Joe Bageant: 1946-2011

It is with great sorrow that we learned of the recent death of Joe Bageant.

Joe and Class Action’s late co-founder, Felice Yeskel, were two of our greatest voices on class in the U.S.  What a loss for us all.

Felice loved Joe’s blog posts –and frequently sent me links to his latest dispatch with comments like “check out this zinger” and “bull’s eye.”

Almost once a week, I am asked the loaded question, “Why does the white working class vote against their economic self interest?”  (Or as Joe titled a blog, “AMERICA: Y UR PEEPS B SO DUM”)

I respond, “If you really want to understand, read Joe Bageant’s book, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War.”

Deer Hunting is a blistering poke at the ways that progressives are constantly insulting and unnecessarily alienating white working class folks. When I heard Barack Obama’s comment about people “clinging to their guns and religion,” I cringed and wished he’d read Bageant.

In Deer Hunting, Joe invites us for a tour of his hometown of Winchester, Virginia, starting with a stop at his favorite watering hole, Royal Lunch Tavern.  He introduces us to the lives of his neighbors and roots of their political choices.

Last year, Joe published his newest book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir about growing up in Morgan County, West Virginia. He traveled to Australia for its release, where he is properly revered as an expert on class in America.  Back here in classless USA, Joe was less interviewed but still had a huge fan base.

For the last two years, Joe was pretty discouraged about the prospects for social change.  He moved to a small Mexican village to write Rainbow Pie and blog between visits to the local cantina, where he sometimes strummed his guitar.

Joe became a big user of Skype –and I raised him a few times to talk. One time, I tried to enlist him to be an active political voice for The Other 98 Percent, a new organizing formation.  But he was dubious and felt America was on the verge of serious breakdown.  He thought he’d ride out the economic and ecological collapse south of the border –where at least people knew something about facing tough times in community.

Four months ago, I learned more about Joe’s illness.  He wrote to his friends and fans, “I have been struck down by an extremely serious form of cancer. Presently I am back in the United States receiving treatment through the U.S. Veterans Administration hospital system.”

After cussing at doctors and trying to escape from two hospitals, he returned to Winchester to receive treatment as an outpatient.  He died last week, March 26, at the age of 64. Joe leaves behind his wife, Barbara, his three grown children, Timothy, Patrick and Elizabeth, and thousands of friends and admirers.

In honor of Joe, I urge readers to spend some time with his words and ideas.  Visit Joe’s web site and scroll through the archives of his essays:  Read Deer Hunting with Jesus, if you haven’t, and American Pie.

At the web site, there are some great podcasts and videos of interviews with Joe, including one his last interviews, from October 2010.

Joe Bageant: May his words and voice live on in our hearts and minds.


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