Van Jones preaches love, unity on We Rise Tour


Staff Photographer | Josh Axelrod

Van Jones speaks at the Saenger Theatre, as part of the “We Rise” Tour.

Van Jones does not like Donald Trump. He is nonetheless determined to transform the tone of dialogue surrounding the president, encouraging liberals to quit the sulking and jump to action.

On Aug. 17, the CNN political contributor and social entrepreneur visited New Orleans’ Saenger Theater to spread his message of love and unity as part of the We Rise Tour.

“Even Jesus only stayed in the tomb for three days,” Jones said. “It’s been eight months. At a certain point, we have to rise up and be who we’re supposed to be.”

Strutting out to Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” Jones was warmly received by an exuberant and engaged crowd. He began his program by condemning the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville and commending the citizens who risked their lives for the principles in which they believed.

He brought out Charlottesville, Virginia, Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, the only African-American on a city council of four and a man Jones described as a “moral leader and hero.” Bellamy gave his account of the events that occurred, in which he explained that the president had misconstrued the events by stating that there were “many sides” to the violence.

Bellamy described an encounter at an historically African-American park, where Charlottesville citizens were handing out backpacks filled with supplies and food to protestors.

“That symbolizes Charlottesville,” Bellamy said. “Even in the midst of adversity, we take care of our own.”

Referencing some sexist, prejudiced and homophobic tweets that Bellamy had written between 2009-14, Jones asked him whether he believed that any of the neo-Nazis and white nationalists could also transform themselves and cast away their hateful beliefs.

“I’ve never believed in giving up on a person because everyone can grow,” Bellamy said.

Jones then introduced the Power Coalition, a group of New Orleans grassroots organizers. Jones spoke with Dolfinette Martin, who works with Voice of the Experienced to bring civil and human rights to formerly imprisoned citizens. Martin, who was incarcerated 12 years for shoplifting, talked about her particular emphasis on supporting young women.

“When we talk about mass incarceration, we often talk about young men of color, and on a daily basis I advocate unapologetically for women and girls,” Martin said.

Martin explained the cycle of incarceration that young women in marginalized communities often face. Jones added that the criminal justice system is another form of state violence against African-Americans.

Maria Angelina Amaya, with the Congress of Day Laborers, explained her cause and personal story with the help of a translator. Her partner was deported and her fiancée detained, motivating her to fight to stop deportation for her children and community.

“I’m here with these other women on this stage tonight because we’ve decided to unite,” Amaya said. “All the communities that are coming under attack right now, whether you’re a member of the LBGTQ community, the African-American community, the Latino community, we’re under attack and it’s time that we unite.”

Ashley Shelton, executive director of the Power Coalition, spoke about bringing various grassroots organizations together to amplify their power. The coalition is anchored by seven groups and is launching an agenda focused on reforming the criminal justice system, providing a living wage and fighting for Louisiana children and families.

“The Power Coalition came to be because we just knew that if we could put our work within a shared frame and really be intentional about building a pathway to power for everyday working people and working families throughout this state that we can make a difference,” Shelton said.

The event also featured performances by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and independent artist Victory Boyd.

Jones concluded the event with a lecture on how to move forward in the Trump era. He differentiated between the ugliness of America’s founding reality, reliant on slavery and white supremacy, and America’s founding dream of equality and justice for all.

He then outlined some of the lies he thinks liberals need to overcome in order to close the gap between the reality and the dream. Jones railed against both political parties, arguing that they each distract from the drug addiction, broken criminal justice system, poverty and high death rates that plague Americans across the country.

The CNN contributor went on to explain the role of the president in setting the tone for the nation as a spiritual leader. He talked about how President Barack Obama received hate mail every day and still risked his congressional majority to pass a healthcare bill that alleviated common pain across the country, an action Jones believes to be reflective of true progressive values.

Acknowledging that the current political climate makes it hard to love, Jones challenged the audience to remember their values and continue to organize instead of spreading negativity on social media or embracing apathy.

Jones exited the theatre with a call to action: “When it gets harder to love, love harder.”

Leave a Comment