Sunday, July 21, 2013

Creation in Christ and the New Jim Crow: Where Do We Go From Here?

Like so many Americans this week, I’ve been trying to digest the news of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.  It has been uncomfortable.  It has been painful.  But it cannot be avoided.  You see, I have a fifteen year-old black son, who – I’m quite certain – looks suspicious to a lot of people when he walks down Lake Street.  So I have to think about these things.  When we adopted Nehemiah, I had to give up the white privilege of not having to think about them.

The trial of George Zimmerman, whatever one may think about its outcome, is a symptom of a much deeper disease, which is why it has ignited such strong reactions.  Our society is very, very sick.  Some of us are in denial about it; some of us are dying from it; some of us are in recovery from it; and far too many just accept it, but we are all infected by it.  It is far from being cured.  That disease is racism. 

As tempting as it is to avoid difficult conversations, I want to reflect on the reality of racism in the context of this beautiful hymn to the Cosmic Christ that we find in Colossians chapter one.   It is an ancient hymn that goes back to the earliest days of the church and reflects the apostolic witnesses’ understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

Their experience of Jesus completely reoriented their understanding of God.  It was an experience of God as boundless, self-giving love, liberating them from the power of sin and death.  It was a profound experience of forgiveness that opened up for them an entirely different way of being human together, free of fear, rivalry, and violence.  Jesus was the image of this new humanity.  As the mediator of salvation, Jesus was also “the image of the invisible God.”  It dawned on them that salvation is what God intended for creation all along.  Salvation is about bringing creation to its fulfillment.  The scope of this fulfillment is universal.  It is realized through the continual outpouring of the ever-renewable resource of God’s love. 

Creation is interior to God – in Christ all things hold together – and all things were created through Christ and for Christ.   Creation emerges from the abyss of God’s love and everyone and everything is on the inside of God’s creative project.  Christ is the image of God, and all things bear that image; not just Jews, but Gentiles too; not only humans, but also the whole creation.  This was the great insight of the apostolic community that gave birth to this hymn to the Cosmic Christ.  This was a huge shift, an enormous leap of theological and moral imagination. 

Racism results from a failure of imagination.  It is the failure to see Christ, the image of God, in people of color.  It is the failure to realize creation’s fulfillment through our sharing in God’s boundless love for all that God has made.   Racism is a form of idolatry, making white privilege the source of our security, rather than God’s love.

There are other forms of idolatry, other failures of imagination, but racism is the quintessentially modern and American form.   The truth that we don’t want to hear is that we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.   As Michelle Alexander argues,

What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it.  In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt.  So we don’t.  Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.  Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans.  Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination – employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service – are suddenly legal.  As a criminal you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow.[1]

In the past thirty years, we have witnessed an unprecedented mass incarceration of black men in this country.  In that time the prison population has grown from 300,000 to more than 2 million people.  During this same period, crime rates have fluctuated up and down; today they are at historic lows.  Yet, black incarceration rates have soured regardless of crime rates. 

Why is that?  The answer is the War on Drugs and the wave of punitive sentencing laws initiated during the Reagan Administration, beginning in 1982 and vigorously prosecuted by subsequent Administrations, whether Republican or Democrat.   This War has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color and is the driver behind the booming prison industry. 

The War on Drugs is a manufactured crisis used to justify the militarization of police targeting poor communities of color.  It was never about taking out drug lords or international cartels.  It is a trillion dollar boondoggle to incentivize criminalizing black men by directing federal funds to law enforcement agencies that maximize the number of drug arrests.[2]  The result is that there are more people in prison today for drug offenses than there were for all offenses in 1980.  In Illinois, 80-90% of people in prison on drug charges at any given time are from one race.  Guess which one?  It is pretty much the same story elsewhere.

Now, black people are no more likely to buy or sell drugs than any other race.  In fact, some studies show that white youth are slightly more likely to sell drugs.  Drug markets in this country are just as segregated by race and class as everything else:  black people sell to black people, white people sell to white people, college kids sell to college kids.  In the 1990’s, 80% of the increases in arrests were for marijuana possession. Ever been guilty of that crime?  Yet, overwhelmingly, it is black and brown men who do time in prison. 

