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Resisting the Pistons of Empire: One America for Peace

By Greg Moses

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 them wholesale.

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

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

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 of resistance.

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 between peoples.

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
and active.

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.


Note: Thanks to Tom Wells and the Speak Truth to Power
Series at Schreiner University, Kerrville, TX for
commissioning these remarks for a talk on Oct. 19,


Greg Moses is editor of peacefile and author of
Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and
the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at



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