Sacrifice Zones

June 2012 saw publication of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, with chapters written by Chris Hedges and others illustrated by Joe Sacco. The book was favorably reviewed in the NY Times, though they took Hedges to task for his revolutionary fervor.

This book is a collaboration between Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, showing us daily life in four centers of 21st-century American poverty. Hedges’ contribution — a combination of reportage and commentary — is in a long tradition of literary journalism. Sacco’s is the sort of graphic art popularized by Art Spiegelman in “Maus.” Both writers have decades of experience as correspondents in war zones, but in “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” they turn their attention to the bombed-out and collapsed areas of their own country. …

Anyone who grew up near a postindustrial area — who has seen a middle-class town become a pocket of destitution — will not find any one chapter in this book too shocking. What is shocking is the degree to which this depth of poverty is found everywhere, from rural Indian reservations to near-slave conditions in Florida tomato fields. These are not pleasant stories. They are the very sort of thing we all prefer to forget so that we can focus on our daily lives, and this makes it all the more important that they are recorded.

Hedges appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the Chicago teachers’ strike, economic sacrifice zones (sort of a euphemism for slums) and the Occupy movement.

What happened in these sacrifice zones has already taken place: a complete disempowerment, a destruction, an impoverishment of these incredibly poor pockets, largely invisible, within the United States, and the assault that has been carried out against Native American communities on reservations, against the inner city. We report a chapter out of Camden, New Jersey, per capita the poorest city in the United States. These tactics are now being visited upon the rest of us.

And that’s why the teachers’ strike in Chicago is arguably one of the most important labor actions in probably decades. If it does not prevail, you can be certain that the template for the attack on the union will be carried out across the country against other teachers’ unions and against the last redoubt of union activity, which is in the public sector, of course—firemen and police. That’s already happened. You know, since we wrote the book, in Camden, they’ve fired the entire police force. Camden is the — not only the poorest city per capita, but one of the most dangerous, because they wanted to break the police union, which they have done.

… we went into these sacrifice zones to show what happens when families, individuals and communities, as well as the environment, are forced to kneel before the dictates of the marketplace. And what you get is personal, economic and environmental devastation. …

And now these forces, these corporate forces that have made these sacrifice zones prostrate themselves before corporate profit, corporate greed, are turning on the rest of us, as we rapidly reconfigure this country into a neofeudalistic society, an oligarchic state.

Like Occupy and the Green Party, Hedges is as suspicious of Democrats as of Republicans. He sees something like Occupy happening again, though not necessarily as currently configured.

… the Chicago strike illustrates the bankruptcy of both traditional labor and the Democratic Party. And that’s why the Occupy movement was so important. Whether it reconstitutes itself as Occupy, whether what comes next even calls itself Occupy is, for me, not relevant. Occupy was a tactic in the same way the Freedom Rides were a tactic. And I see what is happening in Chicago as intimately linked to the Occupy movement itself. It’s community-based. It is fighting both political parties, that have sold out to corporate interests. I mean, the enemy of the Chicago Teachers Union is, you know, one of the most important figures within the Democratic Party and of course a close ally of Barack Obama. I mean, that whole convention, which you covered, you know, not one major Democratic figure, as far as I know, has come out in support of the teachers in Chicago.

I’ve ordered a copy myself.


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