It was a warm June Friday evening, in a magnificient United Church on Bank Street in Ottawa where five hundred-plus gathered to listen to Chris Hedges talk about the failure of the U.S. government, and ocasionally reference "Harper" as even more venal especially with his "Right to Work" legislation which Hedges dubbed the destruction of the labour movement in Canada. Titled, Days of Destruction, Days of Defeat, the lecture was based on Hedges' recent book of that title, illustrated by Joe Sacco, on his interviews with the most depressed, destitute and hopeless people living in various pockets of poverty and isolation across the United States.
He outlined a time line of history, not normally taught in public or especially in private schools in America, in which the liberal class, never intended to take power itself, nevertheless formerly pressured the establishment, the government, to make changes that would benefit a larger number of American citizens, and increasingly has lost its heft to exert such pressure. The media is owned by a few conglomerates, virtually eliminating a "free press," (Hedges won a Pulitzer for his coverage of the war in Bosnia for the New York Times), the corporations have bought their elected representatives, thereby gutting the labour movement, refusing to pay needed attention to the growing threat of global warming and climate change, incarcerating the greatest number of prisoners per capita in the world, and laying waste large tracts of land through open-pit mining, which also ravages both adjacent rivers and the lungs and health of the workers who toiled for those mining companies.
When asked, "What can we do about all this?" Hedges recounted a story from a writer who focused on the Nixon administration.
Apparently, Nixon, at the height of the public protests against him, commandeered all out-of-service buses in Washington, and ordered them to form a ring around the White House. When that was completed and he was nervously speaking with Henry Kissinger, his closest adviser, Nixon is reported to have repeated, "They are coming to get us! They are coming to get us! They are coming to get us!"
And that, according to Hedges, is what he is advocating against all governments in North America, that they are brought to their knees, and their consciousness about how they are failing ordinary people, through concerted, unrelenting, and non-violent public pressure.
He points to stories from his experience in which single individuals have, through their own defiance and determination, affected change in their own country, after other events and other occurrences by other individuals have brought about the change for which the original activist was working.
In his own case, reading from the text of Days of Destruction, Days of Defeat, he tells of his own red lesions of tuberculosis, from his reporting days in Africa, from which he has recovered because of his health, but from which disease many of those with whom he lived, especially children, never recovered and whose faces never leave his consciousness. While marching, as he did, on the Offices of Goldman Sachs, following the meltdown of 2008, he recounts how "I brought those faces of those children who did not survive to the front doors of Goldman Sachs," one of the financial services industry firms that is responsible for much of the inequality that exists across the U.S.
Married to Canadian woman, who insists on raising a Canadian flag on their Princeton New Jersey home on July 1, to commemorate Canada Day, and on leaving it there until July 4, the American Independence Day, Hedges also recounted an incident in which he overhead a neighbour walking past the Canadian flag comment, "Those fucking Canadians!"
It was, for the writer, a night of both exasperation and inspiration, the former for the lack of will to make things different on the part of government, and the latter for the amount of work that still remains to do.
As an ex-cleric, I join Hedges, also an ex-cleric, in the long march to both sanity and the courage it will take to oppose, at every turn, the galloping greed, insensitivity, narcissism and insouciance that governs both Washington and Ottawa, not to mention other world capitals, in the hope that our grandchildren will have a world in which sanity and civility and compassion will have replaced the icy cold blasts of selfishness. It was to Kevin O'Leary, who interviewed Hedges on CBC, and who thanked his guest for sharing his views, that Hedges commented, "It will be the last time!" referencing the encounter with Canada's supreme and supremely cold capitalist on the Lang and O'Leary Exchange.