"Well, my life has changed! I come to Canada all the time!"
These were Van Jones's first words as he entered a bustling media scrum. The former Obama White House adviser and CNN political pundit has seen his notoriety skyrocket since the U.S. presidential election.
Jones arrived at the Art Gallery of Ontario as part of the Broadbent Institute's 2016 Progress Gala. His heartfelt and insightful election night commentary consoled millions of viewers shell-shocked by Trump's victory. Most notably, Jones labelled Trump's victory a "whitelash, in part," bringing the ongoing racial tensions in the United States into focus with sobering clarity.
Between November 9 (the morning after the election) and November 14, the Southern Poverty Law Centre collected 437 reports of hateful intimidation and harassment with many referring directly to the Trump campaign and its slogans. The majority of incidents reported were anti-immigrant (136), anti-Black (89), and anti-LGBT (43).
While squeezed between an armchair and several other eager reporters, I managed to ask Van Jones what he had to say to community activists and citizens affected by the surge in hate crimes following Trump's win.
"I've got Muslim friends who are terrified, Muslim kids who are afraid to go to school," he answered. "I've got Latino families that literally don't know if they should leave the country. This campaign was run in such an irresponsible manner that even if Donald Trump himself does not want the vigilante activity that's happening, it's happening. And, this could get worse before it gets better."
As Jones later emphasized in his keynote address, the rise of Trump was not entirely a matter of race but, rather, a reflection of the frustrations felt by people left stranded between two broken political parties, ordinary people marooned by a system divorced from their needs and concerns.
"We're in this age of rebellions," Jones said. "The rebels are on the rise and the establishment is on the ropes. In our country [the United States], Obama was in some ways a rebellion. Then you had the Tea Party rebellion right after that. And then you had the Occupy rebellion, and Black Lives Matters, and then the Sanders Rebellion, and then Trump. It's very clear that ordinary people are done; they're sick of it. They're not having any more. In my country, what people have seen is a bipartisan elite consensus that is wrong."
To this end, Jones stressed the importance of the taking the labour movement seriously. Sharing a personal anecdote with the audience, Jones expressed his frustration and dismay at the lack of support of any environmental groups and organizations for workers.
Recalling a trip in support of coal miners' whose pensions were stolen when their employer declared bankruptcy, Jones said, "I called every environmental leader in the country. If coal companies were messing with spotted owls, we'd be down there, and we should be....But you had human beings being hurt by the same companies and they [leaders] all had an excuse for not coming. It was shameful."
At a time when many are still trying to digest an election where a man endorsed by the KKK became the president-elect, Jones implores us to begin repairing the longstanding fractures that have existed between organized labour and other progressive movements.
"Every single part of civil society in Canada, the United States, and around the world, needs to get very vocal right now, needs to stand up right now and say 'hands off Muslim women who are just doing nothing but walking down the street,'" he mentioned after his keynote. "Hands off the DREAMers and other young immigrants not doing anything wrong but going to school and hoping to have a better life. Hands off of people of colour who contribute so much to the West right now and, frankly, don't get paid fairly and don't get respected fairly in return. People are suffering enough.
"We don't need a hate wave on top of the pain and suffering that's already going on. And, if anybody thinks they can just stand back and hope for the best, I'm going to give them a chance....if you think that standing back and giving this guy a chance means giving him a pass on things that you wouldn't let your kids do, things that you wouldn't let your neighbour's kids do, then you're not paying attention.
"Right is right and wrong is wrong. We are so far past left versus right now. This is no longer a right-left issue; this is a right-wrong issue. It is wrong for any political party to get ahead by picking on defenceless groups and small groups -- minority groups -- and then turn your head when the violence comes.
"That is irresponsible. That's not left versus right, that's right versus wrong and it's wrong."
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Image: Facebook/Broadbent Institute