Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 3
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
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Van Jones Urges New Generation To Carry Forward King’s Legacy

Dilshanie Perera

Van Jones, former advisor to the Obama Administration on green jobs and innovation who is currently a visiting fellow at Princeton University, delivered the keynote address at the Martin Luther King Day Celebration in Richardson Auditorium on Monday. He addressed his talk primarily to students, calling on them to apply themselves to solve the pressing problems facing the world.

“Our present trajectory is inadequate and dangerous,” Mr. Jones said, referring to the way individuals, governments, and corporations are treating the earth. “We have been waiting for you, this new generation, for a very long time. This millennial generation is the most diverse racially and ethnically, the most technologically savvy … many of you don’t know how much power you already possess.”

Calling Martin Luther King Jr. “one of the greatest human beings ever to live,” Mr. Jones observed that “at some point, we have to take his inspiration and example and carry it forward.”

Since King’s assassination, “it took 40 years for hope to be restored to America,” Mr. Jones noted. “Hope is a renewable resource, but it comes back in very long arcs … the challenges are great, if not greater than they were.”

Saying that this generation of young people has “inherited a tiny green soap bubble in space called earth,” Mr. Jones pointed out that 120 years ago, there were not even a billion inhabitants on the planet, “your challenge is to figure out how we share our resources.”

Citing the damage and mismanagement concerning the effects of Hurricane Katrina, in which “the poor and neglected and despised were abandoned by the richest country in the world,” as well as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill as examples of environmental and social disasters, Mr. Jones encouraged those present to consider far-reaching solutions.

The governmental response to Katrina under the Bush Administration was something Mr. Jones characterized as “the natural consequence and outcome of an ideology that had taken over both parties since Dr. King died: that we don’t need social safety nets, we don’t need big government … all we need is ‘rugged individualism.’”

“When the storm came, we had a free market evacuation plan,” Mr. Jones remarked, cautioning students against adopting a “sink-or-swim ideology.”

“In the same region, a company, a multinational corporation, was given the right to drill off of our coasts … taking all the gain and leaving us with any potential pain. And guess what? The pain came.” Mr. Jones said of BP and the resulting oil spill.

Noting that BP earns roughly $62 million per day in profit, Mr. Jones said that purchasing and installing a $500,000 piece of equipment could have prevented the spill from happening. “To save that $500,000, they destroyed a whole region.”

“I believe in markets; I believe in a market economy. I don’t believe in a market society. I don’t believe everything should come down to profit. Some things are more important than profits,” he said.

Addressing the young people in the audience, Mr. Jones urged, “That technological prowess that you take to so naturally, if you use it in the right way, if you wed it to the right wisdom, you can make a tremendous difference.”

“Our Native American brothers and sisters said … you can’t run a civilization and power a civilization based on death and assume no consequences. Oil is a substance that has been dead for 60 million years. Coal … dead for 30 million years. You can’t drill holes and pull out death from the ground burn death in your engines, burn death in your power plants and be shocked when you get death from the skies in the form of global warming and death from the oceans in the form of oil spills,” Mr. Jones added.

America’s sustainable future may be in solar and wind power, according to Mr. Jones, who has said that investment in green technology and green jobs will not only stimulate the economy and put people to work, but also work toward a renewable system of energy.

“Don’t ever underestimate your power,” Mr. Jones said. “Take that indigenous wisdom and that new technology and create a new future.”

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