Van Jones on the deficit: ‘We are not stupid. We can do the math.’

By Melissa Jeltsen
Friday, June 24, 2011 10:34 EDT
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Van Jones, Obama’s former green jobs czar, kicked off a new progressive movement at New York City’s Town Hall last night with an ambitious goal — to build a vocal counterweight to the Tea Party, who he says has monopolized the dialogue on America’s economic woes. “We are trying to hit a big reset on the conversation we are having in America about how to fix our economy,” Jones told Raw Story in a post-event interview. “We are trying to change the conversation from one about war and austerity to a conversation about peace and prosperity.”

The movement, called Rebuild The Dream, hopes to bring traditional liberal factions — environmentalists, labor groups, gay rights and immigration activists — under one cohesive umbrella, united by a desire to protect and expand the disappearing middle class. “All of us are suffering economically,” Jones said. “We won’t be able to have equality and equal rights that are meaningful if the whole economy is collapsed.”

The event combined commentary by Jones, performances by The Roots and videos and graphics about the dwindling middle class. Artist Shepard Fairey kicked off the night with a DJ set, mixing Public Enemy, Ice Cube, The Verve and Jay-Z.

On stage, Jones used his speech, at times funny, at times tragic, to push back on the idea that America is out of money. “We keep hearing America — the richest country in the history of the world is broke,” he said. “This is a very dangerous lie, because once you believe this a whole lot of other things start to sound acceptable.”

Using graphics, he gave the audience an educational lesson on where American money is going: Wall Street ($144 billion in compensation this year, a record high), the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the loss of revenue from the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and corporate tax loopholes. “The pie, the country’s GDP, is getting bigger!” he said. “It’s just your slice that is getting smaller. The social contract between corporate America and the rest of America is broken.”

“Tax Wall Street fairly, wind down the wars responsibly, roll back the Bush tax cuts and close corporate loopholes,” Jones said. “We are not stupid. We can do the math.”

Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, which is partnering with Rebuild The Dream, told Raw Story said that this is an extraordinarily dangerous moment in American history. “People have lots their jobs, veterans are coming home without jobs, kids are graduating from college, no hope of getting a decent job,” he said. “Yet in Washington, D.C., the debate around the economy is going on in this bizarre parallel world, where the only problem is our deficit, except when it comes to giving tax cuts to corporations, in which case the deficit doesn’t matter.”

Jones called now a ‘moral moment.’ “The pain point that people are experiencing is unbearable. If you drill one centimeter below where we are economically, it is freefall for tens of millions of Americans and they don’t know what to do, and no one cares.”

He said he admired the Tea Party for their ability to organize and educate their members, and said the progressive movement was not against them but for them, as they too will suffer without a middle class.

“This is about a very small amount of very greedy people against the United States of America,” he says. “We say no way.”

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