This is how it works.  Police are incentivized to maximize the number of drug arrests.  Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has eviscerated the 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.  All an officer needs is “consent.”  Two officers pull over and step out of their car with a hand on their gun holster and approach a young black man.  They say, “Son, I need you to raise your hands so I can pad you down and see if you’ve got any drugs on you.”  What is a kid supposed to do?  And guess what, maybe he has a little pot in his pocket.  Or maybe the cops plant some on him, knock him around a bit, and haul him in.  It’s their word against a suspicious looking black kid.  Who are you going to believe?  So the kid cops a plea bargain to a felony drug charge to avoid doing time – this time.  And the cycle begins.

Consider some of the consequences.  Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850.  As of 2011, because of laws prohibiting convicted felons from voting, more black men are disenfranchised than in 1870, the year the 15th Amendment was passed to protect their right to vote.  In major urban areas, more than 50% of African-American men have felony, again mainly drug, convictions.  If you add the men who are in prison currently (who, by the way, are not included in calculations of poverty or unemployment), that number shoots up to 80% in some states.  Once these men are released they have to check a box on every job application indicating that they are convicted felons.  They are not eligible for student loans, public housing, or food stamps.  They often can’t vote.  Can’t serve on juries.  Don’t have any capital lying around to start a business.  In fact, if they get a job, their wages can be garnished to pay back the cost of court fees and imprisonment, not to mention any back-due child support accrued while they were serving time. 

There are now 60 million people with criminal records in the United Sates.  The result is a permanent caste relegated to second-class status.  The criminal justice system has become a system of racial control to keep people of color in their place.   It is Jim Crow without the signs advertising “whites only,” which only makes the discrimination and its effects that much more insidious.  It is perfectly acceptable to politically mobilize people by appealing to racist sentiments under the guise of “getting tough on crime.”  That is exactly what the prison-industrial complex is designed to do, diverting attention from the real sources of economic anxiety by playing on fears of changing racial demographics.

So how do we dismantle this caste system?  It will not be easy.  To return incarceration rates to 1970’s levels would require releasing four of every five prisoners.  One million employees in the prison-industrial complex would loose their jobs.  Imagine how the California prison guard union would feel about that.  Private prison companies are now listed on the New York Stock Exchange and are doing pretty well.  They will not accept bankruptcy without a fight.[3] 

This is the face of racism:  it isn’t about the blustering prejudice of some stereotypical South Carolina cracker.  It isn’t about whether or not you have a black friend.  It is about politicians and corporate executives in suits rigging the system to reinforce racial and class privilege, while creating a sense of social unity by scapegoating people of color.  The reaction to the Zimmerman trial must be understood within the context of racism as a social structure, not simply a personal prejudice, in a society in which the life of a black man counts for nothing. 

So where do we go from here?  The first step is in some ways the hardest.  We have to see the image of Christ in convicted felons.  We have to see the image of Christ in poor people of color. “Martin Luther King Jr. called for us to be lovestruck with each other, not colorblind toward each other. To be lovestruck is to care, to have deep compassion, and to be concerned for each and every individual, including the poor and vulnerable.”[4] 

Then, we have to build a movement for social change; which is, by the way, what the church is meant to be.  Like St. Paul, who rejoiced to suffer to include Gentiles as part of the people of God, we have to be willing to suffer to extend the common good to include poor people of color: even if it means sacrificing privilege.  We’ve got to build schools instead of prisons, invest in jobs instead of jails.  We’ve got to decriminalize drug addiction and treat it as a public health problem.  We’ve got to dismantle the legal barriers designed to enforce a permanent underclass. 

Instead of projecting our shadow side on to black men, scapegoating them for what ails us, we need to see Christ in them, the hope of glory, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. St. Paul said of his commission, “For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that Christ powerfully inspires in me.”[5]  May it be so for us.  Amen.

