If we need proof that America was never great to begin with, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco is that proof. This book doesn’t go as far back as the 1800s to the days of slavery, not even the 1960s during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, this book is a current account of the abuses of the US government against the citizens and people of this country.
Hedges and Sacco visit Pine Ridge Reservation South Dakota, Camden New Jersey, Welch West Virginia, Immokalee Florida, Liberty Square New York (Occupy Wall Street). Their reporting on these places took place in the last few decades, some as recent as the last five years. The people who gave testimony to their suffering are still alive and still suffering from the abuses of the American corporate class sanctioned by the government.
Those of us who are still lucky enough to be in the top 25% of the upper-middle class often wonder how we can impart to our children how the other 75% live, without going into long winded lectures about the starving children in Africa which would then solicit eye rolls, they can read this book. It is very easy to read, there are many illustrations, it’s written in a novel-like narrative style without jargon, what’s more, after reading this book, I can bring my children to visit these places. They still exist. The suffering of these places still exist (except Occupy Wall Street protests), the people who are suffering still exist.
The places Hedges and Sacco chose represent pockets of forgotten America. Pine Ridge Reservation represents all the Indigenous Americans suffering, languishing and forgotten on ill maintained and underfunded reservations, where poverty, unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction have blighted whole families and whole communities. Family social services on Pine Ridge Reservation are overwhelmed and underfunded with scores of families needing assistance with alcohol abuse, sexual abuse and domestic abuse caused by the genocidal policies of the US government. Camden New Jersey represents urban decay, the urban poor in America’s major cities. Those hidden in plain sight who are forgotten, ignored and deliberately overlooked in favor of more attractive demographics and locales. And when it suits local politicians, the urban poor are trotted out like show ponies during election time as a pawn or tool to get votes and after the election they are put back in their urban prison forgotten and neglected again. Immokalee Florida represents the rural farm migrant workers from Mexico and Central America, who are literally working in slave like conditions, with sub-minimum wage, long brutal hours in the hot sun, in unsafe conditions handling hazardous materials, so that the rest of us can purchase groceries at reasonable prices. If American farm workers were paid the minimum wage with 8 hour work days and overtime pay, these huge industrialized farms would go out of business or the price of food would be unaffordable to even more people and government would have to subsidize part of the cost of food. Welch West Virginia represents the white rural poor, coal mining communities, people referred to as hicks and rednecks with missing teeth and can barely string a proper sentence together, derided by the liberals and exploited by conservatives. Mining by blowing off the mountain tops with dynamite and heavy machinery to strip coal instead of using human labor to dig for coal has devastated the region. It is devastating not just in economic terms, but environmentally as well. The water from most of Southern West Virginia are undrinkable, their air is polluted with soot, dust and noxious chemicals produced from blowing off the mountain tops. Where there used to be over 140,000 coal mining jobs are now reduced to under 15,000. Residents who fight back against the environmental warfare unleashed upon them are forced to choose between further economic ruin or health and environmental ruin. It has divided the residents of these communities, which is just what the big coal companies want, divide and conquer so they can take everything while everyone is fighting each other, dying from lung disease, cancer or drug and alcohol addiction. Also, the Appalachian mountains are some of the most beautiful parts of this country. West Virginia was one of the most picturesque and lush states but now with coal companies blowing off the mountain tops to extract coal, arial views of West Virginia Appalachia show vast craters of dirt where there used to be mountains. Big coal companies have raped the land, left it exposed, filled it with toxic waste and chemicals and people dying in big numbers. These are what Hedges and Sacco call Sacrifice Zones, sacrificed at the alter of capitalism.
These four pockets of America consist of people the government, now almost entirely controlled by corporate interests have forgotten, left behind and wish would disappear so that they don’t have to figure out what to do with them. Indigenous Americans, just let them drink to death. The residents of Camden, make their conditions so miserable, they’ll just kill each other. The undocumented aliens and migrant workers, work them to death or make their living and working conditions so unbearable that they’ve no energy left to protest and returning to their home countries isn’t possible either because then they’d all starve. Former coal mining communities of West Virginia either put up with poisoned air and water and meet a slow and painful death from lung disease or cancer or they can drink, drug themselves to death; either way, they get out of the way and won’t complain about how their pristine mountains are being blown off, how their water and air are being poisoned and those still with houses and property left are now virtually worthless because of the polluted surroundings.
