In his latest book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges takes a look at the tensions that arise between profit, progress, technology and the pursuit of the American dream. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, written with co-author Joe Sacco, critiques an economic system that they say abandons too many Americans.
Hedges describes places such as Pine Ridge, S.D.; Camden, N.J.; Welch, W.Va.; and Immokalee, Fla., as sacrifice zones, parts of the country where human beings and natural resources have been used and then abandoned, where wrenching change has spawned hopelessness, desperation and ravaged landscapes. With cartoonist Sacco, Hedges describes places and people at the bottom of the American economy and argues that without profound change, too many other places will join them soon.
NPR's Neal Conan talks with Hedges about the book, and the signs of hope he finds in social movements like Occupy Wall Street.
On why he visited abandoned places for his book
"I wanted to show what happens when human beings, communities, when the environment is all forced to prostrate itself before the marketplace. You know, this has become the ideology across the political spectrum, and the consequences — as you see, in all the places you just mentioned — in many other parts of the country are devastating. And essentially, we have undergone a kind of corporate coup d'etat in slow motion. There are very little impediments left against these corporate forces. And what's happened in these sacrifice zones is now being visited upon larger and larger segments of the population as we reconfigure the country and maybe perhaps the global economic system into a form of neofeudalism."
On Camden, N.J.
"We went to the bottom. Camden, per capita, is the poorest city in the United States and, not incidentally, usually ranked in the top two or three in terms of the most dangerous. Some years, it's No. 1. And in Camden, everything went.
"In other cities, there still is a kind of residue, something that remains. But Camden, in essence, is a dead city. It makes nothing. And yet, Camden was an industrial hub. RCA Victor was there. Campbell['s] Soup was there. The shipyards, in the '40s and '50s, employed 36,000 people. All of that is gone.
"And the consequences of that are played on the streets of Camden. Much of the city is abandoned. You can drive down whole streets of old row houses — just gaping, you know, windowless, destroyed. It, you know, it looks like somebody bombed it. The only sort of economic activity are the roughly 100 open-air drug markets, and you see the descent. Seventy-seven percent or 75 percent of the city budget is spent on police and fire. The school systems don't function."
On the Occupy movement
"I was very involved with the Occupy movement. I think that, at this point, both the Republican and the Democratic Party have become hostage to corporate money and corporate power. I think Citizens United in 2010 was probably the last nail in the coffin. It's impossible for us to fight against it. There's a two-tiered legal system, a two-tiered legislative system. Large corporations like Goldman Sachs, they write those laws. ... They write, in essence, author the judicial rulings that are handed out because of the influence they have. And I think appealing to those formal mechanisms of power is not working, has not worked.
"... I spent ... many years as a war correspondent and [I] have seen the poison of violence. And I don't want to see us go there. Nonviolent, peaceful protests and ability to bring people out into the street to protest against these kinds of conditions is, I think, vital, in essence, to rebuilding the kind of movements that protected working men and women in this country."