"Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt" was written and illustrated by acclaimed journalists Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco.
Both men have spent decades reporting from dangerous places around the world: the Middle East, Central America, Africa, the Balkans. Now, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges and American Book Award-winning cartoonist Joe Sacco are taking readers on a tour of their darkest subject yet: America.
Their new book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, is a tour through five distinct American communities that used to be vibrant and vital—but today stand as broken monuments to post-industrial decay, violence and sickness. These are places the authors have dubbed “sacrifice zones”: areas across the country “that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement.” Welch, W. Va., where both the land and the people have been ripped apart by the mining industry. Pine Ridge, S.D., where the Native American population has been devastated by generations of government malfeasance. Immokalee, Fla., where migrant workers are subject to sweatshop conditions.
And our own urban neighbor, Camden, frequently named among the poorest and most dangerous cities in the United States.
Each chapter of the book pairs Hedges’ moody, intense, in-depth reporting from those locales with Sacco’s illus-trations and cartoons depicting the first-person life stories of the people who live there. The tales therein—both the intimate personal ones and the big sociopolitical ones—are as unsettling as they are impossible to put down.
This week, PW offers an exclusive excerpt from Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt—a six-page illustrated sequence telling the story of Camden resident Lolly Davis—along with a one-on-one interview with co-author Chris Hedges, who’ll be appearing at the Free Library on Thursday, June 21, to discuss the book.
PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY: Why did you choose to pair your reporting with Joe Sacco’s illustrations and comics?
CHRIS HEDGES: Because you can physically see it. You can do things photographs can’t. One, it can actually create a moving film-like series of actions. It can go back into the past. It can give you a visual panorama of change—of how people have undergone change.
[Joe and I] had worked together before, on shorter projects. Once you throw those illustrations in, it gives this kind of punch that simple prose doesn’t have … He’s quite well-known in Europe. Better known in France and Belgium than he is in the States because they have a longer history of the graphic novel as an art form.
You covered cities in New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, New York, South Dakota. How did you come up with these places—and were there other places you considered profiling in the beginning?
We really did it statistically. We went to the poorest pockets of the country. So I would have liked to have balanced out the undocumented workers by going to California, but the labor laws are far worse in Florida. There’s less protection. For instance, collective bargaining is legal in Florida, but firing a worker for attempting to organize is not illegal. In California, you’re technically protected from that. So, we really just went right to the bottom. Wherever that was, that’s where we went.
This is stuff you’ve been reporting on, in various publications, for a while. Was there anything you found while researching the book that surprised you?
Yeah—how widespread [American decline] is. Because these people are invisible. I think both Joe and I were really thrown by what’s happening to the Appalachian Mountains. When you fly over it, it is really horrifying. And you can’t get a sense of it unless you fly over it. We are destroying the oldest mountain range in the United States. It’s the watershed of the eastern seaboard, it’s the lungs, it’s just insane. I mean, I’d read about it. But I was not prepared for the scale of it.
What have people not read about that is so surprising about that?
Well, how vast it is. If you haven’t read about it at all, it’s pretty appalling. It’s just about turning hundreds of thousands of acres into a wasteland, a polluted wasteland that will never be reclaimed. But I think most people who haven’t been [to Appalachia] don’t understand how massive the destruction is—and the consequences of it are just terrifying. Because it’s not coming back, ever.
The general theme of the book seems to be, if not in these exact words, the decline of the United States.
I would say the general thesis is built around the destructive force of unregulated and unfettered capitalism—corporate capitalism that is destroying the country, in the same way it’s destroying the ecosystem of the planet.
So, what do you think for the average American, the most prominent, out-in-the-open, visible examples of this happening?
It’s all around us. How many schools have been closed in Philadelphia? Sixty-four?
Well, that’s the plan.
PW's Summer Guide 2015