The lights glinting off his glasses as Van Jones walked onto stage and began a humorous and empowering directive of an oration that lasted several hours. He began saying that "Eugene is the safest place for an Aluminum can", if a can could talk Jones guessed it would say "I just know I am gonna' get recycled"!
Jones's speech was aimed at the 'young' generation. He was after all on a college campus however, the audience was mostly (nearly 80%) community, administration and faculty. Despite relatively few students, Jones reached out offering both a message of encouragement and a call to action as well as stating that the students were facing "an era of hope and heartbreak".
Students, he said were empowered in three unique ways. The first great endowment Jones offered was in terms of size, calling this generation the "biggest generation", referring to sheer numbers. The second endowment was the American diversity, with representatives from all ethnicities and nationalities "we have the genius and wonder of every race and nationality, all the world's genius here". The Final, supplication was that the 18-24 generation is "Tech Savvy". He echoed the idea that students have a underutilized capacity "there is something about your generation that is amazing".
Technology he ascribed as being especially important among the three. Jones told a narrative of ancient times "[if you] could summon the stories of the whole human family, then you would have been a God. We call it a cell phone. We need to stop using technology as toys, but as tools, because [we] are potentially facing a catastrophe". Furthermore he contends "you have more computing power in your pocket than the whole US government had, when we put a man on the moon".
After offering in some detail the wonders of how these methods have the capacity to empower a young generation, he moved into describing the problem...
"We are not a market economy, we are a market society with state protection of pollution. We need to change the rules".
"Racially, Ethnically, we are more diverse and are less economically prosperous, that is a recipe for a battleground. We cannot attack diversity, we must attack the problem". The great problems are identified as essentially FOOD and FUEL industries, "shake up the energy and food industry, they are essentially monopolistic". The solution is that "if you want to pull America back together, you must put America back to work".
He said in closing comments that to succeed the youth must focus on "the earth, the future. Tax, Regulate by permits". He posited that "If you despair hope is impossible", saying essentially that if we move from despair to hope to change and if we do not quite get what we want, we must not fall back to despair, we must keep hopefully pushing and "at some point determination will pay off".
But Jones recognized that he was preaching to the choir "You vote right, you eat right, bike right, you think to yourself, what more can I do"? He then said that he cold not tell us how to live, or he would be a hypocrite, so he declined to offer any possibilities.
"We expect people to climb the corporate ladder out of poverty, a four and five story ladder, with only two rungs".
Jones spoke in the EMU Ballroom, to a crowd of several hundred. One cannot help but be startled at his eloquence, despite a slight lisp. Jones empowered the audience offering these words "you have tremendous power". In general this power, by his analysis, was in electoral and popular protest and market regulation- which does not address the problems of production, structural inequality or the reversal of the negative pollution and waste trends. Jones relied heavily on 'the youth' who were expected in his eyes, to rise up and take the lead.