This article originally appeared on PeaceFile.org.
Whip lashed by serial collisions of imperial power,
dissident movements in the USA brace for the next shocking thing.
We have been hijacked into a crashing invasion of Iraq, slammed
around by evasive maneuvers in New Orleans, and now along the borderlands
of the Southwest USA, signs warn that a highway of accommodation
is about to end, dumping us head-on into deserts of aggression upon
Latin American peoples.
Into each new crisis, empire roars forward, pumping
high octane into its five-piston engine. Whether stirring borderland
provocations at home, fighting wars of aggression abroad, or exploiting
crises of colonized communities anywhere, the five pistons of empire
always work the same.
The first two pistons of empire rub against each other
in a dual cycle of excitement: racialization and criminalization.
Whether we are talking about war on terror, containment of victims
of Katrina, or preparations for aggression upon Latin American immigrants,
empire is busy making peoples into races the better to criminalize
The third piston kicks into motion after peoples have
been racialized and criminalized. This is the piston of militarization.
Guns and propaganda. Brute technologies of power. In Iraq, this
piston was stoked on a large scale with advance planning. In New
Orleans, as if by reflex, it was improvised overnight. And in the
future of the borderlands, militarization is being foreshadowed
in word and deed.
The fourth piston is privatization. Political players
who deploy military strategies profitize the game so that huge fortunes
can be made quickly. In Iraq we see privatization with malice aforethought;
in the aftermath of Katrina, privatization on the fly. Along the
borderlands, keep an eye out. How much of the militarization will
be subcontracted? How much cement will be cast into a great wall,
by whom will it be poured, and for how much moolah?
Piston five is legitimization, the sweet arts that
consolidate empire's victory as “common good” and “enduring
freedom” for all. This last piston is knocking around under
the hood these days. In Iraq and New Orleans, there is a legitimization
gap. That would be better news, if the gap in those places didn't
make the border wars seem all the more tempting as a red-blooded
thrust to re-energize an imperial base.
So these are the five pistons. One right after the
other, they fire up for every imperial advance. And they have been
working this way at least since Western Pennsylvania was conquered
by settlers and the Pennsylvania legislature taken out of Quaker
control and put into the hands of a faction led by Benjamin Franklin.
We're not the first generation of peacemakers to be tossed around
the back of the wagon by expansionists for self defense.
Quakers remind us that resistance to the five pistons
of empire has been going on at least since the day William Penn
named the town of Philadelphia. For Pennsylvania, Penn envisioned
an enterprise of peace and reciprocity. Indigenous peoples would
be respected, slavery outlawed, etc. A penitentiary would be a dwelling
place for thinking things through. For about 75 years, the method
worked astonishingly well.
Meanwhile, near Philadelphia grew the Germantown community,
with its stream of mystics and cooperative entrepreneurs who came
from the farms and universities of Europe into thick Eastern woodlands
seeking unification with the One. In 1688, Germantown passed an
anti-slavery resolution, said to be the first of its kind among
the European immigrant communities of the so-called New World.
So when I travel through the heart of German Texas,
near towns named Boerne, Fredericksburg, and New Braunfels, I am
reminded that empire has never been a totalizing machine. Surely
things could be worse and would be, had we not always in North America
grown our own resistance, too. Against the five pistons there are
– and for several centuries there have been – five modes
Against the first two pistons of empire (racialization
and criminalization) resistance poses counterforces of pluralization
and legalization: establishing equity between peoples (not just
between persons) and working against the tendency for law to be
used a weapon of group domination. When George Fox toured America
in 1661 (with William Penn) he sat down and slept beside indigenous
peoples. To the offense of white Christians, Fox denounced attitudes
of Christian spiritual superiority and practices of slavery, too.
In Iraq, the process of racialization and criminalization
draws upon thick cultural roots old as the crusades. USA provisional
authorities racialized and criminalized Sunni Muslims as a strategy
to neutralize Saddamist resistance. Widespread enforcement of de-Baathification
violated international laws against collective punishment and provoked
deadly backlash, which empire loves to see, because backlash begets
backlash, and guess who's ready to privatize such a colossal mess?
Recently, thanks to a film by Arkansas brothers Craig and Brent
Renaud, we have watched a guardsman say: every civilian in the Middle
East is a potential terrorist, the more killed the better. This
well-fed attitude is sure to keep the privatizers in business just
a little longer, with each passing month good for a few billion
In New Orleans, says grassroots organizer Malik Rahim,
white activists with guns were allowed to pass into the city, while
black doctors with medicine were not. Whereas guns were welcomed
into a criminalizing situation, medicine could not be allowed to
humanize. In New Orleans, a Common Ground Collective respects needs
of all individuals and takes seriously the differing circumstances
that people face. If cops can make allowances for each other when
looting stores for ice and batteries, then activists can make allowances
for petty theft among desperate victims, too. This is criminalization's
counterforce. Call it legalization of human beings and pluralism
Along the borderlands between Latin American and El
Norte, pluralism and legalization would mean respecting each other's
needs for free movement, suitable work, and fair pay, regardless
of national origin. With militarization threatening the borderlands,
it is urgent that we seek de-militarization certainly, but more
than that, we have to try for something that has no single word.
The opposite of militarization is not de-militarization; it is wholesale
commitment to an economy of nonviolence, a prioritization of peaceful
means to power among the people. If not pacification, shall we call
it peace work? Such work builds the kind of human security that
follows from experiences of pluralization and legalization.
Which brings us to the problem of privatization or
the exploitation of a militarized situation for profit. The Common
Ground Collective in New Orleans points directly toward struggle's
answer: collective, open, democratic organization of resources.
I don't think this precludes private property, but it certainly
does debunk private profit as an end in itself. And this denunciation
of private profit as the ultimate ruler of values is about as communist
as Thomas Hobbes (who said you have to throw out the right to all
things only if you want peace).
The final mode of resistance is education. After pluralization,
legalization, pacification, and collective organization, education
is badly needed to tend the crafts of knowledge and learning –
to counteract legitimization.
If these modes of resistance have to be re-invented,
then so be it. But we never find ourselves nowhere, especially not
right now. I am only trying to think about resistance in hopeful
ways as interlocking and multidimensional struggle, already and
always on the ground with real life experience of the imperial pistons.
De-militarizers are coming to the fore lately, and that's good.
But pluralizers are hard at work, and legalizers, too. Collective
organizers are always findable. And educators are widely dispersed
As we prepare to face the pistons of empire at the
borderlands, we may look forward to a historical opportunity to
unify American resistance from North to South. And that's far from
a nowhere place to begin.
Greg Moses is editor of PeaceFile.org
and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King,
Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at
[email protected]. Mr.
Moses thanks Tom Wells and the Speak Truth to Power Series at Schreiner
University, Kerrville, TX for commissioning these remarks for a
talk on Oct. 19, 2005.