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Dennis Kucinich and Chris Hedges on the 99 Percent
Posted on Oct 6, 2011
This week on Truthdig Radio in collaboration with KPFK: Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Chris Hedges explain why the 99 percenters are “the best among us.” Plus: Occupy L.A., Obama’s “secure communities” and modern midwifery.
A full transcript is available below.
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Chris Hedges on “the best among us”:
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Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio in collaboration with KPFK Los Angeles. I’m Truthdig.com managing editor Peter Scheer, wishing you a warm and crispy Wednesday on this rainy day. The 99 percenters, who began their occupation of Wall Street Sept. 17, are finally getting national attention, but mainstream journalists seem baffled by who these people are and what they want. In a minute, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, will tell us why the protesters are what Hedges calls “the best among us.” Later, we’ll hear from the 99 percenters themselves as Howie Stier reports from the occupation in downtown Los Angeles. Also on today’s show, Leilani Albano reports on the president’s Secure Communities program, and we hear from the mother of modern midwifery, Ina May Gaskin.
Let’s begin with Chris Hedges. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, the former Mideast bureau chief for The New York Times, and a prolific author, most recently of “The Death of the Liberal Class” and “The World As It Is.” He writes a column every Monday on Truthdig. Chris, welcome to Truthdig.
Chris Hedges: Thank you.
Peter Scheer: How are you? Where are you?
Chris Hedges: Princeton, about to leave for Washington.
Peter Scheer: And you were, last week, you were at Occupy Wall Street in …
Chris Hedges: Well, no, I’d been there several days, yeah. But we’re occupying a plaza in Washington tomorrow.
Peter Scheer: Can you talk about that real quick?
Chris Hedges: Well, that’s the October 2011 movement, which has been building over several months and actually pre-dated the call by Adbusters for the occupation of Wall Street, but has since worked closely with them, and is a very similar kind of attempt to take over a public space with no terminal date.
Peter Scheer: And where is that going to take place?
Chris Hedges: I have to—I think it’s called Liberty—I think it’s actually called Liberty Plaza, but people should go to the 2011 website to get directions. I haven’t gotten directions yet because I’m not on the train yet.
Peter Scheer: So let me ask you about these 99 percenters. You spent time with them; people can find online, there’s a great series, a really extensive interview you did with them on YouTube, which they can also find on Truthdig. With “them,” I say; it’s clearly not one single group of people, which seems to have really frustrated journalists. There’s this narrative emerging that these people are confused about what they want, or not really clear about what they want.
Chris Hedges: Well, the only people who are confused are the journalists. They’re not confused; I can sum up what they want, or what they’re doing, or what their goal is in one word, and it’s called rebellion. They don’t have any faith in the corporate systems of power, nor should they. They recognize that electoral politics is a farce; that the judiciary and the press are wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state; and that the only way they are going to be heard, both as citizens and as people who care about protecting the planet, is to build a movement, and that’s precisely what they’re doing. They are so savvy, so smart, so clear and so well organized. From the outside, they may not look organized, but when you’re inside the park, boy, they’ve really got it together. And it’s just—I ran into the managing editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet, who’s a friend of mine, Thursday and I said you know, you have to send a reporter down. Instead of going down for a few minutes and looking at them , you have to send a reporter down there, and write about how they put this thing together. And Dean did, and it was in the Saturday paper. Because it’s really remarkable. And because it’s non-hierarchical, the authorities don’t know what to do with it. I mean, one of the funny sort of scenarios that is constant within the park are these undercover cops who appear in Yankees baseball hats and tell you they’re students from Rollins College, even though they look to be about 35. I mean, it’s sort of out of a Doonesbury cartoon. But the question they always ask is, you know, ‘So, who do you think the core leadership are? So where are the leaders?’ And the fact is it’s ruled by consensus. And what the cops want to do is find out who that cobble is of manipulators and decapitate the movement, but since they don’t exist, they can’t do it. And that’s part of the whole confusion; they run up against a structure they don’t comprehend and they don’t understand. And that not only is true for the New York City police department, but it’s also true for the press that comes down and isn’t prepared to think outside the box.
Peter Scheer: Let me ask you, we sent a reporter out, Howie Stier, to the Occupy L.A. protest today. And he reported—and we’ll get to this later in the show—that there was a remarkable lack of a police presence. Is this particular to New York? You’ve encountered this a lot in your protests in Washington. And how have the police been, in relation to the protests …
Chris Hedges: Well, in New York, it’s very heavy. Because they have essentially militarized the financial district of lower Manhattan. Every single street going in to Wall Street has metal barricades with police, and there are phalanxes of motorcycle cops, patrol cars, paddy wagons—which every once in a while, just to remind all the protesters they’re there, in the middle of the night they’ll circle the park with the sirens and the lights going. Because everyone sleeps there, of course. So no, the police presence has been very, very, very heavy. And …
Peter Scheer: Has it changed with more attention?
