Have you ever read a book or watched a documentary about a topic and realized that you didn’t have a clue about what was going on?
That’s exactly the realization I had when I was reading through Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by journalists Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco. I needed them to shake me out of the stupor I was in. From the book description:
Two years ago, Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges and award-winning cartoonist and journalist Joe Sacco set out to take a look at the sacrifice zones, those areas in America that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement. They wanted to show in words and drawings what life looks like in places where the marketplace rules without constraints, where human beings and the natural world are used and then discarded to maximize profit. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is the searing account of their travels.
Hedges and Sacco visit cities like Welch, West Virginia where corporations have destroyed the livelihoods of its citizens. Specifically to Welch, coal companies are continuously ravaging the land and blowing up parts of the Appalachian mountains to get to the coal. Joe Gibson, who Hedges and Sacco talked to, has seen his land diminished from what it once was but he still won’t give up the remaining land even though “The constant daily explosions at the edge of his property – which in one typical week in West Virginia equals the cumulative power of the blast over Hiroshima – rains showers of rocks down on his property.” Toxic waste is all around Welch.
Hedges and Sacco also visit Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Camden, New Jersey, and Immokalee, Florida, creating a narrative from the many people they had talked to who still somehow manage to go about their lives despite the adversity they face. Theses stories aren’t necessarily about the little guy triumphing against the mighty corporation or the corrupt politicians and don’t really have happy endings. Hedges and Sacco manage to open our eyes to the reality of the situation in this country. We may not experience this first hand but it’s happening and even though we are not complicit in these wrongful acts, that doesn’t absolve us from doing nothing about any of this.
I happened to be at the book signing in San Francisco for this book. Chris Hedges, speaking to a packed crowd in City Lights bookstore, told of how when he and Joe Sacco started this book, the “Days of Revolt” part of the title was hypothetical. It wasn’t until the Occupy movement that began in Zucotti Park in New York City in September of 2011 that revolt came out from the hypothetical into a reality. Hedges admitted that before the Occupy movement, he was “Mr. Doom and Gloom” when it came to the future of this country. The last chapter of the book discusses this movement and what it is this country needs. Very interesting, to say the least.
The lower class has already lost the “American Dream”. Gone are the days where one can have a house and afford to have family after high school. You see that in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. Unfortunately, it seems like the middle class is going to.
You can see this last idea play out somewhat in Dave Eggers latest book, A Hologram for the King. The main character is someone who used to make quite a bit of money but throughout the years, with outsourcing, with everything changing around him, he has found himself close to broke, hedging on this deal in Saudi Arabia to go through to allow him to get back to some semblance of financial stability. This book is fictional but I happened to read it right before Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt and it somehow seemed apt that I read these two around the same time.
At the very least, read Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt to know what is happening in this country. The book uses a combination of written word and illustrations courtesy of Joe Sacco, who does this form of journalism quite frequently like with Footnotes in Gaza, to tell the stories of the people from these towns. We owe it to them to at least hear their story. For a lot of us, the situations depicted in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt don’t effect us so we just don’t see that this country is filled with selfish people that only look after their own well being and in doing so, have systematically destroyed the lives of many others. We shouldn’t be ignorant as to what’s going on around us.
I’m so very grateful for the life I live, Alhamdulilah. If I ever complain about anything about my life, please feel free to just punch me in the face. There are people in this country who are living lives that are much worse than yours and mine because of forces beyond their control. The least we can is to appreciate what we all have.