LeAlan Jones is running for US Senate in Illinois on the Green Party ticket to take the seat vacated by President Obama. Jones grew up in public housing projects in the South Side of Chicago, and at the age of 13 made an award-winning radio documentary called "Ghetto Life 101" about life in his neighborhood. He later trained to be an investment banker at JP Morgan, but decided instead to devote himself to fatherhood and now works as a football coach at Chicago's Simeon High School. I sat down with Jones to discuss unemployment, the culture of Wall Street, and reviving the New Deal.
BC: Why did you choose the Green Party? What does it offer that the Democrats or Republicans can't?
LJ: It's a question of common sense. If we were in the streets and somebody had their hand in your pocket and somebody else had their hand in your pocket, how could you accept either? Traditionally African Americans have voted Democratically, and I think blindly, because aside from all the politics that have come out of the Democratic party about helping people, I have to ask myself on a daily basis what has been the productivity from all these politics, from all the speeches and all the supported interests. What has actually been the productivity and the sustainability of people that have supported the Democratic party? And on the other side, we look at the Republican party, they have been a party that has existed on fringe issues like abortion, militarism, and at the very same time they've delivered very little to their base in terms of real jobs, real wages and real opportunities. So being a conscious person and being a fair and balanced person, there is no way I could see myself, as my grandmother would say, fattening flies for frogs. That's what I tend to believe, that supporting Democrats or Republicans, it's an act of futility, not an act of faith or real substance. I'd rather be ahead of the curve than behind the curve and I think that green politics is the way of now, not the way of tomorrow.
We're really just trying to start off where the New Deal left. And we believe that being a third party candidate tends to allow us to do that to a greater extent than the party that Mr. Roosevelt started this discussion in. And that's all we seek to do, is to bring forth the "Nuevo Deal." They say all tides rise ships, and I think that's what this movement is going to be about, is that we're trying to bring forth a discussion that America needs, the world needs, and we believe that we're the party that's going to do that. And I think that going forward the two major parties can't deliver on their solutions because they're too mired in the problems.
BC: You and Obama both come from Chicago but have very different backgrounds. What are the similarities and differences between the two of you? What's your view of what he's doing?
LJ: Barack Obama is a tremendous man. And I will not say anything to disparage him on a personal level. But take into consideration that 80% of political contributions come from corporations or individuals that have specific interests that they want to see out of government and those individuals who have contributed, whether it was Bush or Obama, have undue influence on legislation. It wouldn't be a criticism of Barack Obama, it would be a criticism the system and of a game he's had to play to get to where he's gotten. And the most fundamental difference between me and President Obama would be the fact that I am taking a belief that my political course is about the genuine interest of allowing people to be able to optimize their evolution within a society. Without having infringement from entities or institutions that would like to otherwise control them.
And it's not just to speak to Obama. It's to speak to the new realities in American politics where the corporations are in competition against the citizen. You'll see that with any reform that has tangible and material influence on middle income America being volleyed by special interests and politics and media. So there's this cycle between the corporate interest, the media, and the citizen, and out of that ball being juggled the citizen usually falls first.
BC: What solutions do you think will be most effective in solving the jobs crisis?
LJ: I think for one that the American economy has always been driven by the American people. When we look at the great inventors, when we look at the great products that have come, they've primarily come from people who have had ideas but may not have had the equity. And those two things came together and created the American economy. What seems to be happening now is people still have ideas but they're limited in terms of the resources to drive this American economy forward. So that's why we have a complete program -- we want to work on cooperatives, co-ops, credit unions and use those as mediums to be able to get the capital resources to people in order to drive job growth from the bottom up as opposed to the top down.
BC: Do you see this capital coming mostly from the private sector in community banks or venture capital, or do you think the government has a role to play in helping fund ideas?
LJ: I think that there has to be a multi-dimensional approach to it because you don't want to subsidize, you can't subsidize prosperity. It goes back to the old Bible proverb, "If you give a man a fish he eats for a day, if you teach a man how to fish he'll eat for the rest of his life." I think that the African American community, and not just the African American community, middle-income communities, have been impacted by having been given too many fish. And now in these economic times, if you did give people a fishing rod they wouldn't know what to do with it.
BC: Do we need different or extra steps to bridge the race gap and fix the high levels of unemployment and poverty for African American people?
