Thursday, August 15, 2013

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco

It shouldn't come as news to anyone that America is in trouble these days, but I've read few explanations of just how varied and deep the trouble lies than Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco's book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.  The two men, one a print journalist and the other a comics journalist, traveled the country and found four regions where inequality is having a devastating affect on locals.

The book begins in Pine Ridge South Dakota, a reservation with almost complete unemployment.  By beginning the book here, the authors are reminding us that disenfranchisement, disregard for human rights, and blind obedience to capitalism are some of the central tenets of the American experience, and they always have been.  And the consequences of that are clear to any who would care to look.

From there, Hedges and Sacco take us to Camden New Jersey, a post-urban wasteland drowning in drugs and poverty, to Welch West Virginia, where the environment is being destroyed in the quest for coal, and to Immokalee Florida, where people, mostly migrants from Mexico and places to the south, are being exploited in the interest of keeping the price of growing food low (even as financial speculators keep the cost of buying food in markets unnecessarily high).  Over and over again, Hedges and Sacco show us examples of devastation and disregard.

The thing is, they also show us dignity and hope.  Again and again we meet people who have stood up to big business, local and state government, and sometimes their neighbours, in often vain attempts to protect their homes, their environment, and their way of life.

The final chapter of the book didn't sit as well with me as did the rest of the book.  In it, Hedges writes about the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011, and in it, he saw the beginning of the end of Western Capitalism.  It seems to me that his hopes for this movement were unrealistic, and with the book having been out more than a year, events seem to have not supported his viewpoint.

Ignoring that last chapter, this book is an excellent portrait of a country that is entering its decline at the hands of the elite few.  Joe Sacco's portraits and illustrations add weight and veracity to the text, and his comics, which usually take the form of biography, are fantastic.  Both Hedges and Sacco incorporate oral history into their writing, letting the people in these little-known and much-ignored places speak for themselves, giving their stories greater weight.

I enjoyed this book, and would love to share in Hedge's optimism that the solution to many of these problems lie in the collective voices of regular citizens.

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