April 13, 2012

Van Jones talks tyranny and justice

Jamie Manley / The Chicago Maroon

Van Jones, former “green jobs” adviser to the Obama administration, joined New York-based slam poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph in leading a discussion on race and economics in the U.S. on Tuesday night in International House.

“America is not broke,” Jones said. “America is the richest country throughout history. What is broken is the social contract that wealthy people should pay America back. We have wealthy people now trying to buy congressmen and not pay America back.”

Pointing to what he sees as a widening gulf between rich and poor in this country, Jones spoke to two different sorts of liberty.

“We learned in the last century that if we only care about justice and nothing about individual rights, we will have totalitarianism, an excessive concentration of political power in the government,” Jones said.

He continued: “This century teaches us an opposite lesson. If we only care about economical liberty of individuals and nothing about justice, we get a different form of tyranny–corporate tyranny. Now the government is trying to take over the economy, but the corporations are trying to take over the government.”

Switching gears, the discussion turned to issues of race and identity, propelled by Joseph’s lyric verse.

Joseph delivered a poem depicting the life of a Sudanese refugee who immigrates to America fleeing the Second Sudanese Civil War: “Think of this mother ground/Now see this mother ground/You see how dark it turns to when he buries the son/Me and the sitting man/The mourning man/The mourning man/Black Sudan.”

Joseph incorporated song and dance into the reading of his poem. He then invited the audience to join him, singing: “I’ve got a peace like a river/Peace like a river in my soul.”

The event was co-sponsored by Chicago-based art group Portoluz as part of its series “WPA 2.0: a Brand New Deal.”