Two weeks ago, at the Take Back America conference in Washington, Majora Carter took a moment to explain the motivation behind The Dream Reborn, a celebration this weekend in Memphis that honors the life and marks the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death.
“The work now is solutions-based,” said Carter, who founded and directs Sustainable South Bronx, a seven-year-old non-profit environmental and economic development organization in New York. “We’re applying our knowledge, our research, our advocacy to places to help people participate in this new economy.
“We are on the cusp of something so huge,” she added. “We’re activating the green economy to transfer wealth and the capacity to participate to include poor people. We’re reaching across the traditional lines. It’s a very big change and a very big opportunity for everybody.”
The Dream Reborn is not likely to attract the media — mainstream and new — that it deserves. But in the view of this environmental journalist and advocate, the conference is a happening for environmentalism, the social justice community, and the nation. The reason: it brings together the leaders and activists from the newly energized sectors of progressive America — greens, social justice, business, labor, government — around principles and values that have attained new cultural and economic salience in the United States.
Those, of course, are justice, and peace, and freedom, and equality. The legacy of Dr. King. Carter and her colleague, Van Jones, the head of Green For All, the conference sponsor, have found a new path to 21st century relevance for Dr. King’s vision in the clean energy economy, in environmentalism, in the emerging industrial sector tied to efficiency, pollution prevention, renewable energy, and halting global climate change. The Dream Reborn is the latest in a series of high-profile gatherings around the nation this year that are pointing to the development of a new governing coalition based not on exploitation of natural and human capital — the economic principle of the 20th century — but on conservation and collaboration and reason. These will be the generators of millions of new green-collar jobs.
Bill McKibben, in a new piece for The Nation, wrote: “There are people starting to think along these lines: the Green for All campaign has been pushing for a billion-dollar commitment for a quarter-million green jobs of just this kind, designed to pull people out of poverty.” He added: “Were King still alive he’d be fighting to take on the twin scourges of global warming and global inequity with a massive new public works campaign.”
Van Jones described the conference’s purpose this way in an interview: “I wanted to get people together, on the 40th anniversary of his death, around the idea of Dr. King’s dream. Many were not around during his life. He’s been gone longer than he lived. I wanted to introduce a new generation to Dr. King’s dream. His message was uplifting the people. The new message is uplifting the people and the planet, too.”
One of the leaders speaking this weekend to 1,000 people — the conference sold out this week — is my colleague Jerome Ringo, the president of the Apollo Alliance, who spent part of his career in a Louisiana petrochemical plant and has spent two decades making the case that environmentalism and social justice are tied together.
Other presenters are Winona LaDuke (Honor the Earth), Malia Lazu (The Gathering for Justice), LaDonna Redmond (Institute for Community Resource Development), Mary Ann Hitt (Appalachian Voices), Reverend Yearwood (Hip Hop Caucus), Adrienne Maree Brown (Ruckus Society), Tony Anderson (Morehouse College Student Leader), Ian Kim (Oakland Green Jobs Corps), and Rinku Sen (Applied Research Center).