Friday, June 24, 2011

"Protest signs are important - they can't stop a bullet"

Last night I watched the live feed of the Rebuild the Dream movement launch featuring Van Jones and The Roots. If you missed it, here's the video.

Yeah, I know its over an hour and its hard to give up that kind of time. But believe me - its worth every minute.

In case you just can't watch the whole thing, at least take 6 or 7 minutes to watch the beginning where Van Jones tells his own life story. He talks about what his father (who was in the military) taught him - and how he rebelled against that when he went off to Yale. After graduation, he found himself in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the Bay Area. And this is what he learned:

I wound up going to many many more funerals than I went to graduations for those young people I was working with. And as the years went on, I learned that angry rhetoric might feel good to people like me, but it didn't make a difference in the neighborhoods I was trying to move forward. I learned that education and real opportunity is what makes a real difference. Protest signs are important - they can't stop a bullet. Nothing stops a bullet like a job. That's what I learned working in the toughest communities in our country.

This seems to be a critical lesson that folks learn when they go from poutrage to pragmatism. Until you put "boots on the ground" to try to get something done, angry rhetoric can seem sufficient because, as Jones says, it makes you feel better. But it is never enough. Whether its working with urban young people or trying to start a movement to Rebuild the American Dream, real progress is a long-term struggle that takes time, patience and hard work. Most of that is done in the shadows - outside the glare of the media/blogosphere spotlight. But its not only the foundation for real change, its the process that actually prepares us to live out the change.

First Lady Michelle Obama knows this.

The only thing that happens in an instant is destruction … everything else requires time.

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