Green-Collar Jobs for Urban America

Oakland looks for a greener path toward prosperity

| January 4, 2007

Oakland is no stranger to adversity. Rising unemployment, violence, and poverty rates have plagued the struggling community. But instead of bemoaning their plight, residents are channeling their efforts toward change. Van Jones and Ben Wyskida write in Yes! that the city is embarking on a movement to establish a green-collar job corps as a way to revive the floundering economy and create a sustainable future.

The idea capitalizes on the burgeoning 'green' market in the United States and is bolstered by efforts of the Oakland chapter of Apollo Alliance, a national group whose goal is to establish millions of clean energy jobs within the next 10 years. The partnership with Apollo Alliance was spearheaded by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which is directed by author Van Jones.

The Oakland Apollo Alliance initiatives call for a 'Green Job Corps' composed of trained recruits, particularly low-income residents, people of color, and former inmates. Other proposed measures include incentives and benefits for businesses that keep Oakland dollars local, and efforts to clean up the port, the fourth largest in the country. The program is breaking new ground with its efforts to achieve complete oil independence by 2020.

Oakland's progressive mayor, Ron Dellums, is on board and has vowed to push for a renewed and fundamentally green economy as the foundation of Oakland's revival. And it's not a stretch -- the authors report that Oakland is a natural hub for sustainability, with massive natural resources for solar and wind energy, millions of dollars from an energy lawsuit settlement to use toward sustainable projects, and a desirable market for green investors.

To date, the coalition's efforts appear promising -- uniting folks from varied professions and backgrounds and successfully generating funding. Improvements are already underway, including organic food delivery to low-income families, energy audits performed by community youth, and green construction work by former inmates. Jones and Wyskida hope that success in Oakland will inspire other struggling communities across the country and prompt change. -- Elizabeth Ryan

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