By aquabuddha, 99GetSmart
Where We Are Headed
Hi. Thanks for coming. I’m going to talk for about 30 minutes. If you have any questions I’m going
to answer them. I just finished a book I spent two years on with a graphic illustrator, Joseph Sacco.
Some of you might know his work. It’s amazing. It’s on America’s sacrificial zones including Camden,
New Jersey, which is right over the river here. Per capita, the poorest city in the United States and not
surprisingly one of the most dangerous.
In most cities like Philadelphia, there are sections of the city like North Philly. where some parts remain.
But in Camden, everything went. We wanted to go to all those pockets of the United States where
unfettered, unregulated capitalism operated. Where human communities, families and eco systems
itself were made to deal before the dictates of the market place.
The reason we felt that was important is because that is where they started. They started with them
and now they are coming for us. So we went to Camden. We went to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where
the whole demented project of unfettered, rapacious, unregulated capitalism and imperialism began
with, of course, the seizure of Native American lands, the decimation of Native communities, the
oblivion of the eco system that sustained those communities, and then the herding of Native Americans
into concentration camps we call reservations.
The average life expectancy for a male in Pine Ridge, South Dakota is 48. That is the lowest in the
Western hemisphere outside of Haiti. There is estimated 80% alcoholism rate. In Pine Ridge, 60% of the residents have neither electricity or water. This is the United States.
We went to all of these places and including just a few miles from here. The misery we have inflicted
on the poor and working class is kept, of course, invisible to the wider public.
We were also in Southern West Virginia to the coal camps where Big Coal is destroying the
Appalachian Mountains. There are hundreds of the thousands of acres of devastation because Big Coal doesn’t want to dig down for coal anymore. Instead, they blow the top 400 feet off of the mountains. They use
some of the largest land equipment on earth, 25 foot drag lines. Giant bulldozers push all the trees and the top soil over the edges of the mountains. Giant billion-gallon ponds are filled with heavy metals and sludge that periodically break.
We went into villages in West Virginia where everyone has had their gallbladders removed because
the water is feted. Cancer is an epidemic. You go into the elementary schools and the nurse’s office
has rows of little inhalants for the children. That’s America. That’s America that is created when you
sacrifice your natural environment and you sacrifice people before greed, before corporate profit.
Finally we went to Micanopy, Florida with undocumented workers that pick the nation’s produce. This is
a reconfiguration of American, into a world of neo-feudalism. A world where you replicate the power
structure of George Orwell’s 1984. Where you have an inner party of 3% or 4% and an outer party of
corporate managers and people who work in the PR industry, which is the most evil industry in America. The rest of us become proles. This is where we headed not just in this country but globally.
We are allowing ourselves to be reduced to a situation, where we are told to be competitive in the global market place, we have to compete with prison labor in China or sweat shop workers in Bangladesh, where people work for 22 cents an hour.
Death of the Liberal Class
I wrote a book called, Death of the Liberal Class, and it talks about the conscious destruction of radicals
and populist movements, which disempowered us. The liberal class was never meant to be the political
left. All of the true corrective moments in American democracy, were brought about by popular
movements. If you go back, Howard Zinn does a beautiful job of laying this out in A People’s History
of the United States.I never met Zinn. He’s certainty someone who I have always admired.
I teach in a prison. When I submit my forums on my class I try to make them sound as innocuous as possible. So I proposed that we use it, in the prison where I teach American history. Once it got approved I brought every inmate a copy of ‘People’s History of the United States’. When you teach that book to African-Americans who never had a chance, it will break your heart because they were never taught their own history. You understand what a great and moral figure Howard Zinn was.
This government which was established by a white oligarchic slave owning class, was terrified by popular
democracy. And that is why so many people were disenfranchised. (i.e. Native Americans, African-
Americans, women, people who didn’t own property, and indentured servants).
(Speech interrupted by handing Hedges a microphone)
The whole nature of the American power was to keep the underclasses, the disenfranchised and poor
out of the system. They did that very effectively through not permitting equal rights to women, African-Americans, Native Americans, people who didn’t own property, indentured servants. None of these people were included in the Constitution or invited to Constitutional conventions. For good measure they threw in
the electoral college and the Senate which use to be appointed, so they could retain control.
As Zinn points out every opening within our society was paid for with the blood, sweet, and sacrifice
of the poor, working class, disenfranchised groups and minorities. We owe our freedom to them.
None of them ever achieved formal places of power. The Liberty Party that fought slavery, the
Suffragettes that fought for women’s rights, the Labor Movement and Civil Rights Movement never
achieved positions of power. And the failure of those of us who care about an open society – it’s not our
job to take power, it’s our job to fight power.
There is a wonderful scene in Kissinger’s memoirs: 1971 Nixon has surrounded the White House with buses to keep out the anti-war protesters. He’s standing at a window with Kissinger, stating “Henry they are
going to break through the barricades and get us.” That’s exactly where we want people in power to be.
