You begin "Days of Destruction Days of Revolt" with a visit to and
reflection upon the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the poorest and
perhaps most hopeless Native American settlement in the United States.
Indian reservations were a tragically ironic result of the American
revolt to throw off the shackles of being a colony, only to become a
colonial power over the indigenous residents that lay in its way to
achieving "Manifest Destiny."
Is this irony the reason why you begin
your journey across the "sacrifice zones" of the United States at Pine
This is where the dark ethic of endless expansion and limitless
exploitation, of ruthless imperial conquest, subjugation and
extermination of native communities, began in the name of profit.
Commercial interests set out to obliterate native peoples who stood in
the way of their acquisition of the buffalo herds, timber, coal, gold
and later minerals such as uranium, commodities they saw as sources of
power and enrichment. Land was sliced up into parcels - usually by the
railroad companies - and sold.
Sitting Bull acidly suggested they get
out scales and sell dirt by the pound. The most basic elements that
sustain life were reduced to a vulgar cash product. Nothing in the eyes
of the white settlers had an intrinsic value. And this dichotomy of
belief was so vast that those who held on to animism and mysticism, to
ambiguity and mystery, to the centrality of the human imagination, to
communal living and a concept of the sacred, had to be extinguished.
belief system encountered on the plains and in the earlier indigenous
communities in New England obliterated by the Puritans was antithetical
and hostile to capitalism, the concept of technological progress, empire
and the ethos of the industrial society.
The effect of this physical and moral
cataclysm is being played out a century and a half later, however, as
the whole demented project of endless capitalist expansion, profligate
consumption and growth implodes. The suffering of the other, of the
Native American, the African-American in the inner city, the unemployed
coal miner or the Hispanic produce picker is universal.
They went first.
We were next.
You write in your introduction,
"We [you and Joe Sacco] wanted to show
in words and drawings what life looks like when the marketplace rules
without constraints, where human beings and the natural world are used
and then discarded to maximize profit."
This is pretty much a definition
of neoliberal economics. Is the United States creating an internal
economic system of colonies?
The forces of colonization that were applied to the "sacrifice zones"
Joe and I wrote about have been turned inwards on the rest of us to
create a global form of neofeudalism, a world of corporate masters and
The central point of the book is to show what happens when human
beings, communities and the natural world are forced to prostrate
themselves before the demands of the marketplace.
It is incumbent on us
to look closely at this system of neo-liberal economics because it is
now cannibalizing what is left, including our eco-system. These forces
know no limits. They will exterminate us all, as Joseph Conrad pointed
out in "Heart of Darkness," his masterpiece on the savagery of colonial
Kurtz in Conrad's book is the self-deluded megalomaniac
ivory trader who ends by planting the shriveled heads of murdered
Congolese on pikes outside his remote trading station.
But Kurtz is also
highly educated and refined. Conrad describes him as an orator, writer,
poet, musician and the respected chief agent of the ivory company's
"an emissary of pity, and science, and progress."
Kurtz was "a universal genius" and "a very remarkable person."
He is a
prodigy, at once gifted and multi-talented.
He went to Africa fired by
noble ideals and virtues. He ended his life as a self-deluded tyrant who
thought he was a god. That pretty much sums up what we have become as a
Regarding your third chapter on Welch, West Virginia, and the
devastation you portray created by the coal mining industry in that
state, I wonder why the victims, primarily white, of a rapacious and
pretty much unaccountable coal industry don't revolt.
In fact, West
Virginia has become a pretty reliable Republican state in presidential
Rephrasing your introductory quote to this chapter (from H.L.
Mencken) have the destitute of West Virginia been driven from "despair"
to "hopelessness" - and a psychological crutch of white identity
politics, because they see no possibility of change in their condition?
We are seeing the conscious and deliberate creation by the corporate
state of a permanent, insecure and terrified underclass within the wider
They have had a lot of practice in refining these techniques in
the sacrifice zones, such as West Virginia, we wrote about. The
corporate state sees this permanent and desperate underclass as the most
effective weapon to thwart rebellion and resistance as our economy is
reconfigured to wipe out the middleclass and leave most of us at
Huge pools of unemployed and underemployed
effectively blunt labor organizing, since any job, no matter how menial,
is zealously coveted.
The beating down of workers, exacerbated by the
refusal to extend unemployment benefits for hundreds of millions of
Americans and the breaking of public sector unions, the last redoubt of
union power, has transformed those in the working class from full
members of society, able to participate in its debates, the economy and
governance, into terrified people in fragmented pools preoccupied with
the struggle of private existence.
