Page 2 – Chris Hedges / Joe Sacco – Days of Destruction
The next trip moves to poor white Appalachia where “days of destruction” conveys the environmental and human carnage dealt by coal companies and compliant governments. Mountaintop removal and its literally sickening effects on poor people left without livelihoods or adequate services find unflinching portrayal in this chapter all the way down to the grit of rural drug abuse. As a native West Virginian, I thought back to my parents who lived through the Depression and to stories of one of my dad’s sisters striving to keep my father out of the coal mines holding out hope that he could live a better life by moving toward skilled factory work after service in WW II. Hedges argues for workers rights and unions in the lives of society’s working vulnerable.
We move on to “days of slavery” as the authors recount the plight of immigrant labor in Immokalee, Florida. Harvesting tomatoes and other crops by exploited immigrant labor is their focus. Hedges and Sacco indict the large growers and the corporate retailers where many of us shop for our groceries for the physical, sexual and economic abuse of immigrant labor. They make a fair case that it amounts to slavery as the fruit of corporate greed and globalization. While earlier chapters were fairly bleak tales, here with the story of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Hedges and Sacco sketch traces of hope grounded in the consensus-based organizing of the poor themselves through workers acting together without prominent leaders.
Finally, this travelogue of pain ends with “days of revolt” in New York with the Occupy Movement. Permitting himself a glimmer of hope, Hedges links Occupy with his earlier reporting of popular resistance movements in the Middle East, Czechoslovakia and East Germany as he argues for the “intrinsic power of all acts of rebellion” (229). With its educated base, Occupy embodies a limited form of hope for Hedges. He labors at identifying guideposts on the road map to real change as revolt or Craine Brinton’s revolution. Those guides involve nonviolence, broad participation without charismatic leadership, and acting to shift power away from corporate rule by dividing the powers that be.
Clearly of the Left himself, Hedges does not really address the Right at all in this book. That oversight is a weakness. Corporate greed may be evil incarnate to Hedges but he does not make a strong case that we are seeing the crumbling of that greed’s façade when the possibility of the rise of fascism or totalitarianism after it may be just as probable. Further, Hedges’ own example of Vaclav Havel shows the value of the political project for at least a half a loaf of gains. Even though Hedges writes off Democratic and Republican politics, perhaps traditional political endeavor still needs change that draws on the strength of rebellion— much as Niebuhr noted that the witness of pacifists was valuable, if not necessary, to the practice of politics.
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