Skip to Content

Rise Up or Die

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

by Chris Hedges

As more and more of the nation is transformed into “sacrifice zones” like Detroit and Camden, New Jersey, with civil liberties stripped bare, the biosphere pushed to the point of no return, and the corporate security estate triumphant, “it is time to employ the harsh language of open rebellion and class warfare.”

 

Rise Up or Die

by Chris Hedges

This article previously appeared in Truthdig. Photo by werwin 15.

It means refusing to surrender, even if you find yourself, like Manning and Abu-Jamal, caged like an animal.”

Joe Sacco and I spent two years reporting from the poorest pockets of the United States for our book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” We went into our nation’s impoverished “sacrifice zones”—the first areas forced to kneel before the dictates of the marketplace—to show what happens when unfettered corporate capitalism and ceaseless economic expansion no longer have external impediments. We wanted to illustrate what unrestrained corporate exploitation does to families, communities and the natural world. We wanted to challenge the reigning ideology of globalization and laissez-faire capitalism to illustrate what life becomes when human beings and the ecosystem are ruthlessly turned into commodities to exploit until exhaustion or collapse. And we wanted to expose as impotent the formal liberal and governmental institutions that once made reform possible, institutions no longer equipped with enough authority to check the assault of corporate power.

What has taken place in these sacrifice zones—in postindustrial cities such as Camden, N.J., and Detroit, in coalfields of southern West Virginia where mining companies blast off mountaintops, in Indian reservations where the demented project of limitless economic expansion and exploitation worked some of its earliest evil, and in produce fields where laborers often endure conditions that replicate slavery—is now happening to much of the rest of the country. These sacrifice zones succumbed first. You and I are next.

Corporations write our legislation. They control our systems of information. They manage the political theater of electoral politics and impose our educational curriculum. They have turned the judiciary into one of their wholly owned subsidiaries. They have decimated labor unions and other independent mass organizations, as well as having bought off the Democratic Party, which once defended the rights of workers. With the evisceration of piecemeal and incremental reform—the primary role of liberal, democratic institutions—we are left defenseless against corporate power.

The Department of Justice seizure of two months of records of phone calls to and from editors and reporters at The Associated Press is the latest in a series of dramatic assaults against our civil liberties. The DOJ move is part of an effort to hunt down the government official or officials who leaked information to the AP about the foiling of a plot to blow up a passenger jet.

There is one set of laws and regulations for us; there is another set of laws and regulations for a power elite that functions as a global mafia.”

Information concerning phones of Associated Press bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn., as well as the home and mobile phones of editors and reporters, was secretly confiscated. This, along with measures such as the use of the Espionage Act against whistle-blowers, will put a deep freeze on all independent investigations into abuses of government and corporate power.

Seizing the AP phone logs is part of the corporate state’s broader efforts to silence all voices that defy the official narrative, the state’s Newspeak, and hide from public view the inner workings, lies and crimes of empire. The person or persons who provided the classified information to the AP will, if arrested, mostly likely be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. That law was never intended when it was instituted in 1917 to silence whistle-blowers. And from 1917 until Barack Obama took office in 2009 it was employed against whistle-blowers only three times, the first time against Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The Espionage Act has been used six times by the Obama administration against government whistle-blowers, including Thomas Drake.

The government’s fierce persecution of the press—an attack pressed by many of the governmental agencies that are arrayed against WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and activists such as Jeremy Hammond—dovetails with the government’s use of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to carry out the assassination of U.S. citizens; of the FISA Amendments Act, which retroactively makes legal what under our Constitution was once illegal—the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of tens of millions of U.S. citizens; and of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which permits the government to have the military seize U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them in indefinite detention. These measures, taken together, mean there are almost no civil liberties left.

A handful of corporate oligarchs around the globe have everything—wealth, power and privilege—and the rest of us struggle as part of a vast underclass, increasingly impoverished and ruthlessly repressed. There is one set of laws and regulations for us; there is another set of laws and regulations for a power elite that functions as a global mafia.

The Espionage Act has been used six times by the Obama administration against government whistle-blowers.”

We stand helpless before the corporate onslaught. There is no way to vote against corporate power. Citizens have no way to bring about the prosecution of Wall Street bankers and financiers for fraud, military and intelligence officials for torture and war crimes, or security and surveillance officers for human rights abuses. The Federal Reserve is reduced to printing money for banks and financiers and lending it to them at almost zero percent interest; corporate officers then lend it to us at usurious rates as high as 30 percent. I do not know what to call this system. It is certainly not capitalism. Extortion might be a better word. The fossil fuel industry, meanwhile, relentlessly trashes the ecosystem for profit. The melting of 40 percent of the summer Arctic sea ice is, to corporations, a business opportunity. Companies rush to the Arctic and extract the last vestiges of oil, natural gas, minerals and fish stocks, indifferent to the death pangs of the planet. The same corporate forces that give us endless soap operas that pass for news, from the latest court proceedings surrounding O.J. Simpson to the tawdry details of the Jodi Arias murder trial, also give us atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide that surpass 400 parts per million. They entrance us with their electronic hallucinations as we waiver, as paralyzed with fear as Odysseus’ sailors, between Scylla and Charybdis.

