by Jamie Henn
Last weekend, while lawmakers huddled in Congress attempting to rescue Wall Street, people rallied in more than 600 communities around the country to propose an alternative bailout plan.
"There is only one comprehensive solution to the present mess," said Van Jones, founder of Green For All, the organization behind the "Green Jobs Now!" National Day of Action. "Put America back to work retrofitting and re-powering America with millions of green-collar jobs."
The promise of green jobs revitalizing our tired economy isn't a new one. Groups like the Apollo Alliance and the Energy Action Coalition, leaders like Van Jones and Majora Carter, and others have been calling for a green-collar revolution for a number of years. Recently, however, the economic nosedive and proposed bailout have amplified the usual chorus. As Carl Pope, head of the Sierra Club, commented on the bailout, "The amount being talked about -- $700 billion -- is roughly equal to this year's bill for imported oil. So if we really took ending our addiction to oil seriously, we could repay the Treasury for the bailout -- and it's hard to see any other pot of money lying around big enough."
What was new about the Green Jobs Now! Day of Action wasn't the message, essential as it is, but the messengers. Watching the slide-show of images from the day on the campaign's website one thing becomes abundantly clear: these were not your usual environmental rallies. These are pictures of graffiti installations, job fairs, green hard hats, hip hop concerts and, most important of all, people of every race, class and walk of life.
People. In the abstract call for millions of new green jobs, real people can be strangely absent. Who are the workers who will get these jobs? Where do they live? What do they look like? Could I be one of them?
In community after community, last weekend's day of action answered all these questions and showed us what a diverse, inspiring and powerful movement we really are.
In Atlanta, Georgia, students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities distributed compact fluorescent light bulbs to their low-income neighbors, and rallied together in support of Green Jobs Now.
In Coal River, West Virginia, the sons and daughters of coal miners stood up to coal companies and called for a wind farm on their beloved mountain. The wind farm would generate clean energy and 200 jobs for their community. But the Massey Coal company is preparing to blast the mountain for coal.
In Richmond, California (the home of a Chevron oil refinery), residents demonstrated they are now paying less for their energy bills, thanks to the solar panels that green-collar workers are installing on the roofs of the city's houses. The nonprofit organization Solar Richmond trains workers to do solar installations, then places them in jobs with solar companies, building the green economy and creating pathways out of poverty in the process.
"Who are these people?" Jeremy Hayes, one of the organizers behind the day of action joked. "There are so many incredible reports from around the country in places we didn't even know about."
So where do all these people go from here? On the national level, Green For All and the hundreds of other groups that rallied around the day of action will continue to push for legislation that creates at least 5 million new green jobs. On the local level, a number of innovative initiatives are under way from Albuquerque to Newark to create city-wide green job programs. The movement is even going international. Next month, students I work with in Singapore are hosting an Asian Youth Energy Summit to promote clean-tech employment opportunities.
Van Jones is right when he says: "We can't drill and burn our way out of this economic crisis. We can – and must – invest and invent our way out." The pictures from the Green Jobs Now! Day of Action remind us that when Van talks about new investments he isn't just talking about solar panels and wind turbines. He's talking about people.
Jamie Henn is the co-coordinator of 350.org (http://www.350.org), a grassroots campaign that unites an international climate movement behind a common call to action. In 2007, he helped organize Step It Up 2007 (http://www.stepitup2007.org), the first national day of action on global warming in US history.
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