Oakland activist and author Van Jones has accepted a White House post as a "green jobs" adviser to President Barack Obama.
Jones, 40, will serve starting Monday as special adviser for green jobs, enterprise and innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, helping to shape and implement job-generating climate policy; working to ensure equal protection and equal opportunity in the administration's climate and energy proposals; and publicly advocating the Obama administration's environmental and energy agenda.
"I am so honored and really proud that the Bay Area has produced so many great ideas, that California has produced so many great ideas that are now going to Washington," Jones said Tuesday. "I feel like I'm a part of an extraordinarily creative and imaginative community here in the Bay Area, and finally our voices get to be heard."
He said the president is "a civil rights professor who has a green agenda — everything he stands for is what I stand for, so I'm really honored to have a chance to go."
Leaving Oakland after 16 years will be "emotional," he said, but "the world is changing and hopefully I can play a part in getting as many people as possible to benefit from the changes."
Jones cofounded, was the longtime executive director of and remains a board member of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, now based in Oakland. There, he became a nationally renowned advocate for juvenile justice reform, police reform, youth-violence prevention and green-collar jobs.
That latter topic led him to launch Green for All, another Oakland-based nonprofit aimed at building an inclusive, green economy that can simultaneously help curb global warming; lift millions of people out of poverty; and reverse the current economic downturn — a theme often repeated by Obama. Jones' recent book, "The Green Collar Economy," peaked at No. 12 on The New York Times nonfiction hardcover best-seller list, and was praised by the likes of Al Gore and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.
And after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, Jones cofounded Color of Change, a MoveOn.org-like organization aimed at strengthening African-Americans' political voice. Jones also has served as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., think-tank that has been a fertile source of policy and personnel for the Obama Administration. Jones, a Tennessee native, holds a law degree from Yale and has received several national awards for his work.
"If we're going to have a green economy in this country, and we have to — our scientists tell us that it's imperative — we need to have a green economy that has no throwaway species, no throwaway resources, but also no throwaway young people, no throwaway neighborhoods," he testified Feb. 25 at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing on renewing America through national service and volunteerism. "We need to make sure those communities that were left out of the last century's pollution-based economy are locked in to the new clean and green economy."
Green for All's new CEO will be Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who announced her resignation Monday as executive officer of the South Bay AFL—CIO Labor Council, where she has championed workers' rights since 2003; San Jose Magazine named her one of the 100 most powerful people in Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley Business Journal called her one of "40 to watch under 40."
Jones said Ellis-Lamkins has "a very strong background in everything Green For All will have to deal with in the coming years, moving from rhetoric to reality" — in the short term, making sure the economic stimulus plan and other funding sources put green-oriented hard hats and work boots on the streets.
"Van going to work for the Obama White House affirms three things: the quality of Green For All's accomplishments over the last 14 months; the quality of Van's work over the last 20 years; and the dedication of President Obama's White House to the vision of an inclusive green economy," said Green For All board member and Color of Change Executive Director James Rucker. "Replacing Van with an exceptional leader like Phaedra just makes the whole thing even more extraordinary."