'Come Together'

Book by CNN’s Van Jones aims to encourage and challenge everyone

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

No matter your political affiliation, race, creed, or color, CNN political correspondent Van Jones hopes there’s something in his latest book that encourages and challenges everyone.

 “It’s not a left-wing diatribe against (President Donald) Trump. It’s tough love for every part of American society in the hope that we might start listening to each other a little bit better,” said Jones, 49, author of “Beyond the Messy Truth: How Came Apart*How We Come Together” (Random House $27).

 “The election was won and lost in the industrial heartland. Michigan matters a lot,” he explained. “After the election, I spent a lot of time in Michigan and learned a great deal about why African-Americans didn’t vote in the numbers we did in the last two elections. I got some insight into why the working class has jumped the fence to the other party.”

Born Anthony Jones in Jackson, Tenn., Jones had strong African-American role models growing up. Both his parents were educators. His grandfather was Bishop Chester Arthur Kirkendoll, a leader in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church who also served as president of Jackson-based Lane College, a historically black college. As a child, Jones often attended religious events with him.

“Role models matter. My grandfather was very tall, very distinguished,” said Jones. “By the time I came around, he was a legend in our lives … He was a very smart guy with a lot of integrity. He worked really hard. He’d always say, ‘Anthony, things don’t happen; you must make them happen.’ I felt I had strong African-American males (on both sides of the family) who were in charge of things and did a great job – there’s no substitute for that.”

He also has great admiration for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated several months before Jones and his twin sister Angela were born in 1968.

 “(RFK) was tough, had a good heart, and he grew in the public eye. He started off as a hard-headed, arrogant, anti-communist McCarthy-ite and ended up as a champion of the poor,” said Jones. “Those kinds of transformations are rare in public life. I liked him when I was a kid because he was the runt of the family. I was a little skinny runt myself, so I could relate to that.”

Jones earned his undergraduate degree in communications and political science at the University of Tennessee at Martin and his juris doctor from Yale Law School.

“I had such bad experiences in southern newsrooms that I decided to go to law school. I (practiced) law for about 20 years before coming back to media/communications,” he said. “I found I was better at being a public advocate than a private attorney. Most of my legal advocacy was in the court of public opinion, before city councils, police commissions, and state legislatures rather than before a judge and jury.”

A defining moment in Jones’ young adulthood was in the aftermath of the Rodney King trial. In 1991, video footage of Los Angeles policemen savagely beating King went viral. In 1992, those cops were acquitted, sparking many riots. Jones attended a protest that followed and got arrested, but the charges were subsequently dropped. He later won a small settlement.

“Being a law student at the No. 1 law school in the world, learning about liberty and justice for all, then seeing somebody viciously beaten on a videotape and nothing happened to the cops,” said Jones.

He became a staunch social and environmental activist. Jones founded the Dream Corps, a social justice accelerator. His first book was 2008’s “The Green Collar Economy,” which proposed a viable plan to solve two problems facing the nation: the environment and the economy. Former Vice President Al Gore praised the book, which made The New York Times bestselling list.

In 2009, he was appointed as Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation during the infancy of President Barack Obama’s administration. During his tenure, he was criticized for some comments he made, eventually resigning.

 “It was the best six months of my life, followed by the worst six weeks after resigning under fire. I was in charge of overseeing $80 billion in green and clean energy spending. It was a huge moment for the country… Even my worst critics had never said a bad thing about my actual job performance at the White House,” said Jones.

In fact, Time magazine in 2009 named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2010, he received the NAACP President’s Award. His second book, 2012’s “Rebuild the Dream,” also made The New York Times bestselling list.

Jones joined CNN in 2013. After Trump won last year’s polarizing presidential election, Jones’s words consoled many heartbroken Americans.

“I was speaking more as a parent than a pundit,” he said. “My commentary was not well-received by people who were elated by Trump’s victory and were offended by my reference to the election being a ‘whitelash.’ Those folks felt I was saying every single Trump voter was a racist, which was not what I was saying. Even moments celebrated on one side are condemned on the other, and that’s part of why I’m working hard to reach out.”

Thus, his latest book, which offers a blueprint for transforming the American people’s collective anxiety into meaningful change. 

“Trump got elected and many were sad about it. They seemed bewildered as to how it happened. I knew I had to write a book about my understanding of how it happened. And then, of course, the outcome has us spiraling away from each other as a country in a way I’ve never before seen. Well-intentioned people on all sides of this divide seem to be completely bewildered to as how we might start moving back toward each other again,” explained Jones.

In the book, Jones includes resources for people wanting to get involved and learning about “the quote-unquote ‘other side.’”

 “I think I probably got the only book in the marketplace that’s endorsed by (Democrats) Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker on the one hand and by (Republicans) Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum on the other,” said Jones. “That’s something I take a lot of pride in because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. You don’t have to agree with someone’s entire political philosophy to respect their views and their roles in our country.”

However, Jones is well aware that there will always be political divides on various issues, such as healthcare, immigration, et al. A possible solution is having an election as opposed to fighting about it and getting nowhere. 

 “There’s not five seconds in the day where we’re not even trying to cooperate anymore,” he said. “That’s very dangerous. Democracies can fail. They usually fail. This level of division and dysfunction is nothing to fool around with, no matter how strongly you feel about your political ideology, no matter how much you fear your political opponents, we are still in this relatively stable and prosperous boat called America. If that thing capsizes, nobody can even imagine what the cost will be.”

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