There is nothing in 5,000 years of economic history to justify the belief that human societies should structure their behavior around the demands of the marketplace. This is an absurd, utopian ideology. The airy promises of the market economy have, by now, all been exposed as lies. The ability of corporations to migrate overseas has decimated our manufacturing base. It has driven down wages, impoverishing our working class and ravaging our middle class. It has forced huge segments of the population—including those burdened by student loans—into decades of debt peonage. It has also opened the way to massive tax shelters that allow companies such as General Electric to pay no income tax. Corporations employ virtual slave labor in Bangladesh and China, making obscene profits. As corporations suck the last resources from communities and the natural world, they leave behind, as Joe Sacco and I saw in the sacrifice zones we wrote about, horrific human suffering and dead landscapes. The greater the destruction, the greater the apparatus crushes dissent.

Residents trapped in the internal colonies of our blighted cities endure levels of poverty and violence, as well as mass incarceration.”

More than 100 million Americans—one-third of the population—live in poverty or a category called “near poverty.” Yet the stories of the poor and the near poor, the hardships they endure, are rarely told by a media that is owned by a handful of corporations—Viacom, General Electric, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Clear Channel and Disney. The suffering of the underclass, like the crimes of the power elite, has been rendered invisible.

In the Lakota Indian reservation at Pine Ridge, S.D., in the United States’ second poorest county, the average life expectancy for a male is 48. This is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti. About 60 percent of the Pine Ridge dwellings, many of which are sod huts, lack electricity, running water, adequate insulation or sewage systems. In the old coal camps of southern West Virginia, amid poisoned air, soil and water, cancer is an epidemic. There are few jobs. And the Appalachian Mountains, which provide the headwaters for much of the Eastern Seaboard, are dotted with enormous impoundment ponds filled with heavy metals and toxic sludge. In order to breathe, children go to school in southern West Virginia clutching inhalers. Residents trapped in the internal colonies of our blighted cities endure levels of poverty and violence, as well as mass incarceration, that leave them psychologically and emotionally shattered. And the nation’s agricultural workers, denied legal protection, are often forced to labor in conditions of unpaid bondage. This is the terrible algebra of corporate domination. This is where we are all headed. And in this accelerated race to the bottom we will end up as serfs or slaves.

If we do not revolt we can no longer use the word ‘hope.’”

Rebel. Even if you fail, even if we all fail, we will have asserted against the corporate forces of exploitation and death our ultimate dignity as human beings. We will have defended what is sacred. Rebellion means steadfast defiance. It means resisting just as have Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, just as has Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical journalist whom Cornel West, James Cone and I visited in prison last week in Frackville, Pa. It means refusing to succumb to fear. It means refusing to surrender, even if you find yourself, like Manning and Abu-Jamal, caged like an animal. It means saying no. To remain safe, to remain “innocent” in the eyes of the law in this moment in history is to be complicit in a monstrous evil. In his poem of resistance, “If We Must Die,” Claude McKay knew that the odds were stacked against African-Americans who resisted white supremacy. But he also knew that resistance to tyranny saves our souls. McKay wrote:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”

It is time to build radical mass movements that defy all formal centers of power and make concessions to none. It is time to employ the harsh language of open rebellion and class warfare. It is time to march to the beat of our own drum. The law historically has been a very imperfect tool for justice, as African-Americans know, but now it is exclusively the handmaiden of our corporate oppressors; now it is a mechanism of injustice. It was our corporate overlords who launched this war. Not us. Revolt will see us branded as criminals. Revolt will push us into the shadows. And yet, if we do not revolt we can no longer use the word “hope.” 

Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” grasps the dark soul of global capitalism. We are all aboard the doomed ship Pequod, a name connected to an Indian tribe eradicated by genocide, and Ahab is in charge. “All my means are sane,” Ahab says, “my motive and my object mad.” We are sailing on a maniacal voyage of self-destruction, and no one in a position of authority, even if he or she sees what lies ahead, is willing or able to stop it. Those on the Pequod who had a conscience, including Starbuck, did not have the courage to defy Ahab. The ship and its crew were doomed by habit, cowardice and hubris. Melville’s warning must become ours. Rise up or die.

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City and has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University. He currently teaches inmates at a correctional facility in New Jersey.

 

Share this

Comments

MaxHeadroom

There was a TV Show called Max Headroom that highlighted the future of "sacrifice zones". This agenda has been around forever and we've allowed it. 

