Chris Hedges, at the Women's March on Washington, Talks About Building Movements and Coalitions
Truthdig correspondent Donald Kaufman met up with Chris Hedges on Saturday at the Women’s March on Washington, and he and the Truthdig columnist discussed the significance of the event and the challenge of creating meaningful dialogue between supporters and opponents of President Trump.
Hedges, drawing in part on his experience as a journalist covering resistance movements abroad, also commented more generally on the nature and birth of nonviolent revolutions and how they sometimes begin with relatively little in the way of specific agendas. He made that point in response to Kaufman’s remark that the march could have had a more identifiable goal. Watch their exchange in full or read the transcript of their conversation below:
Chris Hedges: Because this is how movements start. You have to build a movement from where people are at. The important thing is they’re here. What do we have, half a million people? They’re here, and having covered the revolutions in Eastern Europe, they began in a very similar fashion out of East Germany and places like Leipzig. In fact, the demands were quite tepid, and it built into a crescendo where finally you have half a million people in Alexanderplatz in East Berlin overthrowing the communist government. Hopefully this will have that kind of momentum and growth in terms of not just size but also political consciousness, political understanding. So this is actually how movements start: like this.
Donald Kaufman: And can it still start, because part of what you have talked about and that’s been described is that Clinton and the Democratic Party have been a part of the problem. Now, we heard speeches where they were very pro-Clinton. A lot of the people here think that she was, for other reasons why it is … Will that inhibit? Will that help? How will that look? How will that change? How does that affect how this movement affects?
Hedges: Well, you hope that experiences like this get people to ask questions. And the whole idea that somehow Putin swung the election is kind of ridiculous as the idea that George W. Bush was elected because of Ralph Nader. These are the kind of easily digestible clichés that a lot of people grab on to; but once you build movements and you start asking questions, you demolish those clichés for deeper understanding. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but if it is going to happen, it’s going to happen out of experiences like this.
Kaufman: And the other thing is, we live in a very interesting time with Trump. I went to the inauguration yesterday, and most of the people I talked to, when it came to civil liberties, when it came even to drone programs, they were in complete agreement with … They thought things like Snowden were heroes, they thought that we … The reason that they elected Trump in many of their minds is it was an F-you to Washington. And then they were blocked. The protesters didn’t let them go into the inauguration, they were called racist, misogynist, they had their backs held up. They thought, when they built the building—I mean the car burned, the whole car—they thought they were under attack.
Hedges: And how do we bridge that?
Hedges: Well, this is a big mistake. Because they’re suffering, and betrayal by the ruling elites, including the Democratic Party, is very real. And we have to begin by honoring that suffering. And we will go nowhere until we do. But writing these people off as bigots or racists, yes, there is certainly those elements. But people voted for Trump out of a legitimate frustration and rage at a Democratic Party that spoke in the language of inclusivity and multiculturalism and yet betrayed not only the white working class, but even the groups — you know, since the 2008 crash African-American households have lost 53 percent of their wealth, actually suffered more than the white working class.
But we’re going to go nowhere, and in fact, we feed into the narrative that the right wing wants us to feed into, creating these kinds of divisions. What is it that’s caused this suffering? It is this corporate coup d’état, these corporate forces which Trump will put on turbo-charge that have affected everyone, including the white working class. So we have a kind of commonality, a kind of common denominator with them, and that’s what we have to play to. We’re going to go nowhere unless we learn how to listen, and unless we learn how to work with people who think differently from us, including the so-called “deplorables.”
And if we continue to demean and insult these people, we’re playing into the hands of a proto-fascist establishment that wants to create a chasm that can’t be divided, a chasm of hatred. One that they will stoke with hate talk, and encouraging vigilante violence. So yes, I think that the left is extremely immature and extremely short-sighted.
Kaufman: And you’re saying “deplorables” are the people who got her husband elected; it was that white, middle-class, kind of working-class group of people.
Hedges: They’re the people who voted for Obama, and a lot of them voted for Bernie Sanders. And this is, of course, the great tragedy when we look back at this moment in history, because if the Democratic Party had put Sanders up, he would have beat Trump.
Kaufman: And I met someone yesterday, and it was interesting because she was kind of, she was a little bit worried because it was right outside the protest. And she said, if it was Sanders versus Trump, she would vote for Sanders, and she was at the inauguration for Trump.
Hedges: Well, this is it … Clinton epitomizes everything that they detest, that long, three decade-long Democratic game, where they speak in that “feel your pain language,” and then thrust a knife in the back of the very people they purport to defend. So I fully understand their anger.
Kaufman: And how do we bridge that gap? How do we bridge the gap between the two sides?
Hedges: By speaking to honoring and holding up the suffering of these people as primary. It is possible to speak in their defense while at the same time rejecting their racism. What isn’t going to work is calling them irredeemable bigots and racists. I come out of rural Maine, impoverished Maine. I have relatives that use language about black people that was inappropriate. I love them dearly, and they suffer. But I think one can say on the one hand we hear the pain that you’ve been through, the dislocation, the disenfranchisement. Just don’t say that around me. We can’t use that.
I think that you’ll only begin to mute that kind of racism when you come at it from that. And it’s building relationships. It is real, and that just never happens on the internet. Once you build real relationships, and they understand that you actually have, you are empathetic to where they are coming from, then you’ll be far more effective than standing behind a barricade and insulting them.
Clara Romeo: Do you think that that tactic is likely, especially when it comes from minorities trying to start this conversation with perhaps working-class white people who may feel this way?
Hedges: I think the problem is more the white majority. Who are the majority. And I think part of it is the elitism of the liberal class and the left. I mean, Black Lives Matter is out there to stop unarmed black people from being gunned down in the streets. I don’t think they actually have a lot of intersection with the Trump people.
Kaufman: And it’s interesting. This week, Greg Palast had a great documentary talking about all these votes that weren’t counted. And these lists that were created in which, like, in Ohio one in five black people can vote.
Kaufman: Why is the Democratic Party not on this?
Hedges: I don’t know, don’t get me started on the Democratic … It’s not a party. It’s a mass continuous mobilization of media creation. It has none of the intrinsic elements of an actual party. It’s a façade.
Kaufman: And yeah, because you would think of all the parts that they would be most outraged and talk about this.
Hedges: It’s not a party. It’s part of the political … It’s a prop in the political theater. It’s not actually a political party.
–Posted by Donald Kaufman