Posted Sept. 28, 2011
Interview with Chris Hedges, author of “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress”, conducted by Scott Harris
In the months after the near collapse of the U.S. financial and banking system in 2008 that triggered the most serious global economic meltdown since the Great Depression, America has witnessed an uneasy silence suggesting either trauma or stunned acquiescence among the general populace. While polls find that the population at large blames the recklessness of wealthy bankers and speculators for record unemployment and home foreclosures, the only real anger expressed in the streets in recent years has come from corporate-backed Tea Party activists bent on defunding social safety net programs while labeling President Obama a Muslim-socialist, and attacking unions.
With the exception of public sector labor unions that were forced to mobilize in Wisconsin and Ohio after Republican governors in those states attempted to eliminate labor’s collective bargaining rights, the U.S. left has remained largely quiet, with little in the way of protests focused on demanding accountability for those that crashed the economy. But on Sept. 17, the near silence was broken when several hundred mostly young activists executed a long-planned peaceful “occupation” by setting up an encampment near the New York Stock Exchange in Zucotti Park, a space they renamed “Liberty Plaza.” Despite mass arrests and clear cases of unprovoked physical abuse at the hands of police, the activists on Wall Street continue their occupation.
“Occupiers” there are daily engaged in an open-air dialogue to agree on a unified set of demands. But what brought them together was a common anger at a system where jobs and homes disappeared while stock brokers and CEOs got rich, even as no bankers have gone to jail for their economic crimes. The Wall Street action has spawned support nationwide with nearly 50 groups forming overnight, with plans to launch similar “occupations” in their own cities. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author Chris Hedges, who recently visited “Liberty Plaza” to express his support. Here he explains why he believes that the occupation of Wall Street and similar militant actions are the only hope for America.
CHRIS HEDGES: People are doing something, they’re rising up against this corrupt financial system that seized control not only of our economy and our political process, but our judiciary and our systems of information. And are dismantling everything that we have in place to create neo-feudalistic society. Looting the U.S. Treasury, trashing the ecosystem. In theological terms, these are systems of death because they know no limit. Karl Marx was right, unfettered capitalism is a revolutionary force which turns everything into a commodity. Human beings become commodities, the natural world becomes a commodity that you exploit until exhaustion or collapse. And because are there no impediments within the formal structures of power, unless we begin to engage in acts of civil disobedience we will not thwart the destruction that is being unleashed by corporate power.
So, is this the spark? I don’t know. I hope so, but if this isn’t the spark, the spark is coming, because an increasing number of Americans are waking up to the fact that we’ve been had.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Chris, we have seen a succession of legislation in Washington D.C. that many characterize as tepid and mostly just fig leaf attempts at reforming the financial system that imploded on us a few years ago and really put so much wealth down a black hole. As people look at what’s going on in terms of the loss of their wealth, are people prepared for more than just papered over, tepid reform? Do you think people really are ready for some substantial restructuring of our system, both in terms of politics and economics?
CHRIS HEDGES: There has been no restraint of the criminal activity of Wall Street. Companies like Goldman Sach engaged in clear fraud. They sold subprime mortgages to people they knew could pay it back, and then repackaged it as assets, betting against it through AIG. It’s completely fraudulent and criminal behavior. And the taxpayer – courtesy of Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson and others – bail them out for everything that they lost. Everything that AIG lost $170 billion. And the only person who goes to jail is Bernie Madoff, because of course, he steals from rich people. It’s a really staggering state of affairs, and not only has Wall Street in any way been regulated, not only have they orchestrated the largest transference of wealth upwards in American history, but they’ve gone back to playing exactly the same games they played before. In the 17th century, speculators were hung, speculation was a crime, it was a capital crime. And 21st century America, they run the government.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Chris, what are the connections you see between what’s unfolding in downtown New York City right now with the occupation of Wall Street right now and the protests we’ve seen change regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and certainly the massive protests we’ve seen across Europe in places like Athens and Madrid. We’ve also, of course, seen a lot of response to the attacks on unionism in Wisconsin and Ohio. What are the connections you see?
CHRIS HEDGES: The similarity between this protest and the ones in the Arab world is that they’re young. Most of these kids are in their 20s, they are primarily white, well-educated men and women who did everything right, got and finished with their university degrees and realized there was no place for them in the economy at all. That they’ve been had. And that’s a similar kind of anger that we saw in Europe, and are seeing throughout the Arab world.
And the other similarity is that they’re tech savvy. They have a sort of ad hoc media center where, as the Egyptian organizers did, they’re very careful about recording what happens to them and the police brutality on Saturday night was quite severe, but they caught it all with their cameras and put it out over the Internet where people can see it. And I think a lot of people were pretty shocked at how brutal the New York City police were in terms of their treatment of peaceful protesters who had not violated any laws: pepper-spraying young women until they were screaming and were blind, handcuffing people and then knocking them off their feet so that they fall face down on the asphalt, pounding their heads into the ground.
And I think that’s a window into how frightened the power elite is, either subconscious or overtly. They have to realize that 99 percent of Americans are being fleeced by these corporate leviathans and should that consciousness spread outwards quickly, then the power elite is in big, big trouble and I hope it does and I hope this is the movement that does it.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Chris, what advice do you have for the young people and everyone else who’s attracted to these long term actions with serious consequences for the participants?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, this is all we have left. The system is broken, it doesn’t work, civil disobedience is the only mechanism we have by which we can effect change. And if we don’t use it, if we remain complacent and passive things are only going to get worse and worse and worse. Social networking is very useful in terms of communications, it’s useless in terms of activism. The only way to carry out meaningful action and effect change is finally with your bodies. And if you can get to Liberty Plaza in New York, get there. And there’s talk now of occupying financial zones in cities like Chicago and San Francisco, now is not the time to remain complacent.
- Full-length Counterpoint interview with Chris Hedges, conducted by Scott Harris, Sept. 26, 2011 (20:32)
- Video: “Occupy Wall Street Law Student Journalist Arrested for Civil Disobedience,” Daniel O’Doria, YouTube.com, Sept. 24, 2011 (4:13)
- Video: 80 protesters arrested at Occupy Wall Street march, TheRealNews.com, Sept. 26, 2011 (4:13)
- OccupyTogether.org Compilation of other Occupy groups nationwide, includes advice on nonviolent organizing, how to follow on Twitter and Facebook. This site was started Friday, Sept. 23, 2011 and has grown practically overnight. Some events may overlap with site mentioned below. Follow on Facebook: OccupyTogether and Twitter @OccupyTogether
- Occupythenation.org: Compilation of other Occupy groups nationwide – protest tips (Group is more involved in “engaging police”; be aware of potential for police action)
- LiveStream Global Revolution Live stream video coverage from independent journalists on the ground at nonviolent protests around the world
- www.truthdig.com/chris_hedges Chris Hedges’ articles on Truthdig.com
- “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress,” reviews on Chris Hedges’ book
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