Chris Hedges, a journalist, has emerged as one of the most important writers in early 21st Century America. He speaks the truths Americans are entitled to know, but do not want to hear. His anti-war speech in 2003 touched off an infamously hostile reaction at the commencement rites at Rockford (Ill.) College -- whose most famous alumna, ironically, was the Nobel Prize winning peace advocate, Jane Addams. A Yale Divinity School graduate, Hedges became one of the finest war correspondents in American Journalism. His employer, the New York Times, staunch defender of two reporters who peddled government lies to justify invading Iraq, refused to stand by Hedges after that speech. Now Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, a lecturer in the Council of the Humanities, the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University, and an author of important books. What follows is a transcription of a speech he gave to the assemblage of anti-war veterans and activists preparing to be arrested for civil disobedience at the White House gates on Thursday, December 16. As a new year dawns, it is imperative that all Americans begin to understand its message. -- T.W.
By Chris Hedges
Hope, from now on, will look like this.
Hope will not come in trusting in the ultimate goodness of Barack Obama, who, like Herod of old, sold out his people. It will not be realized by chanting packaged campaign slogans or attempting to influence the democratic party. It will not come through our bankrupt liberal institutions-- from the press, to the withered stump that is the labor movement.
Hope will only come now when we physically defy the violence of the state. All who resist, all who are here today, keep hope alive. All who succumb to fear, despair and apathy become an enemy of hope. They become, in their passivity, agents of injustice.
It is not having a positive attitude or pretending that happy thoughts and false optimism will make the world better. Hope is not about chanting packaged campaign slogans or trusting in the better nature of the Democratic Party. Hope does not mean that our protests will suddenly awaken the dead consciences, the atrophied souls, of the plutocrats running Halliburton, Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil or the government.
If the enemies of hope are finally victorious in this nation, the poison of violence will become not only the language of power but the language of opposition. And those who resist with nonviolence are the last thin line of defense between a civil society and its disintegration.
Hope has a cost. Hope is not comfortable or easy. Hope requires personal risk. It is not about the right attitude. Hope is not about peace of mind. Hope is action. Hope is doing something. The more futile, the more useless, the more irrelevant and incomprehensible an act of rebellion is, the vaster and more potent hope becomes.
Hope never makes sense. Hope is weak, unorganized and absurd. Hope, which is always nonviolent, exposes in its powerlessness, the lies, fraud and coercion employed by the state. Hope knows that an injustice visited on our neighbor is an injustice visited on all of us. Hope posits that people are drawn to the good by the good. This is the secret of hope's power. Hope demands for others what we demand for ourselves. Hope does not separate us from them. Hope sees in our enemy our own face.
Hope is not for the practical and the sophisticated, the cynics and the complacent, the defeated and the fearful. Hope is what the corporate state which saturates our airwaves with lies seeks to obliterate. Hope is what this corporate state is determined to crush. Be afraid, they tell us. Surrender your liberties to us so we can make the world safe from terror. Don't resist. Embrace the alienation of our cheerful conformity. Buy our products. Without them you are worthless. Become our brands. Do not look up from your electronic hallucinations. No. Above all do not think. Obey.
The powerful do not understand hope. Hope is not part of their vocabulary. They speak in the cold, dead words of national security, global markets, electoral strategy, staying on message, image and money. The powerful protect their own. They divide the world into the damned and the blessed, the patriots and the enemy, the privileged and the weak. They insist that extinguishing lives in foreign wars or in our prison complexes is a form of human progress.
They cannot see that the suffering of a child in Kandehar or a child in the blighted urban pocket of our nation's capitol diminishes and impoverishes us all. They are deaf, dumb and blind to hope. Those addicted to power, enthralled by self-exaltation, cannot decipher the words of hope any more than most of us can decipher hieroglyphics.
Hope to Wall Street bankers and politicians, to the masters of war and commerce, is not practical. It is gibberish. It means nothing. And this is because they kneel before the idols of greed and money.
If we resist and carry out acts, no matter how small, of open defiance, hope will not be extinguished. If all we accomplish today is to assure a grieving mother in Baghdad or Afghanistan, a young man or woman crippled physically and emotionally by the hammer blows of war, that he or she is not alone, our act will be successful. But hope cannot be sustained if it cannot be seen.
Any act of rebellion, any physical defiance of those who make war, of those who perpetuate corporate greed and are responsible for state crimes, anything that seeks to draw the good to the good, nourishes our souls and holds out the possibility that we can touch and transform the souls of others. Hope affirms that which we must affirm. And every act that imparts hope is a victory in itself.
Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.