Days and Days
I wrote about Democracy Now!’s interview of Chris Hedges in Sacrifice Zones, and ordered a copy of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt — a book he co-authored with Joe Sacco. Both men are experienced war correspondents, but in this book they are touring the fields of race and class war: Pine Ridge reservation SD, Camden NJ, Immokalee FL, Welch WV and Zuccotti Park NYC.
Each of these sites has a depressing story about poor people being exploited. The Native Americans of Pine Ridge are mired in alcohol and rape. The working poor of Camden are faced with drug and gang crime. Migrant workers in Immokalee camps are used up and thrown away. People of Welch are watching their land systematically polluted and stripped away by coal mining. I was shocked at certain details, but frankly we all know that there are poor and desperate people in this rich country. What is shocking is to have to confront their human faces.
When I was growing up, my mother told me a parable, basically, about money. What if my father got paid and on his way home gave five dollars to everyone that said they needed it? What if by the time he got home, he told us that he didn’t have any money left? I didn’t like that idea. I think that most Americans see life as a competition in which there will be winners and losers, therefore see nothing wrong with the existence of poor people. But to be shown that these people don’t even have a chance to succeed is too hard to accept — it flies in the face of everything we have been told, and promised, growing up.
In the last chapters, Hedges and Sacco visit Zuccotti Park and the Occupy Wall Street encampment. Many reviewers object to including Occupy, and it does seem to have been an appended chapter rather than a planned destination for the book. In a Toward Freedom book review, Kristian Williams notes:
Odder still, at the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement, it comes across as Hedges urging us all on toward a moment that has already passed.
I thought ending with Occupy made sense, but wasn’t handled correctly. I’ve already loaned my copy out, but it seems to me that Hedges projected a lot of revolutionary ideals onto OWS. He waxed about non-violent protest, about Marxist ideals and about toppling the oligarchy. One thing Hedges got right was that the powers-that-be were very nervous to see middle class people joining such a movement. That isn’t supposed to happen in the US of A. Middle class consumers belong in the shopping malls. The Tea Party was one thing, but they were easily managed towards blaming the poor instead of the rich. Occupy seemed more difficult to figure out.
So the mainstream media went to work painting the whole movement as old hippies and young weirdos — which was fairly easy because a lot of furry old anarchists, flamboyant LGBTs and grungy homeless people did show up at the camps. But among them were fairly average people that couldn’t find jobs. I talked to a lot of folk that had college degrees, big loans and no prospects.
I frankly think that many Occupiers were not overly concerned about the poor, either, but were forced by circumstances into finding common cause. I also think that many of these average people eventually chafed under the disconnect between the ideals of the General Assembly and the reality of Occupy’s hidden leadership, and drifted away — voting with their feet. In some sense I think those anarchists inside the tents were fighting the last revolution. On Democracy Now, Hedges expected that these average people will eventually protest again:
… 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.
I tend to agree with Hedges. But what I find lacking in so much commentary on revolution is any discussion of what happens after the revolution. Horizontality is fine during a meeting, but after the revolution, someone has to govern, make decisions, award contracts, spend money. We tend to think revolution is as easy as 1776, or maybe the Velvet. Historically, though, most revolutionary governments have had to make the same compromises and enforce much the same social order as the ones they replaced. Either the same elite controls the new government, or a with a lot of bloodshed, a new elite displaces the old elite. An even worse scenario is that the revolution goes insanely paranoid, starts seeing enemies everywhere and mass slaughter ensues.
What is needed in “what comes next” is a core group committed to a sort of revolution in which participation has real impact. Otherwise a new elite will be hoping that we ignore the growing sacrifice zones.