Chris Hedges: What’s that?
Peter Scheer: In terms of the abusiveness, has it changed with more attention on the police?
Chris Hedges: Yeah. They clearly—I mean, the feeling among the protesters is that when those attacks took place a week ago, where they used pepper spray on those women, it was an attempt to provoke the crowd. I don’t know whether that’s true; I don’t know what the motives of the NYPD are. But there is a feeling, there was a feeling among the protesters that what they wanted was a violent response, maybe even a riot. Because that’s the kind of language they speak. I mean, pictures of people smashing the windows of cars is not going to garner any kind of sympathy among the wider public. Well, they didn’t respond. And what’s fascinating is that because the mainstream media wasn’t there, they created their own media, just like your dad did with Ramparts, and started doing real journalism, just like your dad did. And shamed, just like your dad did, the traditional media into responding. So the only people that were recording this pepper spray incident were people who had cameras from the protest group itself; indeed, the nerve center for the protesters on Wall Street is the media center in the center of the park. And it’s interesting that one of the decisions, if the park is raided, is that large groups of people will surround the media center to try and keep it going as long as possible. So once again, the commercial media was not doing its job, and these people found a way to have a voice by creating a media system of their own. And they’ve done a very effective job of it. So since that exposure of Anthony Bologna, this inspector who—you know, it’s just an amazing piece of footage; these women are seated on the sidewalk and he’s spraying them in the face, till they can’t breathe, with pepper spray—the police have had to back off. I mean, the pressure has not been as intense. I mean, they did arrest large numbers of people on the Brooklyn Bridge, and there’s a gigantic march today, by the way, that’s been joined with unions; unions have joined in. But that has given the protesters some space that they did not have before.
Peter Scheer: Let me ask you about the police again, because—not to dwell on this, but you’ve written extensively in your column about how—and in your books—as we make this shift to a more oligarchical society—feudalistic—that the elites will have to surround themselves with a security apparatus to protect from the public anger. And we saw, I just want to bring up, in 2008 what happened at the Republican Convention, Amy Goodman and two of her producers were trying to report on protests there and they were surrounded by an extreme police presence. And then they were beaten and arrested, and they just won a settlement from the cities, St. Paul and Minneapolis, and from the Secret Service. And I wonder if you see this, how this will affect media coverage in the future. The settlement, and the reaction to the protesting.
Chris Hedges: I don’t think the settlement’s going to affect the coverage too much. I mean, police were, for instance, arresting reporters on the Brooklyn Bridge; they were beating reporters on that Saturday march when those women were sprayed in the face with pepper spray. So anybody recording acts of police brutality is instantly seen, I think, as the enemy no matter who they work for. And I expect that if they go in and try and shut this thing down, the first or the primary target will be making sure that it can’t be broadcast to the outside world. I mean, they certainly understand the role of the media system that the protesters have set up, and how much it has hurt them. And it’s hurt them a lot.
Peter Scheer: There was a post that was sort of going viral around the Internet, a commentary, a guy writing in sympathy with the 99 percent protesters, but also urging them to—sort of a humorous commentary but semi-serious—urging them to put on a polo shirt and khakis. And made the argument that they shouldn’t come off as more, I don’t know, radical; that they should think about how they’re represented in the media. Do you find that compelling at all?
Chris Hedges: No. I don’t think the media is going to give them much slack …
Peter Scheer: I mean, there were these photos, for instance, of women, topless women …
Chris Hedges: I mean, look, the whole reaction of the media has been, in essence, to make fun of them. I mean, Ralph Nader wears a suit and a white shirt and a tie everywhere he goes, and they make fun of him.
Peter Scheer: Yeah.
Chris Hedges: I mean, you’re about to have Dennis Kucinich on; Dennis always looks pretty sharp, and I’ve watched the media make fun of him. No. You know, they will find—because there’s no cost. They can’t do this to the tea party. Because the Koch brothers and all their backers will come down on them like a ton of bricks. But they can be snarky and snide and dismissive of the left, because the left has no power within this country, yet. I mean, let’s hope that that changes. And so they do. And if you look at the early coverage, especially in The New York Times, it’s just … I mean, it’s disgusting. And you know, why should everybody look like they, you know, shop at The Gap or J. Crew, or—is that really such a great look? [laughter] I think the people in the park look great.
Peter Scheer: So, let me ask you. You know a hell of a lot about the Middle East. You were The New York Times bureau chief there; you speak the language. This movement is said to be inspired by what happened in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, and the Arab Spring youth movements there. Obviously very different culture, different things going on, but do you see—what similarities and differences do you see there?
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