Saturday, November 12, 2005

New Voice of Environmental Movement

The New Face of Environmentalism

. . . .
By the time the final speaker addressed the crowd, people shuffled restlessly in their seats as a lone infant wailed. Van Jones, a tall, dark-skinned man wearing a "Kanye was right" T-shirt under his black blazer, seemed to have little in common with his audience of predominately white hippies. Feeling the energy in the room ebbing straight from the stage, he later said, Jones decided to throw out the talk he had planned to deliver about the work of his human-rights organization, the Ella Baker Center. Instead, he asked the name of the squalling baby. "Tavio," the mother replied.

"Tavio is a social entrepreneur," Jones said. "Tavio is changing the rules - see? Speak when you want to speak."

The crowd laughed, and Tavio's parents smiled beatifically.

Then Jones alluded to what he had heard from some of the other speakers that day. "They're calling out for us to be brave again," he said. "To break out of patterns, start breaking some rules, try some new stuff." He explicitly challenged the ponytailed speaker's notion that social entrepreneurs such as he are isolated heroes. Jones said he personally would be "babbling on a street corner" somewhere if not for the support of his colleagues. He instead insisted that each member of the audience had the potential to light a fire that could change the world.

Jones quickly involved others in his presentation by lobbing questions back at his audience; each raised hand signaled another person won over. "Is there anyone here who has a recurring dream that there's something you're supposed to be doing?" he asked. "You look at your journal and the same idea keeps coming back? Is there anyone here who ever swallowed hard and took a stand for something that you knew was unpopular? Has anybody in this room ever really, really screwed something up, and then tried again? Well, I would say if you answered yes to any of those questions, you are a social entrepreneur."

The activists hung on Jones' words, captivated by the potential that he described within each of them. He finished with an exhortation worthy of a revival: "Our species is struggling to live through you, through that dream, through that journal entry that keeps recurring," he said, his voice quivering with passion. "I beg you, I beg you, embrace that rule-breaking, life-affirming, risk-taking you that the world needs so desperately right now."

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