"Jesus turned water into wine, I turned it into damn likker" - Popcorn SuttonAppalachia's history is largely comprised of tales of resistance of one form or another. The poster child of Appalachia’s rebellion against unjust authority has always been the Moonshiner, the maker of non-government approved distilled spirits. These spirits were commonly referred to in the southern lexicon as moonshine, mountain dew, white lightning, “painter piss,” or perhaps more simply “likker.” There is no moonshiner more infamous than the Smoky Mountain’s own, Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton. He was not only one of the most famous makers of illicit liquor, but he also led his entire life in defiance of government authority and was quite a character to boot. Sutton was born in Haywood County, North Carolina, a rural mountainous county on the Tennessee border. At an early age he learned whiskey making from his family and local whiskey makers a like in Haywood and neighboring Cocke County, Tennessee. In due time, he became a well-known whiskey maker in the region. Taking full advantage of the legal jurisdictional confusion between the two states, he plied his trade to the fullest. This was a very common practice employed by bootleggers and moonshiners in years past, when one sheriff would get on your trail you hopped across the state or county line and continued your business. The tradition of whiskey making as employed by mountain folk originates further back than many people realize. It comes from the Poitín tradition popular in the peat bogs and mountain regions of Scotland and Ireland where most of the ancestors of the southern mountain people originated. While the mountain region of the Southern states lacked wheat, rye or barley for malt historically, residents of the region adapted using Indian corn and malted corn for the fermenting agent. Whiskey making is considered as sacred a right as bearing military style and cosmetically offensive “assault weapons” or keeping livestock. Moonshining in the southern mountains is not only justified on the grounds of natural rights, but also on even simpler grounds. Many makers of illicit whiskey, when asked why they do it have the simple answer of "... my daddy made whiskey, and his daddy made whiskey, and his daddy before him made whiskey, so I'm just gonna keep makin’ it to." Popcorn was a dyed in the wool capitalist and largely libertarian in his dealings and belief system. What set him apart from the rest was his unique marketing strategy. He boasts in his book "Me and My Likker," that him and his father were not political beings, but instead sold moonshine to folks at the polling place on Election Day. This is a much more effective use of time than trying to vote yourself free. He was fiercely independent even to the extent of purchasing his own casket, flowers and the shovels needed to bury him before he died. He is on record of stating that even though he was extremely sick late in life and had amassed a pile of medical bills, "the government nor the county doesn’t pay my bills, I do." Popcorn's first run in with the law was in 1974. He was arrested and later convicted on illegal production of untaxed whiskey, among other charges. In typical mountain fashion, the day after he was released on bond after his arrest, he went right back to the same spot where he was arrested and set his still back up. He figured that was the safest place to be back in business. When speaking of his arrests he was fond of saying “I didn’t steal anything here… I paid for the copper, the sugar, the corn…so I don’t see where I broke the law anywhere.”
Publisher's Note: Joshua is a former student of mine and I am honored that he is inaugurating our new series, Profiles in Resistance, with a real firecracker of an opening salvo. Every new millenium is filled with hope of changing the eternal dynamic and ratcheting back the factors in human slavery. Many suggest this may well be the Chinese century and I would like to hope that may not be the case at all; it may very well be the final century that the predatory state and its apparatchiks retain humanity in its clutches.
Joshua's timely Cypriot observations dovetail nicely with the frustrated British experience trying to keep the Irish under their thumb from 1916-22. -BB
"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed." - Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”Resistance is not a new part of the human experience. Resisters have challenged the meddlers of the world for as long as anyone has asserted authority where it ought not be asserted. Those that challenge the meddler known as the state have several unique qualities that enable them to resist and, in many cases, win against overwhelming odds. The principles that make resisters successful are critical thinking, forcing the enemy to fight on the resister’s terms, exposing the vulnerability of the state, and economic sustainability.
Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in their readiness to doubt.
- H. L. Mencken
Resisters are the contrarians among us. Skeptics by nature, resisters ask “why” until the answers become insufficient. The ability to ask these types of questions requires critical thinking. Therefore, the resister is often middle class, highly educated and skeptical. For example, Fidel Castro and Mohandas Gandhi studied law before leading revolutionary social movements. Both Abimael Guzmán, of the Shining Path, and Martin Luther King, Jr. had PhDs in philosophy before they challenged their respective governments. Mao Tse-Tung worked as a librarian before taking on both the Japanese and the Chinese Nationalists. Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a medical student before joining Castro in Cuba.
Not only must the founders of revolutions be critical thinkers, but the foot soldiers and junior leaders of a resistance movement must also be independent-minded. Often operating using a de-centralized model, the resister must be able to think for himself and act in the absence of orders from his chain of command. A good example of this is the cell structure implemented by the Shining Path. Although highly centralized at the strategic level, at the tactical level, the Shining Path’s decision making was left to individual commanders:
Local militants were organized into cells, similar to contemporary terrorists cells, and for security reasons had limited contacts outside their immediate five- to nine-member unit. Even a regional commander had direct contact with no more than eight other insurgents.The Shining Path, like many resistance movements, was forced by military necessity to operate independently, thereby enabling its fighters to adapt their plans to the situation on the ground. Such flexibility and the capability to operate without guidance from higher headquarters allows the resister to out-think and out-maneuver his government opponent, whose focus is not on critical thinking.