[1] From the Introduction to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
[2] See Dan Seigel’s article at 
[3] Michelle Alexander, 2013 George E. Kent Lecture, University of Chicago, February 21, 2013 at
[4] Dr. Cornel West from the Forward to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
[5] Colossians 1:29.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Great Divide: Reflections on "The Great Work"

We cannot rely on the institutions that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible.  The only route left is to disconnect as thoroughly as possible from the consumer society and engage in acts of civil disobedience and obstruction.  The more we sever ourselves from the addictions of fossil fuel and the consumer society, the more we begin to create a new paradigm for community . . .
We must stop being afraid.  We have to turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate Republicans offer up for president.  All the public disputes between candidates in the election cycle are a carnival act.  On the issues that matter, there is no disagreement among the Republicans and Democrats.  We have to defy all formal systems of power.  We have to create monastic enclaves where we can retain and nurture the values being rapidly destroyed by the wider corporate culture and build the mechanisms of self-sufficiency that will allow us to survive.[1] – Chris Hedges

The older tension in human affairs between conservative and liberal based on social orientation is being replaced with the tension between developers and ecologists based on orientation toward the natural world.  This new tension is becoming the primary tension in human affairs.
So too the political tension between empires and the colonies is being replaced by an economic tension between village peoples of the world with their organic modes of agriculture and the transnational corporations with their industrial agriculture.
This new alignment should not be taken as if the ecology movement were a New Left movement or a new liberalism.  For the ecology movement has moved the entire basis of the division into a new context.  It is no longer a division based on political party or social class or ethnic group.  It is a division based on the human as one of the components within the larger community of the planet Earth.[2]
 – Thomas Berry


            We are slowly awakening to the realization of our profound alienation from the basic sources of life.  Since the dawn of urban civilization and the agricultural base that made it possible some 10,000 years ago, and with astonishing acceleration since the rise of industrial civilization a mere 200 years ago, humans have been altering the life systems of the planet.  In the past, the scale of human intervention was such that any resulting harms were limited in scope.  That is no longer true, and it hasn’t been true for some time.

            Globalization, dominated by transnational corporations, now rapidly threatens the possibility of life that has flourished on this planet for some 3.4 billion years.  At the very least, the extractive economy at the heart of globalization is severely stressing the life systems and diminishing the quality of life on the planet.  Humans have altered the chemical composition of land, sea, and air, creating levels of toxicity that cannot be absorbed and altering Earth’s climate.  We are exhausting nonrenewable resources, such as fossil fuel, as well as renewable resources such as topsoil and fisheries.  We are living in the midst of the “Great Dying,” the largest extinction of species experienced since life began.

            We have entered into what cultural historian Thomas Berry names “the terminal phase of the Cenozoic Era.”[3]  Our generation is experiencing a transition to a new geological age on the order of the last major glaciation, what James Knustler characterizes as “the long emergency.”  North Americans are witnessing the first signs of the shift:  severe weather events, drought, wildfires, crop failure, collapse of fisheries, and wars to secure access to diminishing fossil fuel reserves.  Other parts of the world already are experiencing food riots, malnutrition, hunger, and lack of access to clean water. 

            The Great Recession of 2008 is the harbinger of a new normal in economic life.  The prospect of endless economic growth is dead.  We are finally bumping up against the reality of a finite planet that can only bear so much exploitation.  The “American Way of Life” was never sustainable in North America, much less for the rest of the world.  It was a function of the soon-to-end “Petroleum Interlude” and, even if it were not, we don’t have two extra planets to spare so that the rest of the human population can enjoy the American lifestyle.

            The consequences of our alienation from nature are almost unimaginable, precisely because they are planetary in scale, but they are increasingly hard to avoid.  For a long time, we were able to benefit “here” from our exploitation of people and places “over there.”  Now, we are running out of places “over there,” and the level of devastation unleashed by the extractive economy can no longer be contained within the areas of immediate degradation.  We are learning the hard way that Earth really is a single, diverse, complex, interrelated, self-reflective organism. 

Through the human Earth creature, the universe has evolved conscious awareness.  We are now responsible for the direction of the ongoing evolutionary trajectory of the planet.  Whether or not it continues to be creative of increasingly diverse, complex, conscious life remains to be seen.   What will we choose?


            It is with respect to this question that a new divide opens up in our political life.  The answer turns on whether or not we accept that humans must conform to the patterns of renewal intrinsic to the life systems of the planet.  Will we continue the anthropocentric trajectory of civilization culminating in the domination of Earth by transnational corporations, or will we return to a geocentric or even cosmos-centric culture recovering a sense of human presence to Earth in mutually life-giving ways? 