The determining factor in global corporate
production is now poverty. The poorer the worker and the poorer the
nation, the greater the competitive advantage. With access to vast pools
of desperate, impoverished workers eager for scraps, unions and working
conditions no longer impede the quest for larger and larger profits. And
when the corporations do not need these workers they are cast aside.
Those who are economically broken usually cease to be concerned with
civic virtues. They will, history has demonstrated, serve any system, no
matter how evil, and do anything for a pitiful salary, a chance for job
security and the protection of their families.
There will, as the
situation worsens, also be those who attempt to rebel. I certainly
intend to join them. But the state can rely on a huge number of people
who, for work and meager benefits, will transform themselves into
course, your chapter on the squalid, economically abandoned Camden, New
Jersey, points to a particularly egregious example of an entire city
that has been sucked of any hope.
Financially, it has been written off
by the "Masters of the Universe" economic agenda, its citizens parasites
of the government, according to Paul Ryan. Even
Barack Obama has been
the first president in decades not to mention poverty in his State of
the Union Addresses.
But isn't Camden just representative of blighted
urban areas, particularly minority neighborhoods, that have been left
without jobs for decades? This goes back to before the urban riots of
the Kerner Report about what caused them.
Isn't this structured
The corporations and industries that packed up and left Camden and
cities across the United States for the cheap labor overseas are never
They have abandoned huge swathes of the United States,
turned whole sections of American cities into industrial ghost towns.
The unemployment and underemployment, the disenfranchisement of the
working class, and the assault on the middle class, are never factored
into the balance sheets of corporations.
If prison or subsistence labor
in China or India or Vietnam makes them more money, if it is possible to
hire workers in sweatshops in Bangladesh for 22 cents an hour,
corporations follow the awful logic to its conclusion. And as conditions
worsen the corporate state, which controls the systems of information
and entertainment, renders the poor and cities like Camden invisible.
This is what Joe's illustrations are so crucial to the book.
The goal of
the book is to make these people visible.
MK: In the
book, you bluntly write:
"The American dream, as we know it is a lie. We
will all be sacrificed."
You speak of the spreading transnational
Are you, in essence, saying the worst is yet to come,
that the forsaken communities you profile are an ominous portent of what
waits for so many of us except the privileged class?
Yes. This is why we wrote the book, as a warning of what is about to
befall us all. It is no more morally justifiable to kill someone for
profit than it is to kill that person for religious fanaticism.
health companies to the
oil and natural gas industry to private
weapons contractors, individual death and the wholesale death of the
ecosystem have become acceptable corporate business.
fourth chapter is entitled "Days of Slavery" and it is about what you
quote Bernie Sanders as calling "the bottom of the race to the bottom."
It is about the exploited (and that seems an understated word given the
circumstances) tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida. It is indentured
servitude and just short of slavery.
But isn't there a glimmer of hope
in the activism of the Immokalee workers' movement for better pay and
You cannot use the word hope if you do not resist.
If you resist, even
if it appears futile, you keep hope alive. And in every sacrifice zone
we visited, including Immokalee where the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
have organized tomato workers, we saw heroic struggles to fight back.
But at the same time it is vital to remember that we cannot achieve
significant reform or restore our democracy through established
mechanisms of power. The electoral process has been hijacked by
corporations. The judiciary has been corrupted and bought. The press
shuts out the most important voices in the country and feeds us the
banal and the absurd.
Universities prostitute themselves for corporate
dollars. Labor unions are marginal and ineffectual forces. The economy
is in the hands of corporate swindlers and speculators. And the public,
enchanted by electronic hallucinations, remains largely passive and
supine. We have no tools left within the power structure in our fight to
halt unchecked corporate pillage.
Once any political system ossifies, once all
mechanisms for reform close, the lunatic fringe of a society, as I saw
in Yugoslavia, rises out of the moral swamp to take control.
reformers, however well meaning and honest, finally have nothing to
offer. They are disarmed.
were a vocal advocate of the hopefulness of the
Occupy movement in
creating radical change.
But you also note in your book that the federal
government joined local governments in dispossessing the Occupy movement
of its beachheads of public land.
Are we facing a situation like the
suppression of the Green Revolution in Iran, like the crushing of the
revolt in Czechoslovakia?
