Good Jobs, Green Jobs

This article adds a new path for Glide Magazine: specifically, an effort to begin bridging the worlds of culture and sustainability. In truth, one is nothing without the other; if the planet is uninhabitable, music and art will die. Likewise, without a clear appreciation for the beauty and indeed, art that is nature, people fail to appreciate some of the most spectacular aspects of life: a light rain, dewdrops on a leaf, or a sunset over the mountains – things worth working to care for.

It was in this spirit of inquiry, of understanding synergies, that Glide Magazine sent Senior Staff Writer Gabriel Scheer to the recent Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference in Washington, DC. The conference was intended to demonstrate and further grow the increasing collaboration of labor interests and environmental groups, with an emphasis on creating new, “green” jobs. Gabriel set out to understand first this connection, and second, to determine whether, in any of it, an understanding of human culture, of the arts, was coming into play. This will be the first of an occasional series on sustainability in the arts.

Below is a series of excerpts from his experience at the conference.

Wednesday: Day 1

Arriving at the conference, I was greeted with the incredible news that the event, originally planned to accommodate 2,000 people, had increased their attendance to 2,500 – and was still turning people away. The agenda for Wednesday was equal parts policy and introduction. Featuring speeches from both environmental and labor leaders, the first half of the day setting the tone of collaboration, and of a common understanding of the definition of green jobs (essentially: jobs formerly known as blue-collar jobs, merged with new green industries. For example, a metal worker who formerly built cars but now builds wind turbines has a green job.)

Wednesday’s afternoon session saw people either heading off to the Capitol to lobby their congress-people for more investment in green jobs, or attendance at various panel discussions. I chose the panels, and found some of interest. Topics ranged from “Regional Climate Policy: Cooperation, Collaboration and Challenges,” to “Spurring Private Investment in the Local Green Economy” to “Green for All: Prison Re-Entry and Green Jobs.” Despite the occasional dynamic speaker, as with many conferences, I found that the truly exciting conversations were taking place in the halls – and in particular, in the radius of people from Green For All; more on that later.

Wednesday’s formal program ended at 5, and the conference organizers missed an opportunity by organizing no formal networking gathering; as a result, attendees dispersed to their respective places of lodging.

Thursday: Day 2

The day kicked off with more of the same in terms of panels, with some more inspiring than others. This was also the only day of the Green Jobs Expo, a mixed bag of non-profits, for-profits, and government entities touting their green job-related efforts. Numerous DC school teachers had brought students to the fair, which created an interesting dynamic of both conference attendees and high schoolers, all working to understand the new green jobs paradigm.

Thursday’s mid-day show was easily the highlight – and biggest disappointment – of the conference. Organized by Green For All and advertised as “Youth Voices Rising: The Flavor Behind the New Green Movement,” I expected the room to be packed with conference attendees curious to see where hip hop was meeting sustainability. While the room was packed, it was packed with high school students, dutifully shepherded in by their teachers; to my great disappointment, nearly all conference attendees missed easily the most dynamic event of the conference.

The show was incredible. Seated with five other conference attendees, as well as a woman attending purely for the Expo and Hip Hop show, I was enthralled to watch good hip hop artists – whose lyrics happened to be about things like solar power and empowerment of ghetto youth. Examples:

Vanessa German, a spoken-word artist from Pittsburgh, whose powerful delivery presented even more powerful lyrics: “a change is going to come from the hood….re-considering hands a new miracles to new dreams, rebuilding and retrofitting the ghetto. It’s about justice, telling a new American story, healing from the soil, one seed, one solar panel at a time. There’s an entire cosmo of Obama’s in the ‘hood.”

Tem Blessed, whose catchy song and video had the audience raising their ones in unison to “everybody shine – be solar powered, speak your mind, that’s wind power, move your H2O, that’s wave power, organize – that’s human power.”

Jennifer Johns, along with Franchise Jackson, a duo of huge contrast and beauty, as Johns sang in a gorgeous bluesy voice punctuated by Jackson’s staccato, gruffly delivered raps.

Finally, Fiyawata, an excellent husband/wife hip hop duo from Oakland who delivered a powerful performance that had the audience, again, rising from their seats.

The combination of green, of hope and aspiration for employment, of hip hop, and of youth infused the room with an energy rarely found at any conference. It showcased the incredible opportunity inherent in bringing diversity into the environmental fold, as well as the labor fold; rarely is hip hop referenced as an environmental force. And yet…the artists above, as well as others, demonstrate an incredible leadership, blending their environmental values with calls for social justice, for opportunity.

As mentioned above, Green For All convened the hip hop aspect of the conference. Green For All is an organization from Oakland, CA, “dedicated to building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.” Fronted by the charismatic Van Jones, Green For All advocates for jobs, job training programs, and entrepreneurial opportunities, particularly for “people from disadvantaged communities” to fight poverty and pollution together.

Thursday ended with a dinner/networking gathering in the main hotel ballroom, and featured lefty speaker Jim Hightower, as well as a band and other speakers. Tables kept conversation confined to one’s neighbors, and the dynamic was distinctly traditional. It is the belief of this writer that the conference organizers could capitalize on significant energy, bringing in completely new groups of people, by better integrating the Green For All track into the conference, and the networking dinner, with its traditional setting and vibe, seemed to emphasize that.

Friday: Day 3

Following a few morning sessions (of which the “Youth, Culture and Making Green Jobs Cool” was the most interesting, again touching on themes approach via the hip hop event the day before), the conference ended with a bang: Van Jones, of Green For All, spoke, riling up a crowd that, in many cases, had likely already heard his eloquent calls for a new green economy, providing jobs for all Americans while simultaneously addressing some of the most pressing environmental concerns of our era. He delivered, as always, with energy and intellect, before introducing “the one man after whom (he) wouldn’t want to speak,” his pastor, the Reverend Lennox Yearwood. Rev. Yearwood, proceeded to amp things up even further, issuing cries for social justice and declaring that “we need our generation, the hip hop community, to get involved in the climate crisis. The climate is our lunch counter moment for the 21st Century, and we all need to united to save our planet!” The room echoed with applause.

Closing out the conference, among others, was the new US EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson. Based upon her statements, “the environment” will fare differently under the new Obama Administration.

The conference in general was a great event, proving beyond a doubt that green jobs are the direction of tomorrow. It is my hope that it is not only the political structure that has and is changing to better provide for our people and care for our planet, but with leaders like Van Jones and Lennox Yearwood, activist/artists like Fiyawata and Vanessa German, that the social structure is growing along with the political. 

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