Let’s just be very clear right up front, Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco may have both collected their share of mainstream awards, like Pulitzers, American Book Awards, and the like, but with this book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, they remove any doubt about whether they are “celebrity couriers,” as they derisively term a lot of what is left of the mainstream, main street journalists out there today slapping whitewash on poverty and helping spin the machinery that manufactures rose-colored glasses. They have traveled through some of the hellholes on the dark side of the American economic reality and they are angry about the whole damn thing, fired up, fed up, and desperately looking hard for a fight. This book needs to be read, and it needs to sell very well because these guys are pretty much unemployable now. Trust me, I know this!
This book is the fascinating product of one of those buddy road trips that are so popular in movies today, kind of a Chris and Joe Report Back What You Don’t Want to Know From Where You Absolutely Do NOT Want to Go! There’s drugs, sex, and violence but often it is a true-life narrative with graphic illustrations of someone still living in Pine Ridge, South Dakota or Camden, New Jersey or next door to a tailings pile in southern West Virginia or still working in the predawn as a low waged picker in the fields of central Florida. Having been to all of these places and hundreds of others just like them, I can vouch for the fact that the book is its own “reality show,” and I’m willing to handle all bets that there will be no Hollywood movie and residuals coming from their tour. Make no mistake, this is depressing stuff, and despite how hard Chris and Joe try, reading the whole book it is hard to escape a sense that the authors were knocking on the doors of total hopelessness for any potential public policy and several miles past any realistic sense that there might be any change.
But they try and the effort is appreciated. They applaud the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their great successful efforts in winning against the tomato growers and helping prosecute slavery cases (yes, slavery, and it goes without saying…right here in America!). Readers walk in the footprints of the American Indian Movement and its very real, if uneven, legacy and accomplishments as a model for a certain rights-based strategy for Native Americans. In fact though Hedges and Sacco do not rub this theme in our faces, it is hard to not notice that peoples’ organizations like the United Mineworkers, AIM, and even CIW are simply outmatched in confronting the disaster and destruction zones on their itinerary.
The authors are aware of this problem and address it directly, both in their opening pages as well as in their last shouts where they try the journalist equivalent of a “Hail, Mary” to attach some hope to the Occupy Movement that was stirring on Wall Street as they completed the book. They do a good job of making a case for Occupy and come close to filing a brief for revolution. Believe me, if you read their book by the end you’ll be ready to rock as well, so none of it seemed a surprising at the finish.
Nonetheless, they were there by themselves. What was amazing in reading about – and seeing in the drawings – the people who lived in these houses of horrors is that they had all come to different conclusions. The people in their story were choosing spirituality, either through traditional religion or something personal. They took their pain and anger to some other world they hoped would be better than the one where we all live now. That’s not “another world is possible.” That’s hardly revolt. That’s hardcore, hopeless resignation. In many ways the main characters were bear hugging death for themselves and their communities. That’s the real story of “days of destruction.”
Chris and Joe have a lot to offer on this road trip to hell’s last acre. The writing is to the point and well researched. The drawings are powerful, poignant, integrate the text, and stand alone as separate graphic stories. Their politics are good. Their rage is palpable and empathetic. Time spent between the covers is rewarded.
At the same time the book is just depressing as hell, hell on earth, the worst hell there is, unless you are sky high on dope or booze or the “by and by” “opiates of the masses,” on the “desolation row” traveled by Hedges and Sacco. Finishing the book was a relief for me. This book is where I’ve worked for more than 40 years as a community and labor organizer, and I wouldn’t want to even begin to compare its horrors with many of the mega-slums where ACORN International organizes today, so this was no walk in the park. On the other hand it may be exactly the road that many people need to travel, and Hedges and Sacco are good guides, reminding readers of the urgent need for action, the importance of hope, and why our politics and policies are sadly missing the tragedy and waste of so many millions of people, who, like the characters in this book, are poor and dispossessed. Hedges and Sacco are also advocates which makes us feel at least comfortable rolling on this bumpy road with fellow travelers.
When they say, “The American dream, we now know is a lie. We will all be sacrificed…. No one is immune. The suffering…is universal. They went first. We are next…. 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,” by the book’s end, we know they mean it.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]