Chris Hedges Explains How Entire Regions Within the US Are Treated Like Exploited Colonies
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Hedges: The series of laws, treaties and decrees that were passed out of Washington, some four hundred of them, and in every single case were essentially violated, or subverted by further decrees and laws which stripped American Indians of more and more of their land and created mechanisms by which they were utterly disempowered. By the 1970s you had a tribal system in place. You know, these people function the same as a colonial system: They take a native aristocracy and use them to further the interests of the colonial power. This is what happened at Pine Ridge, and as well as other reservations around the country where you had quislings: many of these people weren't full-bloods. In the name of American Indian society, they served the interests, in the case of Pine Ridge, of the ranchers and the FBI. So, Pine Ridge became particularly violent, coming out of the 60s there were there were movements and activists, included the American Indian Movement, and the repression akin to the case of Philadelphia, the police chief Rizzo, who conducted horrific acts of violence and repression on the African American community.
You know, constant beatings and abuse led to a response, which, for the Native American community culminated in a 73 day occupation of Wounded Knee, where they were surrounded by federal marshals, FBI agents and several people were killed. But it was a consequence of the State being utterly tone-deaf. Again, by the way, you saw the same sort of violence erupt in Philadelphia, or Chicago with the Black Panthers. The State was completely tone-deaf to legitimate cries for justice on the part of oppressed communities, and exclusively imposed force. This gave way to a response of violence, or force. And that's what Wounded Knee was about. That's what the Black Panther party was about. Then, we saw a series of trials and persecutions of American Indian activists. Of course Leonard Peltier is still sitting in prison, and anybody who's read through his trial transcripts will tell you there were so many questionable and mendacious tactics used by government prosecutors, that if used in a fair court of law, that trial would be thrown out. Yet he still sits in a prison in Florida, very, very far away from South Dakota. This is important to recognize in a society that has become politically paralyzed. We are seeing the government respond to discontent by criminalized political dissent, and using harsher and harsher forms of control that eventually, as in Wounded Knee, or as in Chicago and Philadelphia, or Oakland, or anywhere else, violence ultimately provokes counter violence.
Emanuele: In Chapter Two, "Days of Siege," your commentary is focused around the city of Camden, New Jersey. However, for many of us, including myself, who grew up in the "Rust Belt," you could have easily switched Camden, New Jersey for Gary, Indiana; Detroit, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Indiana; South Bend, Indiana, or so many other post-industrial areas in the United States. So, why Camden, New Jersey? Was there a symbolic and practical purpose for moving from the Native American population to a largely African American population?
Hedges: Well, I think we wanted to show this was something happening in both rural and urban areas, and that it was the same system: i.e. the reconfiguration of American society into a Corporate State. We didn't consciously set out to profile different ethnic groups in the chapters, but it just came out that way. Camden of course being largely African American; Native communities in Pine Ridge; poor white communities in southern West Virginia; and Latino communities in the produce fields in Florida. These are all manifestations of the same process. And it's a process by which the American citizen is politically and economically disempowered as the Corporate State creates an Oligarchy, where a tiny percent amass vast fortunes and workers around the globe, in sort of a neo-feudalism, are told that in a global marketplace they must essentially compete with sweatshop workers in Bangladesh who make 22 cents an hour, or prison labor in China. That's the world we've created. We have allowed our manufacturing base to be dismantled because it's more profitable for these corporations to employ sweatshop workers in southern China, who work 70 hours a week, without any sort of protection, or rights. Remember, that's 700,000 workers for Apple, none of them are in the United States. They live in Dickinsonian, 19th Century conditions. That's the world that has been cemented into place by these forces, and the consequences are that whole cities, such as Camden, are virtually abandoned.