Writing as Resistance

Writing as Resistance

I’m just now becoming acquainted with Chris Hedges, who is a Presbyterian Minister and the son of a Presbyterian minister.  More importantly, Chris is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.  He has spent the bulk of his career in war zones around the globe.  More recently, he teaches in various prisons in New Jersey.

I found this very personal talk moving.  I’ve posted it here to make Chris’s work available to others who may be interested in writing and the quest for peace and justice.  The notes that follow are a sampling of the powerful ideas that are contained in this video.

Notes from the Talk

The year before I founded the underground paper, which was banned by the [Loomis Chafee Prep School] administration.  Bill was responsible for many scoops, because he delivered newspapers in the early morning.  He would deliver stacks of newspapers to the faculty lounge, and then would steal all the faculty notices that the students weren’t supposed to read, that I would reprint.  I guess it is safe to tell that story now.

The year before, over the dining hall there were pot washers and cooks who lived in appalling conditions.  No students were allowed to go up there.  So, of course, I went up there and took pictures and then decided that the optimal moment for publish an expose on how the pot washers at this prep school  lived would be in the Commencement Issue when all the parents and trustees were there.  Which I did.  And it worked.  It embarrassed the school.   Over the summer, they renovated the living facilities.  When I came back the kitchen staff had pitched in and put a plaque on the wall in my honor.   I was seventeen.

She unzipped her pants and there was a butterfly tattoo.  It was at that moment I knew I wanted to be a foreign correspondent.

So I published that story (about Gulf and Western’s oppressed workers in the Dominican Republic) in the Christian Science Monitor.  And it was immensely exhilarating and depressing at the same time.  Exhilarating in the sense that I’d gotten it out.  Depressing in the sense that I realized that even then that it wouldn’t make any difference.  That the next day, the next week, the next month the organizers would be broken and the abuses would continue.  I remember going back and speaking to my great mentor at Colgate, the chaplain, Coleman Brown, and telling him that.  And he said, “That is the beginning of wisdom.”

We are put on this earth to make things better.  It’s not about us.  Under the sway of my father and Coleman,  I went to a housing project in Roxbury and ran a church and went to Harvard Divinity School.  I’d commute from the inner city to Harvard and then come back at night.  I would say that it was that experience that I learned to really hate liberals, all the people who like the poor but don’t like the smell of the poor, the people who talked about empowering people they never met.  My fellow seminarians would go down to Nicerauga and spend a week and pick coffee and spend the rest of the semester and talk about it.  But they wouldn’t take the 20 minute on the Green Line, out to where human beings were being warehoused like animals.

Baldwin and Orwell to this day remain as my two intellectual mentors my writing mentors.

My father said, “Well, you are ordained to write.  I’ve always looked at my writing as preaching.  Baldwin, who himself was a preacher in his father’s church, said that “I left the pulpit to preach the gospel.”

Great journalism is not concerned with the news.  It’s concerned with the truth.  There’s a difference.

I can take the same set of facts and spin a story any way you want.  If you seek the truth, you marshal those facts to tell truths that the elites don’t want to hear.

For so much of what you do, it is not immediately evident that it has any effect. ..and yet there’s that exhilaration at having documented a crime that they sought to hide.  Yes they had the power to continue to commit crime.  But they could never say that didn’t happen.    In Kosovo the Serbs had taken  22 men out of a village and killed them.  There were chargers that before they killed them they brutally tortured them.  All of the press had left.  Finally this army truck came.  There were the  22 corpses wrapped in blankets with the blood from their wounds seen through their clothes.  I was alone  They were Muslim.  Their bodies were going to be immediately washed and they were going to be buried.  I was the only person there who was going to tell the world whether they were tortured or not.  I climbed into the back of the truck with a mag light and I rolled back the covering on every face, as the mothers and fathers are outside. ..to document what happened.

Daniel Berrigan’s definition of faith:  It is the belief that the good draws to it the good, even when all the evidence around you says otherwise.

I look at culture and art as seminal to resistance

The moral power of resistance, the power of the truth it’s why despotisms are so frightened of artists and writers who speak the truth.  Ultimately, the only mechanisms they have to retain their power, once their ideology, like neo-liberalism, is exposed as a fraud are the corrosive forces of violence, oppression, and censorship.  At that moment the truth becomes incendiary.  And it’s why artists and poets are so persecuted in despotic regimes, because they have no counter-argument.


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