            This is the deeper question that neither of the two major political parties governing the Pax Americana is prepared to acknowledge.  This is because the parties are actually proxies for the transnational corporations benefitting (at least, for the very short term in geological time) from avoidance of the question.  In all fairness, however, the whole thrust of Western culture in its economic, political, intellectual, and religious institutions serves to justify the ascendency of the human over nature, if not the corporation over the planet, as the very epitome of “progress.”  Allowing this question even to come to awareness threatens an intolerable degree of cognitive dissonance.

            Thomas Berry describes our dilemma well.

            Here we find that we are dealing with a profound reversal in our perspective on ourselves and on the universe about us.  This is not a change simply in some specific aspect of our ethical conduct.  Nor is it merely a modification of our existing cultural context.  What is demanded of us now is to change attitudes that are so deeply bound into our basic cultural patterns that they seem to us an imperative of the very nature of our being, a dictate of our genetic coding as a species . . .

            The norm for radically restructuring our cultural coding forces us back to the more fundamental species coding, which ties us into the larger complex of Earth codings.  In this larger context we find the imperative to make the basic changes now required of us.  We cannot obliterate the continuities of history, nor can we move into the future without guidance from existing cultural forms.  Yet, somehow we must reach even further back, to where our human genetic coding connects us with the other species codings of the larger Earth community.  Only then can we overcome the limitations of the anthropocentrism that binds us.[4]

            This is not a matter of some specific aspect of ethical conduct: whether or not to allow abortion under certain circumstances.  This is not a modification of our existing cultural context:  extending the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples.  The corporate culture can comprehend such changes within its overall project of global domination.  This is why Chris Hedges can dismiss electoral politics in the United States as a diverting entertainment.  That is how it is meant to function.

What cannot, must not, be comprehended by the corporate culture is the idea that humans were made for the Earth, and not Earth for humans.  On this point, Barack Obama and John Roberts can readily agree.  It is no longer a division based on political party or social class or ethnic group.  It is a division based on the human as one of the components within the larger community of the planet Earth.


            From where, then, is our help to come?  It will come, I think, from the “monastic enclaves” to which Chris Hedges refers.  And those enclaves are emerging from a process of conversion:  a profound psychic reorientation of the human to her place within the cosmos as Earth creature.

            The human transition to a new geological age will require a new psyche and a new culture.  This will, no doubt, be a painful and difficult evolution.  It will be a process of trial and error.  Already, however, the cognitive dissonance has become great enough to precipitate a break with the established order.  We can no longer accept the status quo in the face of our suffering Earth.  The breaking of our heart opens the possibility of a new way of being human. 
            Along with the fear and even despair that accompanies recognition of the dire consequences of our alienation from nature, there arises a deep longing for reconnection.  The awakening of this desire initiates a kind of conversion if our desire for wholeness is stronger than our fear of change.  The truth is that we desperately want to be at home in the world again – the real world, not the fantasy world of corporate culture in which anywhere can be exploited because we are rooted nowhere. 

            Our rootlessness is making us sick, and some of us know it.  It is cutting us off from the vital energies and consolations that come from knowing who we are and where we are.  Authentic creativity and care derive from a sense of place.  We can return home again.   We were made for Earth.

            As physical resources become less available, psychic energy must support the human project in a special manner.  This situation brings us to a new reliance on powers within the universe and also to experience of the deeper self.  The universe must be experienced as the Great Self.  Each is fulfilled in the other:  the Great Self is fulfilled in the individual self, the individual self is fulfilled in the Great Self.  Alienation is overcome as soon as we experience this surge of energy from the source that has brought the universe through the centuries.  New fields of energy become available to support the human venture.  These new energies find expression and support in celebration.  For in the end the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration.  It is all an exuberant expression of existence itself.[5]

            The energy to address the ecological crisis must come from our celebration of a new mystique of the universe.  We must come to appreciate that all elements of the universe are alive with a capacity for self-organization, individual spontaneity, and profound communion.  Our fulfillment as human beings is intimately related to the well being of the whole Earth community, and vice-versa.

            This appreciation, however, is not abstract or theoretical.  It is a lived experience that requires careful attention to our relationship to specific places and the patterns of relationship that sustain life in those places over time.  Even the “Earth community” is an abstraction.  I am not at home in the “world,” except insofar as I am at home in this valley, this watershed, perhaps, at most, this bioregion. 

            This is why Hedges’ allusion to “monastic enclaves” is so apt.  Many monastics take a vow of stability, promising to remain in a particular place for the rest of their lives.  It is understood that holiness – wholeness – requires rootedness and the wisdom derived from knowledge of how to live well in accord with the requirements of a particular place.  These requirements will be quite different depending upon the place.  

