Van Jones & Favianna Rodriguez Put Artists of Color at Heart of Environmental Movement

Artist Favianna Rodriguez and political commentator Van Jones have a lot in common. They both came up through the grassroots activism scene of the Bay Area in the late 1990s. They both run non-profit organizations/initiatives -- respectively, CultureStrike and Green for All -- that seek to provide environmental justice for communities of color. And they’re both on a mission to shake up the environmental movement by putting artists from diverse backgrounds at the forefront of the drive to combat global warming.

“For so long, when you think of environmentalists, you think of a white guy in Birkenstocks, and yet communities of color have dirtier air, dirtier water, refineries,” Rodriguez says. “I think in the climate movement we need to make room for more artists to tell stories from the front lines that lead us to action.”

Jones and Rodriguez strongly believe that artists coming out of struggling neighborhoods are uniquely equipped to deliver a powerful message about the environment. The traditional ways of talking about climate change are just not getting across. Conversely, comedians, visual artists, writers and other creatives know how to connect the hard facts with people’s hearts.

“When we talk about global warming, we have people who are paid millions of dollars to do polls and communicate, but their messages don’t work,” Jones says. “But you get Boots Riley, one of the great rappers, to describe the problem -- that’s much more effective.”

KQED Arts invited Jones and Rodriguez to share their thoughts about art and the environment in a conversation that was recorded at Rodriguez’s studio in West Oakland on Friday, Jun. 3.

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In addition to the video, here is an extended audio version of the interview, edited from the original conversation.

--Chloe Veltman

The above video features the following artists and their work:

  • CultureStrike and JustSeeds We are the Storm climate change portfolio, featuring work by Favianna Rodriguez, Meredith Stern, and Nicolas Medin
  • Brother Earth, featuring Boots Riley and Josh Healey, produced by Movement Generation
  • Climate Warrior, produced by CultureStrike
  • Land, by Lares Feliciano
  • Into the Streets produced by Meerkat Media Collective
  • Coverage of the Climate Ribbon Project

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