Back in the 1980s I enrolled in a course as part of my undergraduate degree with the Open University (UK) entitled Third World Studies. I was twenty-four and full of awe and amazement and outrage as I learnt about India’s Green Revolution, issues for the Tuareg of Niger, and of the economies of the newly-industrialised countries (NICs) of south-east Asia. I learnt about the problems created for poor economies by big business. I learnt about the IMF and the World Bank. I studied the socialism of governments in Tanzania and Mozambique. I read novels by Buchi Emecheta and the poetry of Louise Bennett. The course was multi-disciplinary (perhaps the first of its kind) and all-encompassing, or so I thought.
Now I am reading Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Nation Books, 2012) and I realise that the course title ‘Third World Studies’ was a misnomer. The title created the illusion that there was a First World, perhaps a Second World (Russia) and a Third or Poor to Very Poor World. Other notions have come along since, such as North and South, notions that also perpetuate the illusion. For upon reading Hedge’s text, it has struck me squarely that apparent third world conditions (slavery, corruption, severe inequality) have always existed and persist in America today.
Being from Australia it is fairly easy to say that our indigenous Australians have been condemned to exist as impoverished others in their own land, conditions normally associated with the very poorest of the poor in the ”Third World.” John Pilger’s Utopia suffices as an introduction to that view. Perhaps I have for too many decades been naive, or perhaps somewhat in the dark as regards poverty in America. I have known about low wages, trailer parks, food stamps, the state of Detroit, African American and Hispanic and Mexican poverty. I have known of the ludicrously high incarceration rate in America, mostly of African American men. And I knew, vaguely, that America’s First People are horribly oppressed and marginalised. I knew all of this, but only vaguely. I knew about the voracious appetite of American corporations too, of their corruption of democracy and the judiciary, and the casino-style hustlers in the world of American finance.
What I have not known, not contemplated, not engaged with so deeply it turns my stomach and makes me want to holler with outrage and weep for the suffering – tears I had spilled decades earlier for many an African nation – Hedges portrays with unrelenting honesty. A laying bare of America’s underbelly, from the native Americans of Pine Ridge, the enormous widespread and utterly unjust suffering of the poor of Camden, the devastation of the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia (500 mountains so far bombed into oblivion to extract their coal), and the Mexican slave workers in tomato fields in Immokalee, Florida.
That the American Elite (corporations in cahoots with duly corrupted and compliant political and judicial systems) can so devastate its own nation in such a ruthless manner, bodes so ill for the rest of us, for this is the package it persists in exporting to the rest of the world in the guise of development.
As I have indicated above, I have long known the dreadful environmental and social consequences of Big Mining. The struggles of the working classes and the poor around the world are so often bound up with the mining giants, along with the oil and gas giants. If not, they are bound up in agribusiness. It is a case of same old same old.
So when I read calls from the apparently awake for others to wake up, I ask myself of the islanders of Bougainville – Are they awake? – Yes, I have to say yes they are. What of Papua New Guinea? – Are the people there awake to the shenanigans of corporate greed? – In large part I would say they are? What of the villagers of India whose valleys are being flooded by Big Dams? Are they awake? – I would say most definitely, judging by their protests.
What of the native Americans at Pine Ridge? Are they awake? Yes, I have to say mostly yes, for the alcoholism, the drug addiction, the suicides, the violence, surely they are a recognition of and a response to the consuming misery they are forced to endure. They are awake, to a nightmare.
So I ask of those who make the awake call, wake up who exactly? The privileged middle classes struggling to maintain expensive lifestyles and fat mortgages? Do they slumber? Or are they imprisoned by the system too, riven with fear of losing everything in an economic and social climate of uncertainty.
Sure there are those who are not so much asleep as rendered catatonic by consumerism with all its glamour, sure there are those whose hearts are riven by hatred and bigotry, those prejudiced against the many who are not themselves. I don’t think there is much to be done about them, or at least, I don’t have a solution. All I know is that those who are catatonic and those who hate will most likely never ”wake up.”
There are enough of us around the globe who know more or less exactly what is going on. There are definitely enough of us who are awake to make a difference if and only if, we all decide to do something, to realise that what we face in the world today is a state of emergency akin to that of a world war, and we must resist at every turn.
I am a non-violent person. Which was why I was shocked when I woke this morning to the thought that someone should drop something big and heavy on Bohemia Grove at an opportune moment. Then I thought, no, that would make little difference. But I do know that we must make great personal sacrifices if we are to stave off the march of the corporations. We must preoccupy ourselves with the spirit of Occupy. And if ever there was a book to rouse the heart to action, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is it.