Max Headroom [the DVD] http://goo.gl/lFGOZ

How to Revolt_Mass Divesture Likely Better than Mass Protest

I favor non-violent resistance as a tactic [though not necessarily to the death] -But Lets be Real- Its nearly impossible to just gun our way out of this mess. With COINTELPRO's decimation of the Black Panthers, the Philly PDs inceneration of MOVE & DITTO the FEDs at Waco [showed whites it could happen to them if they try to shoot it out w the cops & FEDs] & more recently Chris Dorner- the power elites were/are sending a clear message. And now Police Depts across the US are more militarized than ever [expect the cops to get weaponized drones next].

And the power-elites have shown what they think of mass protest [ala Occupy Wall St]- first they tried to ignore it, then they tried to slander & ridicule it- when that failed the Dims tried to coopt it, but when that didn't succeed the way the Dims had hoped, they sent in the Gestapo!!!

IMO its time to DIVEST as much as possible from the status-quo. It ought to be clear w the advent of the 'Obama Candidate' [Mr 'Audacity without Hope' & 'Change You damn sure Can NOT Believe In'] that if people continue to be trapped in the box of the 2 corp-controlled party duopoly [Corp Dims vs Corp Repugs]- that they should only expect more of the same ole SOS or even WORSE! Thus its time for Blacks, Browns, the working-class & progressives to DIVEST from the Dim-o-crap party -&- NO don't turn to the Repugs either.
But the real answer to this trap ain't necessarily even viable 3rd party options [but that might mark a turning point- or at-least be part of an over-all strategy], but to begin to DIVEST from the BIG Bank{ster}s, BIG-Agra-BIZ, Fast / Junk & overly-processed food Giants [IE: McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, etc, etc, etc], BIG-Pharma-BIZ, WalMarts & its ilk, hey even Micro-Soft, plus mindlessly violent Video-games [by Nintendo, Sony, etc] including Holly-weird's mindlessly violent schlock [& or propaganda ala '0-Dark-30' & 'Argo'], Lame-stream corp TV & the insanely / inanely raunchy music industry, etc, etc, etc... 
In order to break the back & strangle-hold of corporate disaster capitalism run by the power elites- it will take the people [particularly Blacks] to under-go major life-style & mind-set changes- in order to 'starve the corporate beast' [they need our participation to make them 'profitable' & 'viable'] by consuming a more wholesome diet- which goes beyond wholesome food, but also includes what you allow your mind to consume. If the general public [especially Blacks] ain't prepared to do what is necessary- they should expect to continue to slide &/or be pulled mindlessly [by the corp-controlled status-quo] deeper into the abyss. 

Take Back Our Country?

I've told the Tea Party members it's laughable they protest to "Take Back Our Country" when they don't even grow their own garden, know how to hunt small game animals and/or wild edible plants, ferment vegetables, basicly anything pertaining to individual sovereign independence. They depend on CorpGovLLC for their lights, transportation, jobs, roads, education, TV.. Hell we even handed over the taxpayer funded Internet to CorpGovLLC!!!

Chris Hedges another left gatekeeper

Chris Hedges is just another left gatekeeper like Noam Chomsky. He wants to make people feel like our plight cannot be altered in our favor. He's one of those people that almost never smiles. He doesn't believe 9/11 was an inside job coordinated by Cheney, Chertoff and Israeli Mossad. Who doesn't know that by now? Everyone knows it although most are afraid to publicly admit it since Americans are a bunch of money worshipers who can no longer live off the land without corporations.

Anyone who doesn't acknowledge the integral part that the 9/11 false flag played in our current political and economic turmoil is not worth reading or hearing. Now is NOT the time for cowards, infiltrators and saboteurs like Hedges and Chomsky. We know enough of the facts already. Let them crawl back to their computers and continue memorizing phony history from their bully pulpits but don't buy it.

Rise up, resist, and rebel?

Chris Hedges exhorts us to resist even if it lands us in prison. He doesn't explain how having more of us in what is already the world's biggest prison system--a prison system bigger than even Stalin had in the USSR--would make any of us more free.

Nor does he explain how we're supposed to rise up and resist without breaking any windows in the process.

I agree with nfamous. Hedges is a capitalist hypocrite who will write anything he thinks will sell.

If we're going to rise up and resist, I suggest that the first person we resist is Chris Hedges. Let him rant on the liberal and progressive websites where he belongs. He isn't a radical and he hasn't got a clue. He's good at jumping on bandwagons and writes very well, but he's not worth reading.

What is wrong with some people!

Hedges isn't asking people of color to rise up, he is talking to white people (morons) about white and black "mis-leadership" elites.  The ones responsible for the racism and disaster capitalism.  



Clicky Web Analytics
blog | by Dr. Radut