Poppin' The Green Collar

America is in one hell of a funk. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the sweet sounds of James Brown. With the current economic downturn and crisis on Wall Street, coupled with environmental devastation, leaders are looking for a solution that will kill both birds with one stone.

Environmental activists, community leaders and even Barack Obama think the answer to our biggest problems lies within the creation of “green-collar jobs.” Believers in the shift toward a green economy are saying that green-collar is the new blue-collar.

A concerned Al Gore, the 2008 presidential race and fearful citizens in general have set the green movement ablaze. Obama has created a “New Energy Plan for America” and has promised the nation that he will spend $150 billion in the next decade on green-collar jobs.

California, more specifically the Bay Area, is emerging as a juggernaut in the green revolution. In 2007, San Francisco became the first city to ban the use of plastic bags in large supermarkets and drugstores. Berkeley proves to be about as granola as it can get--most recently when a gaggle of protesters silently, and more notably, stark-nakedly opposed the removal of oak trees on the UC Berkeley campus. Despite the "tree hugging" reputations of these cities, Oakland is the prevailing green giant in the Bay Area.

“We can’t drill and burn our way out of this economic crisis. We can, and must, invest and invent our way out,“ says Van Jones in a recent press release. "Six hundred thousand jobs have been lost this year alone. We need to free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil, and instead invest in jobs in sustainable industries--wind and solar, among others. Only then will we be able to fight poverty and pollution at the same time.”

Van Jones, an Oakland resident and author of New York Times bestseller “The Green Collar Economy,” is taking advocacy to a new level, not just by creating awareness, but by making true changes to his community. He is the president and co-founder of both Green For All and The Ella Baker Center For Human Rights.

Based in Oakland, Green For All is a national organization which advocates for the creation of green collar jobs that, in turn, lift people out of poverty. Their mission: “We believe that the national effort to curb global warming and oil dependence can simultaneously create well-paid, green-collar jobs, safer streets and healthier communities.”

In September 2008, more than a hundred thousand people rallied nationwide for “Green Jobs Now: A Day to Build the New Economy.” Confident in their power to make change, San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland residents gathered together with protest signs that read “GREEN JOBS NOW” and “I'M READY.”

At the rallies, participants were encouraged to sign the Green Jobs Now petition that urges elected officials to create a Green Energy Corp that will supply much needed jobs in sustainable sectors. Green-collar jobs include things like bicycle repair and bicycle delivery services, hauling and reuse of construction materials, non-toxic household cleaning, recycling, tree cutting, pruning and composting, just to name a few.

“Green-collar jobs are the kind of jobs where we get our hands dirty. Where we’re putting up solar panels, building wind farms, making our homes more energy-efficient and making the way we live our lives. Doing the work to retrofit our lives so they’re more at harmony with the planet and making it possible for us and all future generations to be cool,” says Ian Kim, the Green Collar Jobs campaign director for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, as he addresses the crowd at the Green Jobs Now rally.

The Ella Baker Center fights for community justice through its programs “Silence the Violence” and “Books Not Bars,” which provide opportunities for youth that lead away from incarceration. Teaming with Green For All, they are making large strides in the community.

San Francisco State University Professor Raquel Pinderhughes, Ph. D., also believes in the shift toward green-collar jobs. Her latest case study of Berkeley, funded by the City of Berkeley Office of Sustainable Development, explores how the green-collar economy is affecting the lives of Berkeley residents in twenty-two different green job sectors.

Pinderhughes has found that employers are willing to hire employees with barriers, but the training needs to improve. Thus, steps are being made in that direction.

Last year, Van Jones encouraged Oakland to pass a “Green Job Corps” proposal, which is a green-collar job training ground for youth and residents. Nationally, he has contributed to the passing of the Green Jobs Act of 2007. This legislation allocated $125 million to train 35,000 each year for green collar jobs.

In addition, The Cypress Mandela Training Program, Inc. is a non-profit organization located in Oakland which prepares students over the age of eighteen with skills for the construction industry. Upon completion of the sixteen-week courses, students are provided with internships and job placement.

"Typically, we have always been on the cutting edge of history. We had the Panthers, the Pointer Sisters and Tom Hanks," says Executive Director Art Shanks. Tom Hanks may have absolutely nothing to do with green collar jobs, but he’s so gosh-darn likable that it can’t hurt to mention him.

Shanks sees what he calls "the corridor through Oakland and Berkeley" as a launching pad for the rest of the nation. The Cypress Mandela Training Program is "a multifaceted program for people who have been underemployed and left behind."

In just sixteen weeks, participants learn necessary life skills, math, nutrition, time management and even how to deal with chemical dependency. After the foundational training, participants go on to learn in detail about skilled trades like construction and plumbing.

"It's a holistic approach to green construction. Phase two is for students who want to proceed in solar installation, green construction building and weatherization," says Shanks.

Upon completion, trainees are equipped to handle jobs like "energy auditing." They are able to look at properties and buildings and make recommendations to install green weatherization and solar panel systems that will benefit both property owners and the environment. With a 90 percent placement rate and 80 percent retention, the program is thriving, but Shanks believes there is still room to improve.

“We are making sure we are training our youth about taking care of the future and about work making sure people have careers," says Shanks.

The battle has just begun. To learn more about the green-collar movement, visit www.greenforall.org.





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