With the destruction of radical movements in the name of anti-communism, culminating in the 1950s
with the House on American Affairs Activity and the disempowering of liberal institutions in the name of
anti-communism, we were left disempowered. We were left without the mechanism to fight back. And
the corporate state began the steady assault against all of us.
By the 1970s, in the words of the Harvard professor Charles Maier, we have shifted from an empire
of production to an empire of consumption. Real wages for American workers began to stagnate or
decline. With this reconfiguration of American power, with this disempowerment of the American
working class and the poor, we created the monstrosity of foe liberals – people like Bill Clinton or Barrack
Obama. The way they continue to work is to speak in the traditional liberal, “I feel your pain” liberalism
by selling out our interests to corporations.
That’s why under a Democratic Administration, under Bill Clinton, we saw the destruction of welfare. Let
us never forget that 70% of the welfare recipients were children. He deregulated the FCC which is not
a small action. It allowed 6 corporations to control the airwaves, and to shrink the acceptable range of
My frustration with Fox is the same as MSNBC. They are courtiers. They engage in court gossip. They
spin it differently but it’s the same shit. The real issues that affect your life and mind are never
discussed because the corporate state only permits discussions in that narrow parameter. If you
actually speak as the Occupy Movement does about the legitimacy and structure of power you
become a pariah and you are pushed out.
We have reached a point within the formal systems of power, where we have no mechanism left by which
incremental and peaceful reform is possible. Traditionally, the liberal class functions not as the left,
but as a safety value. So when there are significant grievances and injustices within society, there was a
way of providing enough reform to keep the masses quiet. That’s what the New Deal was about.
When Conrad Black wrote FDR’s biography he said, “Roosevelt’s greatest achievement was that he
saved capitalism.” That is precisely right. When that safety value doesn’t function, which is where we are
now, you get political paralysis. Political paralysis in a time of economic decline and frustrations and
diminished expectations is dangerous. I lived through it in the former Yugoslavia.
Dostoevsky’s obsession with the death of the liberal class runs through Notes of the Underground, runs
through Demons, because he understood, in his words, “That when the mechanism for reform is broken
you enter an age” as he describes as “moral nihilism”. And that is where we are.
We have created or allowed to create for us a very powerful form of political theater. We are constantly
bombarded with the personal narrative of candidates as if they make any difference.
Romneycare in Massachusetts if you read the bill is Obamacare. It’s a faux debate. The whole thing was
hatched in the Heritage Foundation.
First put into practice in 2006, by than Governor Romney, then tweaked by the corporate lobbyists and
the pharmaceuticals & insurance industry. They wrote into those 2,000 pages subsidies for themselves
worth $447 billion dollars. That is the equivalent of the bank bailout bill for the pharmaceuticals and
insurance industries. The first thing Obama does when it passes is, he hands out exemptions because
these corporations don’t want to insure chronically ill children. This means we live in a country, where
it is legally permissible for corporations to hold sick children hostage, while their parents bankrupt
themselves trying to save their sons and daughters.
That’s the world corporations create. They commodify everything. Karl Polanyi lays it out in his work,
The Great Transformation in 1944. Karl Marx understood that unfettered capitalism is a revolutionary
force that has built within it, a quality of assured self-destruction, because they know no limits. As
Polanyi says, and he uses this word even though he’s an economist, “When society loses the capacity
for the sacred, when everything has a monetary value, nothing has an intrinsic value.” You exploit
those commodities until exhaustion or collapse. And that is why the environmental crisis is intimately
twinned with the economic crisis.
And we don’t have a lot of time left as anyone who reads up on climate change reports will tell you. We
have very little time left. Yet our relationship with our environment is determined by BP, Exxon Mobile,
natural gas, and fraking companies. It’s insane.
They can’t see beyond their quarterly profits. They lost the capacity for the sacred. They have
commodified the natural world, that they will exploit until they kill us and take us down with them.
In Karl Popper’s great work, The Open Society and its Enemies, he writes the question is not how you get
good people to rule. That’s the wrong question. Most people attracted to power, Popper writes, are at
best mediocre, which Obama is or venial which is Bush. The question is how you keep the power elite
afraid of you. How do you keep them in check? That will only come by rebuilding movements.
Occupy Wall Street
One of the amusing reactions to the Occupy Movement for me is, “What are your demands? Tell us
your demands.” I don’t think the Occupy Movement could be any clearer about what its demands
are. And that is, we want to reverse the corporate coup d’etat. We want to take power back from
corporations and put them back into the hands of citizens, where power belongs.
In Crane Brinton great study of revolutions, The Anatomy of Revolutions, he says that one of the
characteristics of all revolutionary movements is that they’re fundamental or principle demand is one
that the ruling class can ever agree too because it would mean their disillusion. And that’s why Occupy to me is a revolutionary movement and one I support.
