“From Jail Cells to Solar Cells…”

From Joel Makower, a profile of environmental and civil rights activist/lawyer Van Jones and his new project, Reclaim the Future:

RTF is envisioned as a think tank and advocacy group representing and empowering ecologically sound, urban entrepreneurs and their local communities…

RTF builds on the work Jones has been doing since the early 1990s. While working as a freshly minted lawyer on an environmental case involving a Chevron refinery located in a poor section of Richmond, Calif., Jones found himself propelled into the worlds of police misconduct and juvenile justice. For him, the links between the worlds of poverty and pollution were clear.

β€œThe way that the world works, these are interlocking problems, and we need a more holistic solution,” he told me recently. β€œI got tired of just running from outrage to outrage — trying to get this cop fired, trying to get this jail from being built. We needed to be promoting a positive vision for urban America that deals with both social inequality and environmental degradation.”

Joel links Reclaim the Future to Jones’ observation in November of the “progressive movements emerging ‘four-wheeled vehicle, comprised of labor unions, civil rights activists, environmentalists, and progressive business owners and investors. Together, [Jones] said in November, a partnership among those four could reverse political trends and catalyze a progressive agenda.” While there’s still a ways to go to get this “vehicle” running at full steam, the very idea of bringing these groups together should energize all of us.

As I read this, I was also reminded of a more local project along these lines: the Rev. Larry Rice’s Missouri Renewable Energy Center in New Bloomfield. I’ve mentioned Rice’s projects a number of times, so I should probably make it clear that I’m not one of his parishoners, but I do think he’s onto a promising concept very much in line with the ideas Van Jones espouses. From my understanding, one of the missions of Rice’s center is to train homeless people in renewable energy technology, giving them a marketable skill and promoting a move towards more renewable power in the state. Rev. Rice is also a strong advocate for net metering in Missouri — as I mentioned yesterday, we have a sort of low-rent version of the concept, but it’s not true net metering. If there’s a “fifth wheel” that could be productively added to Jones vehicle metaphor, it seems to me that the segment of the faith community represented by Rev. Rice and the “creation care” movement is it.

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