A slim, intense man sat in the back of a police car, silently praying,
praying mostly not to pee, but also praying that he had made a difference,
even a small one. He tried to calm himself so he could be pleasant and
persuasive with the series of cops and law enforcement officials he
would soon be meeting. His dark blue shirt was ironed and crisp. The
creases in his dark pants were still sharp. His shoes were polished
and hair neat. He didn't look like the felon he was, the felon he had
become three hours ago when he had engaged in a criminal protest.
He shifted uneasily, his bladder tormenting him, his arms aching where
the cop had grabbed and dragged him, stumbling, to the police car. There
he had been thrown face down over the hood, which was still hot from
the engine. The cop had looped plastic cuffs around his wrists and tightened
them. His hands were swelling, constricted by the too-tight cuffs binding
his hands behind him. His heart was beating in his ears. He was almost
70. A bit old for a criminal protest but here he was.
His angular face was thin, throwing his cheekbones into prominence,
and his eyes glittering. He wasl typical. This was the new look of age
after the hyperinflation made everything ten times as expensive, after
a monthly Social Security check became barely enough to feed someone
for a day, after many old people began starving. These days if old people
didn't have children to support them, working children, most of them
He shifted again, trying to ignore the messages of discomfort from
his bladder, arms, and hands, each competing for his attention. Despite
not having had any liquids in 12 hours and being dangerously thirsty,
he was desperate to pee. He had used the toilet just before he left
home but the excitement of the day seemed to have sucked the remaining
moisture out of his body and sent it through his kidneys. He was ashamed
of himself, ashamed these petty discomforts seemed so important to him
when he had finally done something that might make a difference.
He had done so well in the "Getting Arrested" training. It
had been held in Houston the week of the Superbowl to provide cover,
to give them a reason for being there, so the HomeLand Security goons,
if they noticed their movements, would only think they were there for
the game. It had only cost him gas money plus 25 dollars for the training,
that going toward paying for the meeting room. He had slept in his car
and brought his grill to heat a can of soup twice a day. He washed up
in the restroom of the building where they met. The four teachers, two
of them in masks, were volunteers, all with fake names. The students,
future resisters, were encouraged to pick fake names as well.
The group of men and one woman, young and old, were taught what to
expect if they were arrested, how to cope with the experience, prepare
for it. There was much talk of different protest tactics, various ways
to make a difference, some of them very illegal. The teachers would
say "We do not advocate" but then tell them things they could
do. There was also talk about "the lone wolf," about how even
one person might make a difference but only by being completely independent,
taking no one into his confidence. Only then, they were taught, might
such a person have a chance to succeed. They also discussed who their
real enemies were, not politicians, but the billionaires who fostered
and funded them. There was a list of them. Names like Scaife, Mellon,
Coors, Olin, Bradley, Rothschild, Bronfman and Oppenheimer. There was
a discussion about how a lone wolf could go to work for one of them,
become a servant, a hired slave, then one day take them out. He knew
he could never do anything like that but it was nice knowing who was
behind his country's distress, knowing some of their names.
They taught them what to expect if they were taken into custody. Three
days out of the four they met they were told to limit fluids and try
to hold their urine for 12 hours, something they might have to do if
they were arrested. It was very hard with his swollen prostate but two
of those three days he was able to last the entire time. Now it was
the real thing and he couldn't hold it for three hours.
He let his fingers feel underneath the back of his waistband. In a
tiny pocket, the hardness concealed by his belt, was a small scalpel
blade. He could pull it out, cut the plastic cuffs, take out his penis,
pee on the floor of the police car and at least not go in his pants.
The teachers who had taught him this trick recommended against it as
it often enraged the cops. He'd also put Vaseline on his wrists in the
hope that it would make it possible to slip out of the cuffs but they
were too tight. He'd also been taught how to jimmy the plastic teeth
holding the cuffs locked by using a short flat wire like the one he'd
slipped in the seams of his shirt cuff. In practice he'd only managed
to pry open the teeth and slip out of the cuffs once and that had been
with his hands in front of him.
The cop was inside, gathering evidence, he guessed, talking to the
election officials and poll watchers.
He sighed and leaned back against his arms, thinking back to the morning.