My analysis is not going to be radically different from an analysis you get, in terms of the environment
and the degradation of the economy and the national Security Council or anywhere else in the bowels of
power. The difference is they won’t be telling you to revolt.
Response to Occupy
And for those us who care about responding rationally to power, you have to accept the cynicism of
those who rule. And we have to begin to see the mechanism they put in place to keep power.
The first mechanism is to write a legal system which criminalized dissent. The assault against civil
liberties is arguably worse under Barrack Obama than it was under George W. Bush.
The refusal to restore habeas corpus, the support of the FISA amendment act, (By the way, I’m one of
the 8 ACLU plaintiffs asking the Supreme Court to overturn it.) and the FISA Amendment, which retroactively
makes legal, under our Constitution, that which has been traditionally illegal – the warrantless wiretapping,
monitoring and eavesdropping of tens of millions of American citizens. And now we know they
are storing all of our data on a supercomputer out in Utah.
The radical interpretation of the Authorization to Use Military Force Act, which Obama believes gives
him the right to assassinate American citizens. The use of the Espionage Act, that shuts down whistle
blowers and leakers. I have many friends who are investigative journalists in this country and there is
a total chill, a total freeze. No one in the center of power will talk to them because there are 6 cases
including the Sterling, a former CIA official, who exposed war crimes to the New York Times (NYT). They
called the NYT reporter requesting they expose who his government sources were.
Finally the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which unfortunately for this administration, is
temporarily no longer law. Section 1021 permits the US government to seize American citizens who
they deem to have links with Al Qaeda, Taliban or what they call associated forces and strip them of due
process and hold them in military facilities, including our offshore penal colonies, until the language of this
section “the end of hostilities”, which in an age of permanent war, is forever.
We sued Panetta (Head of the CIA) & Obama in federal court, represented by two great lawyers Carly Meyer and Bruce Afron, who worked pro bono. Judge Catherine Forest agreed this was unconstitutional. We are waiting to see if the government will appeal, in which case, it will go to an appellate court. If the appellate court upholds that ruling, then it will go to the Supreme Court.
In every single case that I mentioned, you have a government that is essentially criminalizing dissent and
making sure that all the forces of the state are at their disposal to shut down any mass movement and
protest. We saw with a concerted and organized effort to close and erase the Occupy encampments,
exactly what the government has to offer.
Systems of Power
I read Krugman as many of you do, and was on Democracy Now a few weeks ago with Paul. He spoke
about a rational response to the economic crisis we are undergoing. I said that assumes we have
systems of power that can function rationally. It presupposes the capacity of systems of power to
function rationally. As long as you make that presupposition you are disempowered because those
corporate forces could care less what you think, what you need or what you care about. They are
barreling towards a world of masters and serfs. They know where they are headed. So all responses
at this point have to sever themselves from the formal mechanisms of power.
An attempt to rebuild the movements that were taken away from us and that were the true
correctives of American democracy made us a flawed, but still a democracy. At least for some of us.
Response of the State
I want to talk a little about the response of the state. Once they got rid of those Occupy encampments.
They sent to me two messages.
One that they were incapable of grasping the legitimate suffering of tens of millions of American
citizens. If they could respond rationally. If they responded the way the New Deal responded or the
way traditional liberal institutions, than a capitalist democracy would call on them to respond. At a
minimum they would have instituted a massive jobs program, in particular targeted at those under
the age of 25, would have placed a moratorium on foreclosures and bank repossessions, a complete
forgiveness of student debt and a rational public option or universal healthcare for all American citizens.
That response would have gone a long way to medicating the anger that fuels the movement. The fact
that they were unable to respond rationally means in my mind, this movement isn’t going away.
Movements have reverses. They make mistakes. Anyone who studied the Civil Rights movement knows
that. They are knocked off balance. And we certainly have been knocked off balance.
I have been very critical of the Black Bloc. My criticism is based on this analysis. The goal of the state
is severe this movement from the mainstream. The fact is this movement articulates what the mainstream feels. And that is terrifying for centers of power. So the way they want to do this is demonize the movement.
We can get into a discussion about property destruction and taunting the police. But as far as this
movement is, as far as keeping this movement a main stream movement, that kind of activity plays into
the hands of those who want to destroy us.
I’m not going to report anyone involved in the Black bloc activities, but they can’t do it within this
movement. They can do it within their own movement. That doesn’t mean there cannot be alliances or
a convergence of interests. But the power of the Occupy movement as anyone who was in Zucotti Park knows, on the weekend you had mothers and fathers from New Jersey coming in with their strollers going up and down. And that the state cannot allow.
The goal is to demonize the movement and funnel the energy of that movement back into a dead
political system. For that you have Van Jones and Rebuild the Dream, Al Sharpton and others.
