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 engaged in a criminal protest.
He shifted uneasily, his bladder tormenting him, his arms aching
where the cop had grabbed him and dragged him stumbling to the police
car. There he had been thrown face down over the hood, still hot
from the engine. The cop then looped the 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,
his eyes glittering. He was
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. Many of the old were starving. If they didn't
have children to support them, working children, most of them went
He shifted again, trying to ignore the messages of discomfort from
his bladder, his arms, his hands, as each competed 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.
And he had done so well in the "Getting Arrested" training
he had taken nine months ago. 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, more and more called HLS,
hells, 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 a fake name 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," 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 2 of those 3 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
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 his old 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.
The oil and gas companies had then been allowed to run the prices
up till many people couldn't afford to heat their houses or even
their water. After that 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 collected from the
roof when it rained or bought from his neighbors. He cooked over
his grill. He collected fallen sticks from his many 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
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 middle 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, pushed their choices on the screens
of computerized voting machines and came out to find, at the end
of the day, that the Republicans had gained even more support. The
most gullible of voters were realizing that the machines were fixed.
"Vapor voting" some people called it but the press 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 paper
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. He could see his
weapons on the dash through the grill of the police car he was locked
in, 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
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 form.
"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
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
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