The importance of the Occupy movement, and the reason I suspect its
encampments were so brutally dismantled by the Obama administration, is
that the corporate state understood and feared its potential to spark a
I do not think the state has won. All the injustices
and grievances that drove people into the Occupy encampments and onto
the streets have been ignored by the state and are getting worse. And we
will see eruptions of discontent in the weeks and months ahead.
If these mass protests fail, opposition will
inevitably take a frightening turn. The longer we endure political
paralysis, the longer the formal mechanisms of power fail to respond,
the more the extremists on the left and the right - those who venerate
violence and are intolerant of ideological deviations - will be
Under the steady breakdown of
globalization, the political
environment has become a mound of tinder waiting for a light.
"Revolt is all that we have left. It is our only hope."
revolt from oppressive powers has come from the working class. But
the Wisconsin uprising, the working class appear to view
movements like Occupy as not representing them.
And even in Wisconsin,
the GOP was able to split the unions from the non-union working class. How do you see progressive revolts linking up with the working class?
The movement in Wisconsin made a fatal mistake. It allowed its energy to
be channeled back into a dead political system by the Democratic Party
and the labor movement, or at least what passes for a labor movement in
It could not compete with corporate power and corporate
money. And it will be hard now to regroup.
They willingly played the
game and lost, although of course the rules were rigged. The split
between labor and non-labor is only one divide. Occupy is essentially a
white, middle class movement led by college educated men and women who
have found no place in the wider society.
The working class and the poor
deeply distrusts liberals, especially college-educated liberals, who
since the Clinton administration have repeatedly betrayed them in the
name of liberalism.
Those who support Occupy will have to rebuild
bridges to our impoverished working class, and more importantly to those
of color who live in marginal communities and who also have been
abandoned by the traditional liberal elites.
But this skirts an even
bigger and more important problem. In the traditional sense of a working
class, i.e. one that is organized and manufactures goods, we no longer
have one. Workers have been reduced to toiling at two or three jobs in
the service sector. I don't know how we are going to fight back
effectively without an organized work force.
That is one of my greatest
MK: You are
a consummate writer.
But what role do you see that six decades of visual
and sound bite messaging on television has had on allowing the political
elite and oligarchy to sustain their "frame" of the status quo through
The chatter that passes for news, the gossip that is peddled by the
windbags on the airwaves, the noise that drowns out rational discourse,
and the timidity and cowardice of what is left of the newspaper industry
reflect our flight into collective self-delusion.
We stand on the cusp
of one of the most seismic and disturbing dislocations in human history,
one that is radically reconfiguring our economy as it is the
environment, and our national obsessions, because of these electronic
hallucinations, revolve around the trivial and the absurd.
illusionists who shape our culture, and who profit from our incredulity,
hold up the gilded cult of Us.
Popular expressions of religious belief,
personal empowerment, corporatism, political participation and
self-definition argue that all of us are special, entitled and unique.
All of us, by tapping into our inner reserves of personal will and
undiscovered talent, by visualizing what we want, can achieve, and
deserve to achieve, happiness, fame and success. It is, of course,
conclude "Days of Destruction" with an anecdote about your experience as
a boxer fighting men who were professionals and pummeling you, but you
kept fighting and eventually the crowd cheered you on as the underdog.
How does this relate to achieving a successful revolt against a status
quo with unlimited financial power and military/police powers?
You do not fight tyrants because you are going to win. You fight tyrants
because they are tyrants.
Yes, we do not have the tools or the wealth of
the state. We cannot beat it at its own game. We cannot ferret out
infiltrators. The legal system is almost always on the state's side. If
we attempt to replicate the elaborate security apparatus of our
oppressors, even on a small scale, we will unleash widespread paranoia
and fracture the movement.
If we retreat into anonymity, hiding behind
masks, then we provide an opening for agents provocateurs who deny their
identities while disrupting the movement. If we fight pitched battles in
the streets we give authorities an excuse to fire their weapons.
All we have, as Vaclav Havel wrote, is our
own powerlessness. And that powerlessness is our strength. The survival
of the movement depends on embracing this powerlessness. It depends on
two of our most important assets - utter and complete transparency and a
rigid adherence to nonviolence, including respect for private property.
This permits us, as Havel puts it in his 1978 essay "The Power of
Powerless," to live in truth. And by living in truth we expose a corrupt
corporate state that perpetrates lies and lives in deceit.
This attempt to "live within the truth"
brings with it ostracism and retribution. Punishment is imposed in
bankrupt systems because of the necessity for compliance, not out of any
And the real crime committed is not the crime of
speaking out or defying the rules, but the crime of exposing the