Where are We Going?
So where are we going?
I covered a lot of movements. I covered most of the revolutions in Eastern Europe, 2 Palestinian
uprisings, and street demonstration that brought down Slobodan Milosevic. I learned that movements
have a mysterious life force of their own. Even the purported leaders of the movement don’t know
where they are going.
When Joe Sacco and I wrote this book, we named it Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, yet the revolt
We understood with no impediments to corporate capitalism … let’s look at what they have done to us in
the last few weeks … refusing to extend unemployment benefits to hundreds of thousands of American
citizens, refusing to adequately fund food stamps, passing a Supreme Court ruling that severely weakens
and disempowers public sector unions. That’s all in the last couple weeks.
That march will continue until there is a reaction and the state knows it, which is why they are tryingto push through every legal mechanism to shackle us as soon as we rise up. We knew there would be some kind of a backlash. We didn’t know where. We didn’t know when. We didn’t know what it would look like. And then you had Zucotti on September 17th.
The last chapter of the book is “Days of Revolt”, because we have begun a process that they won’t be
able to stop. 1905 in Russia, it was a dress rehearsal for 1917. 1765 Stamp Act Rebellion was the dress
rehearsal for 1776. This is the dress rehearsal for the end of the corporate state.
Stop asking yourself whether it’s practical. It’s never practical. Turn off your television. Nothing you
do in the eyes of the corporate media will be view as a success. You’re always going to be deemed a
failure. Listen to the people around you and not the pollution pouring at you from the airwaves.
I was in Leipzig on November 9, 1989 with the leaders of the East German opposition. They said maybe
within a year there will be free passage back and forth at the Berlin Wall. But within a few hours the
Berlin Wall at least as an impediment to human traffic did not exist. No one knows how movements
work. No one knows how that spark ignites a conflagration.
Acts of resistance are finally moral acts. I just did an action at Zucotti Park with Father Daniel Berrigan
whose 92 years old, that burned draft records in the 1960s, went to federal prison for 23 months. As
Father Berrigan says, “We are called to do the good or at least the good that we can so as far as we can
determine it. And then let it go. Faith is the belief that it goes somewhere. That the good draws the good, but we can’t know. “ The Buddhists call it karma.
When I was in Prague, for the Velvet Revolution. Every night in the Magic Lantern (Theater), with Vaclav
Havel, (Jiří) Dienstbier and (Vaclav) Klaus, and all of those who would eventually inherit the government.
There were posters throughout the city of a young Charles University student named Jan Palach. When
the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague to overthrow the Dubček’s government in 1968, and re-install a pro-
Soviet regime. Palach went to Wenceslas Square and set himself on fire. Four days later he died of his
burns. Thousands of university students marched with his body to the cemetery, until they were broken up bypolice. Of course this action was never mentioned by state media.
When his grave became a shrine. The authorities exhumed his body, cremated it and gave the ashes
to his mother and told her she wasn’t allowed to bury him. Two weeks after the fall of that communist
government, 10,000 Czechs gathered in Red Army Square and renamed it Jan Palach Square.
I was in Wenceslas Square with the great singer Marta Kubišová, 5,000 people were there, when she
walked out on a balcony. Kubišová who had been one of the best known singers in Czechoslovakia,
before the 1968 overthrow. Had sung an anthem of defiance that was broadcast out over the airwaves.
For that she too became a non-person. Her recording stock was destroyed. She was no longer heard
over the airwaves. She spent the intervening years on an assembly line at a toy factory. When she
walked out on that balcony, began singing that anthem. Every Czech in that crowd knew every word.
The power of defiance, the power that Havel wrote in his great 1978 essay, “The Power of
the Powerless”. That is our power. However incongruous it seems our greatest power is our
powerlessness and our transparency, because we speak a truth the corporate state does not want
heard. When you speak that truth. You have the capacity to draw the good to the good, to bring those
within the system of power to your side.
When the East German dictator, Eric Honecker, decided to break the resistance movement in East
Germany, he set paratroopers down to the Leipzig & ordered them to fire into the crowd. When the
officers entered the barricade,s they found the paratroopers weeping on their beds because they had
family members and friends in the crowds they were supposed to fire upon. They never shot those
crowds. Honecker lasted less than a week in office. That is our power.
Those on the other side of the barricades know the truth we speak. And that is why the oppression of
the state has been as fierce as it has. But there is something else that those within structure of power
understand. That is how corrupt, rotten and gamed it is and they know that better than us. So hold
fast, because those systems of power are far more fragile than they appear. And because every time
you raise your voice. It keeps truth alive.
“Defenseless under the night, Our world in stupor lies; Yet, dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light,
Flash out wherever the Just, Exchange their messages: May I, composed like them, Of Eros and of
dust, Beleaguered by the same, Negation and despair”