A New Book Sees Camden as a Harbinger of Unsettling Things to Come

"Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt" was written and illustrated by acclaimed journalists Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco.

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Jun. 20, 2012

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Photo by Chris Hedges / 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.

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. OtterVonBismark said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 04:30PM

“What a couple of chumps--traveling around the world and being hypercritical of places they're not from and only have a cursory knowledge about. There is beauty and strength in the toughest of neighborhoods, but it takes a lot more talent and time to write about that. It also doesn't sell as well. Shame on PW for putting this garbage on the front page--City Paper would have more insight.”

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2. ANGEL said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 04:38PM

“I live in Camden all I can say is shame on Philadelphia weekly. They should fire the editor for allowing this garbage to make the front page.”

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3. Anthony Adams said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 04:47PM

“This has got to be the most pathetic story about Camden. Philadelphia weekly has stopped to a new low. I feel sorry for journalism. Shame on Philadelphia weekly. Have you guys even been to Camden. I bet not. This is a sad attempt at trying to be like the Inquirer.”

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4. Maria said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 04:56PM

“acclaimed journalists Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco seriously what kind of crack was Randy smoking when he wrote this calling journalists Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco acclaimed is a lot like calling Lindsay Lohan an award winning actress.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 06:07PM

“Norcross will soon see himself as a cursed man. Everything he has done to innocent people will soon fall back on is own family and their generations. Norcross thinks Politics are a blood sport, but he will soon see that he is going to pay for all the wrong he has done.”

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6. justine said... on Jun 20, 2012 at 07:58PM

“How great to see a publication giving voice to what is happening across America that the majority have no chance to see on our televisions or even our internet searches. Creative, heart rending and frightening, thank you for featuring this work.”

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7. Voodoo Doll said... on Jun 21, 2012 at 07:01AM

“If organized well, the people can easily come down and remove Norcross. Underground groups are forming as we speak. This has been a long time effort and there are so many people waiting to take down George E. Norcross. It's a matter of time but it is in the making and it will be the most EMBARRASSING moment for this political corrupt machine. NOBODY will want to deal with him when we get done with him. He pissed thousands of people off and they are coming for him.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Jun 21, 2012 at 02:35PM

“Perhaps critics of the article would do well to actually read the book--in which Hedges and Sacco pay great, detailed respect to the dignified and beautiful parts of each of these impoverished areas. They're drawing attention to places that deserve it--with good intention, and with knowledge far from cursory.”

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9. Joe said... on Jun 25, 2012 at 12:49PM

“If you don't believe money in politics is destroying our democracy, then you haven't been paying attention. Do you even know who has PACs, shoveling more and more money to politicians every year? Your phone company. Your cable company. Your car manufacturer. Just about every industry has large players who have PACs and use them to support politicians who vote for things that would help them, the companies, and against things that would hurt them.

Simply put: neither the Democratic nor the Republican party are interested in you anymore. Quite honestly, no party that accepts gross amounts of money from corporations or lobbyists does.

If this pisses you off because you still have a soul and conscience, and want to vote against the destruction of our political system, then vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November. She's the only person who isn't going to accept this money that bastardizes our country to the point of ruin.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jun 26, 2012 at 02:27AM

Actually, the most third world thing about the US is the Democrats running cities like Philadelphia. Corruption, incompetence, high taxes. Driving businesses out.

Corporations run Philly? That's why they just raised their highest in the nation business taxes rather than cut any spending anywhere.

But not a mention of that in this formulaic leftist drivel. These people don't let facts get in the way of their ideology.

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11. Canaan1 said... on Jul 21, 2012 at 10:59PM

“Reporting on Camden has traditionally followed a formula that benefits the journalists, a few organizations, agencies, and a few designated white heroes but does little to provide authentic insight into the issues at hand. I love Chris Hedges' politics but his reporting on Camden has been abysmal. One bright spot has got to be Miss Lolly Davis, who we all love and respect.”

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12. Judy Calabrese said... on Oct 1, 2012 at 08:43PM

“The elected officials and federal prosecutors need to stop playing lets make a deal with that corrupt political boss and grow some balls and put that scumbag George Norcross in Jail.”


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