LJ: I think that the African American community has a unique set of circumstances which has exacerbated economic figures for unemployment. Do special concessions need to be made? Maybe in certain cases, but I think if the right social investments in terms of education, housing and sustainable things like that were done effectively, the African American community would be no different than any other community in terms of being able to get a return on those types of investments. A large part of the African American economy is not an economy that's registered. You have a lot of people that are service-oriented, that are barbershop owners, that are mechanics, that have skills and trades that are in the labor market but are not filing 1099s for it because a lot of their skills are cash and carry. The other thing that affects us is that many of these people that are entrepreneurs don't get a chance to expand their businesses because they're cash and carry operations and because they have an aversion to dealing within commerce. So the thing is to get those individuals that have these great ideas, that have these great small business models, to think outside of just where they're at. And getting them integrated into a system which allows their ideas to be expanded through reasonable financial investment and reasonable talent investment. Once of the most remarkable things about the African American community is that it's a very talented community. We wouldn't have gotten to this point if we were not. The thing is that we tend to isolate ourselves when we come into business as opposed to integrating what our business concepts could be and how those things can be expanded. Once of the things that does not happen in the African American business is you rarely have mergers and acquisitions. Usually their businesses have been around for one generation and don't get to transcend out of that generation because we look at our entities as being very personal things as opposed to things that can be enhanced and optimized by doing very basic things and creating synergies that can create efficiencies that can create jobs that can create sustainability.
BC: What is your view of financial reform? Will it help unemployed and/or middle class people?
LJ: Financial reform is huge. The financial institutions have as a result of deregulation and free market principles really deteriorated the quality of life for people in Middle America. And the profits are earned by individuals but the losses are shared. So financial reform is one aspect of it. And that is going to regulate, but I think there still has to be an expansion of growth. That's the defining line: how do we regulate with the understanding that we have to generate growth. And that's why our cooperatives and working with the community banks and credit unions are going to be able to expand that capital into Middle America, as well as, as we said, financial regulation has to happen. And we think that's where we're going to create the jobs and the opportunities that are going to get people back to viability economically.
BC: How do you view the financial industry, having trained to work at JP Morgan?
LJ: As much as I'm a Green, I do understand there are aspects of the financial industry that have expanded the American middle class. But it expands the American middle class at the very same time that it undermines it. It's an oxymoron. And that's why I think that as much as we want to regulate the industry we also have to create viable alternatives where we can have capital appreciation and capital allocation in industries and institutions that are going to produce and service the American people. It does leave a bad taste in my mouth, but I do understand that some of the functions of Wall Street are actually beneficial to middle America. And that to demagogue the entire industry won't help America gain fiscal responsibility. But there have to be regulations, because we do recognize that deregulation has a tremendous impact on Middle America.
BC: What is the culture like in these firms?
LJ: You are at the top of the food chain. So it's basically being a lion or being a sheep. And these are definitely men that think of themselves as lions in this economy. But at the very same time, even lions have to live in equilibrium within the environment they're in. And these lions on Wall Street have been overfeeding. And now they're fat, and now it's time for those sheep to live.
I've compared them to drug dealers. I don't think there's any difference between Wall Street investors and young men in urban communities that have participated in drug distribution. The only difference between the two of them is their commodities. And that's why I think that in terms of regulation some of these men need to go to jail if it is found that they have willfully and consciously conspired to undermine investors. It's the criminalization of it. Young men in the cities selling drugs won't tell you they're about capital allocation but they will tell you they're trying to feed their families. And yet they're doing it at the expense of undermining their community and they understand that risk and some of them are willing to take it. Because some of them actually do good with it. And they accept that society has a taboo against what they do. I would just hope that society begins to have the same taboo against the men who wear suits and ties instead of baggy jeans and gym shoes.
BC: Part of your platform is a green economy and clean energy. What do you envision as viable solutions?
LJ: I saw the solution this week in the middle of the state of Illinois where I had the opportunity to visit an organic farmer who has a ten acre field, who produces great vegetables, and also driving back on that expressway and seeing a wind farm. And knowing that we're not talking about anything revolutionary here. More than talking about politics, it's about a philosophy. It's a smarter way for man to live, being in a green world as opposed to a world where you profit at the expense of the environment. We only have one world and we can't get it back when this one is done. So I think that it's important that we take into consideration that it's not about us, it's about what we leave behind. And right now, if we look at American politics we're going to leave behind more debt, we're going to leave behind more pollution when we look at places like the Gulf of Mexico where we've had one of the most prolific ecological disasters in American history at the expense of propping up and old economy that we don't' have to deal with. We're dealing with an economy that's a lot smarter, we're dealing with a people that's a lot smarter, and the only thing that's holding them back are the politics and interests that profit off of this old model.