One cannot live well anywhere.  One can only live well here.  Despite the utility of standardization, the allure of cosmopolitanism, and the rewards accruing to social and occupational mobility, life can not be sustained without the wisdom acquired through a long apprenticeship of learning the limits, requirements, and possibilities inherent in a given place.

            A new national or international program imposed from above will not resolve the ecological crisis.  That is the hubris that got us into the crisis in the first place.  The ecological crisis will be resolved as people “drop out” of the global consumer culture and rediscover their home.  Sustainability will emerge as new “monastic enclaves” create local economies, local cultures, and local energy sources congruent with the local ecology.  Health, too, is local.

            At the same time, however, these local cultures of ecological renewal will of necessity need to be cultures of resistance vis-à-vis the dominant corporate culture.  It is no longer a division based on political party or social class or ethnic group.  It is a division based on the human as one of the components within the larger community of the planet Earth.  The dominant corporate culture will continue to colonize and exploit everywhere, and so will seek to crush any attempts to become at home somewhere. 

            In the end, the only thing that will save us is falling in love.  If you love your home, your family, your community, you will make all manner of sacrifices to save it.  You will cultivate the spiritual disciplines and the moral virtues necessary to sustain you in the struggle to preserve what is worth loving.  The invitation of the ecological crisis is to widen the circle of love to include the whole Earth community, and to exercise the creativity and attention required to discover loves’ unique requirements in the place where we live. 

            And then, do whatever love demands.

[1] Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Brooklyn:  Nation Books, 2012), pp. 266-267.
[2] Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way Into The Future (New York:  Three Rivers Press, 1999), p. 107.
[3] Berry, p. 4.
[4] Berry, pp. 105-106.
[5] Berry, p. 170.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lifting Up Hope: Review of "Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt"

Review of “Day of Destruction, Days of Revolt”
by the Rev. John Kirkley

Joe Gibson is a modest man, who has inherited a rich legacy: one that he is desperately trying to preserve.   He lives on the fifty acres remaining of his family’s five hundred acre property on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia.  It is an island of beauty surrounded by a vast swath of ecological destruction.  Barren plateaus, poisoned aquifers, and a fine layer of coal dust is all that remains of thousands of acres of the Appalachian Mountains blasted into a wasteland in the pursuit of seams of coal. 

Gibson is one of the few holdouts in a region decimated by the stripping of forests; the leakage from slurry ponds holding billions of gallons of coal waste; and the assaults on the health and culture of rural communities exploited and the cast aside by big coal companies.  These companies have done everything possible to buy or force Gibson out of his land, which probably sits on hundreds of thousand of dollars worth of coal.   In 1992, he set up a nonprofit foundation to protect his property.

He pays a steep price for his resistance.  His cabin was burned down.  Two of his dogs were shot dead, and he has been subjected to drive-by shootings and attempts to run him off the road.  He lost water in 2001 when the blasting from nearby mountain top removal dropped the water table.  He is painted as an enemy of Big Coal and the few remaining good jobs it provides in a desperately poor part of the country.  But he knows who the real enemy is.

Coal emissions are directly related to 24,000 deaths and some 640,000 premature births and birth defects annually in the U.S.  Referring to big coal, Gibson says,

They’re gonna destroy my state, and the government’s gonna give them the incentives to do it.  My grandchildren and great-grandchildren won’t have any heritage here.  They won’t have any mountain culture here, ‘cause they’re wipin’ it out.  I had the best of time of my life not knowin’ I wasn’t rich or comfortable or wealthy.  How could I enjoy myself outdoors if I wasn’t wealthy?  Who measures wealth?  How do you do it?  All the energy we have, all the people they destroyed, all the fatalities on these mine sites, and they keep makin’ reference to this as cheap energy.

When asked “What keep you going?” he simply replies, “I’m right.  That’s all.”[1]


Stories like that of Joe Gibson give Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt its narrative force and moral clarity.  Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges and American Book Award-winning cartoonist Joe Sacco combine interviews, history, and first-person accounts in graphic novel form to provide a richly textured description of life in the “sacrifice zones” of America.  At times, it reads almost like an anthropological account of another culture:  a world of despair, violence, and ecological degradation rendered invisible by corporate controlled media. 