The ruling class used to at least try and placate and patronize the working class, the unnecessariats and throw them a few crumbs here and there, now they don’t even bother, they provide ways for them to die and disappear; the faster the better. The Republicans don’t care what happens to brown migrant workers, Indigenous Americans and the suffering of black people, and they prey on the the social conservatism of Appalachian coal miners to get their votes and then abandon them to the big coal corporations when the election is over. The liberal elite on the surface care about women and minorities if only to further their neoliberal agenda, but they’ve totally written off the working class white people as a lot of ignorant, racist, bigoted, toothless folk who were born white but didn’t capitalize on their privilege and instead sat in their parents basement and moaned about how immigrants stole their jobs. The Democratic party, the party they used to look to for some releif is now turning against them too, deriding their ignorance and backwardness, blaming them for their own misfortune.
The Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17, 2011 in New York City. The protesters attempted to physically Occupy Wall Street as a protest to the economic havoc it wreaked on Americans and the world, the chickens have come home to roost at the scene of the crime:
The devastation on Pine Ridge, in Camden, in southern West Virginia, and in the Florida produce fields has worked its way upward. The corporate leviathan has migrated with the steady and ominous thud of destruction from the outer sacrifice zones to devour what remains. The vaunted American dream, the idea that life will get better, that progress is inevitable if we obey the rules and work hard, that material prosperity is assured, has been replaced by a hard and bitter truth. The American dream, we now know, is a lie. We will all be sacrificed. The virus of corporate abuse— the perverted belief that only corporate profit matters— has spread to outsource our jobs, cut the budgets of our schools, close our libraries, and plague our communities with foreclosures and unemployment. This virus has brought with it a security and surveillance state that seeks to keep us all on a reservation. No one is immune. The suffering of the other, of the Native American, the African American in the inner city, the unemployed coal miner, or the Hispanic produce picker is universal. They went first. We are next. The indifference we showed to the plight of the underclass, in Biblical terms our neighbor, haunts us. We failed them, and in doing so we failed ourselves. We were accomplices in our own demise. Revolt is all we have left. It is the only hope.
Hedges, Chris; Sacco, Joe (2014-04-08). Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Kindle Locations 3100-3109). Nation Books. Kindle Edition.
The history books in the school curriculum are complete lies. They teach our children that slavery was a thing of the past and the human rights abuses towards minorities ended during The Civil Rights Movement and that this country has learned from its mistakes and are at a new dawn. This is patently untrue. On top of migrant produce workers working in appalling conditions, millions of Americans are enslaved to wages, the meagre wages of most American wage workers do not earn enough to eat, live and enjoy life. The ruling class has indoctrinated the masses to believe that only the 1% and the upper middle class deserve leisure because they have the disposable income to do so. The rest of us need to work to death because to demand a government that provide its people with enough to eat, live and enjoy life is a mark of entitlement and laziness. The crimes perpetrated against Indigenous Americans are far from over, they are still ongoing as evidenced by the North Dakota Pipeline at Standing Rock. The US government has broken almost every treaty made with Indigenous Americans and even after they were given sovereignty over their reservations, that didn’t stop big corporations from trying to loot the resources on their lands through legal loopholes. The mayor of Camden New Jersey has no control over how tax dollars allocated for Camden is spent, that is determined by the state of New Jersey, whose politics is dictated by corrupt individuals like George Norcross and Chris Christie who’s aim as governor was to divest from poorer New Jersey neighborhoods and then transfer the wealth to middle and upper class towns. The poorer neighborhoods tend to predominately be black or brown neighborhoods too. In the produce fields of Florida and California, scores of migrants and their families slave away in deplorable conditions picking our fruits and vegetables so that the legal residents of America can have access to cheaper groceries. In the coal fields of West Virginia, the coal companies, in collusion with corrupt and bribed local judges will not stop until every last ounce of coal is stripped from the mountains, and they won’t quit until every inch of land and water is contaminated with toxic waste. They don’t care what happens to the people living their nor the environment.
The truth is, a country founded on land theft and genocide and made itself prosperous on the backs of slaves, could never be great, could never have been great. The country was perhaps founded on some good ideals but those rights didn’t extend to everybody. It’s especially even more erroneous to think that this country is on a path to greatness.