He'd woken up before five, nervous and alert at his decision. He had
gotten up and heated some water on the grill in the yard, brought it
in and washed. He heated an antique iron over the fire and pressed his
clothes. Everything was so much harder, took so much longer, now that
he didn't have utilities. More and more people didn't. People who were
able dug cisterns for water but that didn't help with electricity. The
Republican administration had passed a bill forcing the privatization
of all public utility and water companies. Now utility prices were so
high that many people couldn't afford to heat their houses or even their
water. After privatization his utility bill had had tripled. No matter
how frugal he was he couldn't pay it so now he was living pretty much
as his great-grandparents had. Water he bought from his neighbors or
collected from the roof when it rained. He cooked over his grill. He
collected fallen sticks from his trees and he also did yard work, for
which few could pay, in exchange for everything he picked up. The sticks
and limbs went into the fire in his grill. The leaves went into his
compost heap then into his garden. The trash
well, there was much
less trash than there used to be. People held onto anything useable.
Poverty was endemic as was crime. With few jobs and those not paying
much, crime became a second career for many people. The rich lived behind
their walls. The rest of his world was rapidly becoming something out
of Soylent Green with a safe working class life only a memory.
The government did nothing and pointed to the election results to prove
that "nothing" was what people wanted. People went to their
polling places, touched their choices on the screens of computerized
voting machines and found, at the end of the day, that the Republicans
had gained even more support. Even the most gullible of voters were
beginning to realize that the machines were fixed. "Vapor voting"
some people called it as their votes evaporated into the air. The press,
the supposed guardian of democracy, never mentioned the possibility
that the voting systems might be fixed. People were beginning to protest,
violently. This morning he heard on his wind-up radio (Five minutes
of cranking for ten minutes of listening) that a warehouse of voting
machines in California had been blown up and that even in his city two
people had taken hammers into voting booths and smashed the machines.
The radio described these protests as attacks on democracy rather than
as attempts to restore it by forcing people to vote on the harder-to-fix
When he had gotten to his voting precinct this morning they were using
metal detectors to stop anyone else from destroying these tools of the
plutocracy's rule. He smiled briefly when he saw them, glad he had chosen
a weapon they couldn't detect. Through the grill of the police car where
he was locked he could see his weapons on the dash. It was evidence
against him: A tube of superglue, a small plastic bag of quick drying
paint and a sponge. He could feel the dry paint on his fingers. He'd
also had a piece of cardboard to fan the screen to hurry the drying.
They'd all been tucked under his shirt, in his pants. The metal detector
couldn't see them. He'd been able to paint the entire screen and fan
it almost dry before they'd gotten suspicious. He'd also glued the "Enter"
button. He didn't think that machine would be used again today. If only
If only more people had done the same, so people would have to vote
on paper ballots
or recognize that they weren't really voting at
all. Once people let go of the illusion of democracy they might be willing
to fight to restore the real thing.
A shadow fell across his face and he looked through the side window
to the silhouette of a police officer, the dark figure coming between
him and the sun. The man in the black uniform stood there unmoving,
his arms crossed over his chest, hands clasping his hard biceps, looking
as malevolent as a Nazi officer out of one of those propaganda films
from the forties. Even his hair was Nazi: A short buzz cut on the top
with the sides shaved so close that his pale skin shone through.
The cop continued to stare, his eyes hidden by sunglasses so dark it
was like peering into a bottomless pit. The old man shivered slightly,
feeling the bruises the cop had given him earlier, thinking there was
no way to reach a man like this.
The cop suddenly jerked open the front door and slammed himself into
the driver's seat. He half turned his head to angrily look at his prisoner
out of the corner of his eye. The old man cowered back instinctively,
his bladder forgotten. The cop turned back and picked up a clipboard
from the passenger seat and began writing. The old man sat quietly,
baiting his breath, so quietly he could hear the scratch of the cop's
pen. He could almost see waves of animosity radiating off the black-clad
"You failed, old man!" the cop suddenly hissed.
what do you mean?" the old man stuttered.
"You failed. You didn't stop one person from voting. They had
plenty of paper ballots just in case some freak like you showed up.
So everyone will get to vote. They'll have to count the ballots by hand
but that is okay. Democracy is stronger than a traitor like you."
The old man leaned back, warmth and happiness flooding through him
like some kind of magical IV. He'd succeeded!! Paper ballots counted
by hand! A few votes, it was true, but votes that would be counted.
He'd made a difference!!
As the police car pulled out of the parking lot, the old man rallied
his strength and concentration, organized the facts in his mind, thinking
of the long ride downtown and how he might convince even this police
officer that democracy depended on paper ballots, openly counted. He
didn't know if he could convince him but he was suddenly hopeful.
© Alllie, 2004
Distribution: This article is copyrighted by Alllie, but permission
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