appear “responsible” in order to solidify their control of Congress in 2008..

Clever? Not for the people, Americans and Iraqis, killed or wounded in the meantime.

This was no mistake on Emanuel’s part. Rahm Emanuel has a long history of militarist ideology behind him. His father was a member of the ultra-right-wing terrorist organization Etzel that killed British civilians as part of their anti-British struggle in Palestine in the 1940s. Emanuel, himself a citizen of Israel as well as the United States, has been one of several Congressional leaders enforcing the “Israel Lobby” concensus on the Democrats, in the process shutting out the peace voices that believe Israel’s security would be better served by the U.S. putting pressure on Israel to end the Occupation, move the Wall to inside the pre-67 boundaries, and remove the settlers from the West Bank or tell them to live there as Palestinian citizens.

It’s not just the pro-peace and reconciliation forces that are unlikely to be given a serious hearing in a White House in which Rahm Emanuel controls who gets to talk to the President. Emanuel will almost certainly be protecting Obama from all of us spiritual progressives and those of us who describe ourselves as the Religious Left-so that our commitment to single-payer universal health care, carbon taxes for environmental protection, a Homeland Security strategy based on generosity and implemented through a Global Marshall Plan, will be unlikely to get a serious hearing in the White House.

Lest you think this is just another case of Democrats eating their own young, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement yesterday blasting — you guessed it — Obama’s pick of Emanuel: “This is an ironic choice for a President-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center.”

But Boehner and Lerner surely both know that governing from the center is exactly what Obama intends to do — it’s just that neither Boehner nor Lerner are anywhere near the center themselves.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee has slid smoothly from producing hit pieces on candidate Obama to producing hit pieces on president-elect Obama.

Yesterday’s “OBAMA’S BROKEN PROMISE” briefing e-mail whined about Emanuel’s appointment, and today’s “MORE PARTISAN PLAYERS” piece complains about how campaign strategist David Axelrod — whose Chicago-based firm‘s client list is a who’s who of local, state and national Democrats — is likely to get a senior White House advisory post.

Um… duh. Bridging partisan divides doesn’t mean Obama won’t name Democrats and Democratic operatives to his administration; they just have to be capable of implementing his vision. Every president has political advisors, and every smart president hires the toughest, smartest, most bare-knuckled people he knows for such posts. Did the RNC think Obama would invite Karl Rove back to the White House in the spirit of bipartisanship? Or appoint only independents? Absurd.

And for one of these notoriously partisan “RNC Research Briefings” to complain about partisanship is the height of unmitigated gall.