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Van jones

Van Jones

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Van Jones, Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Listen to the podcast

Index of audio (running time 40:32)

  • 00:00 Introduction
  • 02:44 Start of keynote. There's at least one person in this room who feels like their little not-for-profit just may not make it - their cause is too marginal, their constituency is too desperate, their dreams are too big, their knowledge base is too small - and they just don't know if they're going to be able to pull this one off. And I really just want to talk to you ... I want to talk to that person. I'm going to tell you my story, my secret rules for success, and to remind you how important it is to stick this out.
  • 04:00 Ten years ago, all we had was a $10,000 grant, a scribble in my notebook, and a dream. Ten years later, we have a national organization, 24 people on staff, international awards, stopped jails from being built, and got rid of horrible officers.
  • 07:45 We ran out of money. I got on KPFA radio, said we were running into trouble, but we’re going to stick in there. Literally the day before we spent our last dime, we got an anonymous donation for $50,000. With that money we went after the worst police officer in the Bay Area. We launched a campaign to get him removed. We went through hell, but at the end of that summer, the San Francisco police department fired him. It was a huge breakthrough. Suddenly we went from these kids in a closet to being the people who had really gotten something done in the community.
  • 09:56 And we were broke again. We forgot to write grants, we were out there fighting. Broke and ignorant, but passionate. A woman in a prestigious foundation said “I’ve been working for this foundation for a long time, and I’ve been waiting for somebody to come up out of the community who really was willing to do what it takes to make a difference. I don’t have any more discretionary money, but I do have the $40,000 that we’ve always given to the symphony, and we’re going to give it you”. Miracles! Now, she no longer works there, but she’s well taken care of in another foundation.
  • 12:33 If at any moment we got too rational, if we had done the math, we wouldn’t be here. You have a dream inside yourself, and it’s an impossible dream. That’s why the creator gave it to your crazy ass. If it was easy, she’d have given it to somebody else.
  • 13:46 My five secret, counter-intuitive, probably immoral, success secrets. My secret success secrets, I guess I’m George Bush today. … Non-partisan. Don’t get mad at me. (1) self-promote, (2) steal, (3) don’t lie, (4) hate your enemies, but love your rivals, (5) do less.
  • 15:10 “Van, you are a shameless self-promoter”. We have a theory about how we built this organization. All it requires is that you talk about your work. We call it the 3M Conversion: Mobilization, Media, Money.
  • 17:57 Take a photo yo dam self. Record your meeting. Interview your people. Document your passion. Document the people that you’ve helped. Document what you’re doing so you can show it to somebody who wasn’t there.
  • 19:01 Take that documentation to people who have money. They want to be helpful, they want to be engaged. But they don’t live in your neighborhood. You have to be as passionate about talking to people with, as you are talking to people without, because we need each other. And you are a bridge person – you bring together the haves and have-nots.
  • 20:53 Steal ideas. Talk to other people who don’t work with you. Look up the other groups working similar areas. If you can’t meet the executive director, that’s good. Talk to the program director, talk to the receptionist. It’s amazing how many problems have been solved that you are suffering through.
  • 23:24 Don’t lie. There’s something about the relationship between the not-for-profit sector and the government, foundations, and donors, that creates a massive incentive to lie – flagrantly and often. You don’t really want to tell them everything that’s going on, and they don’t really want to know. Counter: Highlights, Lowlights, and Lessons Learned. Donors and program officers love to get the truth.
  • 27:22 Hate your enemies, love your rivals, and know the difference. We turn differences into wars. Most of the people you see everyday are not your enemies. I’ve got emotional scars and damage from being in this work, and I’ve never met a Republican. We fight, and hurt each other, and say mean things, and think mean thoughts. All the time. And that’s called The Movement. That’s called the Progressive Community. We should love our rivals. I developed a discipline that I’d brag on my rivals. I’d go to funder meetings and talk about them first.
  • 30:39 Do less. Ella Baker said “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” I just drank the Cool-Aid on that. And I hurt myself – physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. July 17 2000, I had a complete breakdown. You have emotional needs, and physical needs, and you need to have them taken care of outside this work. You need to have something outside this work where you can recharge. We who believe in freedom have to rest.
  • 34:50 They told me that we were not supposed to talk about politics, so I’m going to ignore that. You are this nascent pro-democracy movement that is trying to revive the best in the United States. And it’s important that you see yourselves in that way. Dr Martin Luther King never gave a speech called “I have a complaint”. That wasn’t the speech. Brother had a dream. You have big beautiful dreams. You will not be able to meet them alone. You need friends, you need solidarity, you need partnership, you need a movement. We can get past left and right, black and white. We should show how a rainbow nation can come together, and fix real problems, and show a rainbow planet how it’s done.

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