The book provides a tour of these sacrifice zones, with stops to view the culmination of genocidal policies toward Native Americans at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota; the postindustrial decay of urban America in Camden, New Jersey; the ecological devastation of West Virginia’s coal country; and the new slavery imposed on migrant farm laborers in the tomato fields of South Florida. 

Hedges and Sacco offer a cautionary tale about the excesses of capitalism in the vein of Upton Sinclair, Michael Harrington, and Howard Zinn.  It is a crie de couer lamenting the sacrifice of moral imagination on the altar of financial markets, and the exploitation of the common wealth for the benefit of corporate elites.  It offers a moral accounting of the cost of ignoring economic “externalities” that happen to include huge swaths of the American people and landscape. 

The book concludes with an account of the then emerging Occupy movement, finding in it a rallying point for resistance to corporate domination.  In the end, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt moves beyond mere anthropological description, or even journalistic exposé, into the language of prophetic critique.   It is a call to choose sides.

There are no excuses left.  Either you join the revolt or you stand on the wrong side of history.  You either obstruct through civil disobedience, the only way left to us, the plundering of the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil.[2]


The rhetoric is heartfelt, and the arguments have merit, but what persuades and inspires are the stories at the heart of the book.  The moral conviction of Joe Gibson and his recognition of the common wealth that truly enriches human life recalls the biblical admonition:  “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”[3]  The life and death struggle of migrant farm workers to hold corporate produce buyers to a Fair Code of Conduct Agreement rings with the power of a New Testament epistle:

Come now you rich people weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you . . . Listen!  The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure:  you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who did not resist you.[4]

Stories of the preservation and creation of sustainable local communities, viable alternatives to the spiritually and ecologically exhausted global corporate culture, provide us with a real future.  As the authors themselves argue, “We have to create monastic enclaves where we can retain and nurture the values being rapidly destroyed by the wider corporate culture and build the mechanisms of self-sufficiency that will allow us to survive.”[5]  But why celebrate the emergence of such “monastic enclaves” in the Occupy movement, but not in the revival of indigenous cultural practices among Native Americans at Pine Ridge or the tiny urban oasis created by Sacred Heart Church in Camden? 

If the already fading Occupy movement is to have any lasting significance, it has to connect to the work of such local communities.  Noam Chomsky identified the real potential of the Occupy movement when he noted that

There is a lot of sympathy for the goals of the Occupy movement.  They’re quite high in polls, in fact.  But that’s a big step short from engaging people in it.  It has to become part of their lives, something they think they can do something about.  So it’s necessary to get out to where people live.  That means not just sending a message, but if possible, and it would be hard, to try to spread and deepen one of the real achievements of the movement which doesn’t get discussed that much in the media – at least I haven’t see it.  One of the main achievements has been to create communities, real functioning communities of mutual support, democratic interchange, care for one another, and so on.  This is highly significant, especially in a society like ours in which people tend to be very isolated and neighborhoods are broken down, community structures have broken down, people are kind of alone.[6]

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt provides a devastating critique of what is wrong with America.  It rightly urges us to resist the corporate culture that is destroying the planet, placing before us a stark alternative between a culture of life and a culture of death. “You cannot serve God and wealth.”[7]  Yet it fails to recognize the promise of the alternative sustainable cultures whose emergence it chronicles.  There is a curious disconnect between Zuccotti Park and the “sacrifice zones” depicted in the book, as if those zones represented the problem only, and not also the solution.

The signs of renewal must be found in the very heart of despair, and they must become visible to one another across the sacrifice zones of the American empire.  Like Father Michael Doyle, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Camden, NJ, the poorest city in America, we have to understand that “It is my job, my vocation, to promote and celebrate hope, to hold it up.”[8]

The great strength of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is its ability to do just that: even, perhaps especially, when it doesn’t realize that it is doing so.

[1] Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (New York: Nation Books, 2012), p. 124.
[2] Hedges and Sacco, p. 260.
[3] Luke 12:15.
[4] James 5:1-6.
[5] Hedges and Sacco, p. 267.
[6] Noam Chomsky, Occupy (Brooklyn: Zuccotti Park Press, 2012), pp. 72-73.
[7] Luke 16:13.
[8] Hedges and Sacco, p. 110.