Book Review: Rebuild the Dream takes up where Obama left off: inspiring the hope that disappeared after he was elected.This latest book by Van Jones is a gift to the social change movement. Van presents an intelligent and well-researched perspective on U.S. social movements today on both sides of the political spectrum. He offers a new analysis of what it will take for the 99% to take back Congress and the country; to return the U.S. to the business of rebuilding the American dream.
Van Jones reclaims the word patriotism, taking it back from what he calls “cheap patriots” who spend their time tearing down what we’ve fought for in education, equality and full participation by all sectors of society. Van invokes the rights inherent in the Declaration of Independence—that liberty and justice belong to everyone. Thomas Jefferson’s words are precisely what the extreme Right, the “cheap patriots,” do not believe in.
For those who also follow Van’s professional path as one of the country’s leading progressive thinkers and activists, he uses the book’s prologue to reflect on the period when he served as a Special Advisor to the Obama White House and was fiercely and falsely attacked by Glenn Beck, after which Van chose to resign. He openly shares the pain he endured facing these unexpected assaults on his character. Then he courageously emerges, blasting hope back into the movement.
Van Jones could have written an entire book to tell that fateful story, but in his inimitably selfless way, he uses the experience to take a step back and review the past decade, examining what has gone right and wrong for progressives and the president since he was elected. He explains how the Tea Party movement and later the Occupy Movement stepped into the vacuum left when Obama essentially abandoned the savvy campaign organization built by his base. Van also takes a careful look at the economic mistakes of the Obama administration, outlining some tenets of a “shareable economy.”
Some fellow activists may be disappointed to find that Jones is now pro-capitalism, enthusiastic about using its innovative and productive side, rather than its exploitative and corrupt side, to rebuild the dream for the common good: green jobs, schools that work, support for entrepreneurship, etc. If I have a disagreement, it’s about his need to reiterate twice, “We are the greatest country in the world.” Who says? Why must there be a “greatest country?” Why perpetuate the arrogance that makes other countries despise us? That’s the only place where Van sounds just like a politician.
He posits that the 99% are now acting in leaderless swarms, which are flexible, can attract media and raise the issues and outrages of our
time without being pinned down by the building of hierarchical organizations. Yet he is clear that organizations (he has co-founded four successful progressive organizations himself) are still essential to put pressure on and engage in the electoral system locally and nationally. He also adds, “The 99% can do more than just lead protests and teach-ins. It can also help people meet their daily needs together.” In fact, that’s what Occupy Oakland did all along.
I found the book compelling, thought-provoking and inspiring. Many of us have been seeking this giant dose of leadership to keep us moving forward. If you believe in social change, you need this book. Call your independent bookstore and order it right away.