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Chris Hedges: We Have to Atone for Turning Our Backs on People of Color

Posted on Nov 15, 2013

After a talk on the collapse of complex societies, Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges answers an audience question: “How should people of color respond to the dying of a civilization that has not been civil to them?”

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Peter Z. Scheer: A question is “how should people of color respond to the dying of a civilization that has not been civil to them?”

[audience laughter and applause]


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Chris Hedges: Well, I teach every Thursday night at a maximum security prison and I spent significant amounts of time with this book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” in statistically the poorest pockets of the country and the creation of omnipotent police forces, especially in urban areas has set a template. As anyone who knows has spent time in depressed urban areas, police on pretext stops can seize and incarcerate—you only get a few minutes with a public defender—anyone they want. And I find often in the prisons the people with the longest sentences are the people who refused to plea out because they were not guilty. But if you don’t plea out you’re finished; and they know it, the whole system’s rigged.

And one of the reasons that I would hope that those who were in many cities the engine of the Occupy movement, which were primarily underemployed or unemployed college educated kids, would begin to reach out to marginal communities not so much because I think these communities now are so broken and of course such a high dis-proportion of especially African-American men are within the system. Not just in prison but on parole; I mean they have all sorts of ways to cripple your life. I think that we have to make amends to these communities because we …

[audience applause]

… by supporting the Democratic Party, and in particular figures like Clinton, which rammed through the Omnibus bill and created a massive prison industrial complex, destroyed welfare—which as Bob points out 70 percent of the recipients in the old welfare system were children—passed NAFTA. We busied ourselves with a kind of boutique activism, multiculturalism, all of which I support, but at the expense of justice. We forgot about justice. And our poor and our working class were decimated. And what has happened now, there has been a Weimarization of the American working class. What’s happened to the working class is now being visited on the middle class; I mean this is how history works.

So, I think there’s a, for those of us who care about social change, one of the reasons we have to reach out to these communities—and one of the reasons I teach in the prison system—is because we have to make atonement for, in essence, turning our back on these people, while in the name of a kind of faux liberalism a war was made against their very beings.

[audience applause]

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