25. A New Protest
10 January 2055 // 1100h
After a late breakfast, the Sky High Students were finally done with their visit to the University. By way of farewell, Aubrey reminded the students that the due date to apply for UNI this fall was, as with most Universities in North America, 26 February. She reminded them that, though the application date was later than it had been when she was a child, this meant that their senior year grades mattered more than ever. With that, she saw them off to their respective areas of the city.
Snow had caught up with his four Aubergine compatriots during breakfast. They all seemed to have experienced the same thing—improved mood, clearer thinking, and increased excitement for the future. Snow’s mood had certainly improved from the evening before, though the effects of the substance had been so subtle that he didn’t know whether to attribute his mood boost to the substance itself or to a finally decent social interaction.
As Snow and Ricky 2 got ready to carpool back to the Southeast, Snow realized that he did experience that bittersweet sadness of departure that he had expected all along. He would definitely be applying to UNI—he didn't want this to be the last time he set foot on such a beautiful campus. It was hard enough to know he might not return to northern New Idaho until next fall.
After the students left, Aubrey headed back to her office. She had a few notes and ideas on the weekend that she wanted to get down before she forgot. Her office was the best place to do that. She had strategically put great care into making her office the perfect place on campus for her to get work done, and she always felt energized behind her desk.
As Aubrey walked from the northeast to the southwest corner of Okapi field, she could feel the energy of students coming back from break. Classes started tomorrow, and most of the students had either made it back already or were currently arriving. She always felt better when the student body was back. It was as if the University, the being she had made, was hibernating over winter, and its life blood was finally starting to pump back through it.
On the eastern side of Okapi field, right next to the dormitory complex, two students were taking full advantage of the mass immigration back to campus. Right next to the Greta Barn Dormitory, two folding tables were set up right next to each other, each with their organization’s logo emblazoned on a cloth hanging off the front. Behind the maroon and gold “Futech” banner sat Ruth Armstrong. Behind the Red and Black “NIANS” banner, Todd Felstein.
Todd never thought he would be sharing table space with a representative of FuTech. He shared the opinion of most college students outside of the church: The place was a cult, and its followers were hopelessly brainwashed. Todd himself was an atheist, and proud of it. It was part of what drove his activism. He wanted to show the world that he didn’t need a God to do good in the world. He would do it all on his own, thank you very much. Now, however, on his return to UNI, the FuTech Campus Organization had become an unlikely ally.
Since the fall, interest in the Jungle Club had died down significantly. Members of the group had gone to Daskus’ office hours, and though anger burned hot in their hearts when they entered, many walked away at least empathizing with her point of view. This did not bode well for Todd’s group, the sole purpose of which was to demonize the University’s point of view in the hopes of causing a large enough stink that the Jungle be left alone.
With the Jungle club dissolving, Todd had to look for alternative avenues to let out his rage against the powers that be. It was a Godsend when, around November, a new group began to grow south of the Jungle: “New Idahoans Against New Slavery”. This group campaigned for workers’ rights in the same vein as many similar groups that bemoaned the wealth gap in America. In New Idaho, however, this problem was exacerbated through the federally recognized “Guaranteed Basic Income” program, which was basically an excuse for capitalists to pay workers far less than livable wages.
As Todd had learned in his latest years, all injustice is connected. The exploitation of the working class was at the heart of capitalism, and most other pursuits in this country were in service of the same immoral system. The Jungle, for instance, was being studied by Daskus so she could learn more about what the plants growing there could offer the world. Instead of just being content with what humans were already lucky enough to have, Daskus followed the greedy capitalist credo that stated to succeed as humans, you must continue to make new discoveries and inventions to capitalize upon. Who cares about the state of the only rainforest in America when you could trade it for prestige and money for your University?
In that way, then, NIANS was fighting the same fight as Todd. He would still save the Jungle, if indirectly. This first step was just a springboard for him to fight his true battle. NIANS had grown hugely in popularity over the last few months. It would be much easier to attract a pool of students to this issue before he funneled off the more interested ones to tackle his agenda. After all, everyone wants to save the world. Why not start where there was the most support?
Furthermore, with the support of FuTech, support that occurred virtually over (Sunday) night, the NIANS base had taken a huge leap into 2055.
‘HELP END NEW SLAVERY! JOIN FUTECH!’ Ruth was a short, plump girl with curly brown hair. She held out flyers with a welcoming smile on her face, one that she had learned to wield as a representative for a campus religious group. The best way to recruit to organizations like that was to be extremely welcoming—offer students a place.
‘STOP THE EXPLOITATION OF THE WORKING CLASS!’ Todd yelled. He liked Ruth’s welcoming nature, but he preferred to petition with more righteous anger. Together, he thought, they would be able to take in a quarter of the student body.
‘What’s this about?’ A young black man in workout gear had stopped by their table.
‘Hi!’ said Ruth. ‘Have you heard of New Idaho’s Guaranteed Basic Income program?’
‘Yeah. Are you guys against it?’
‘Yes!’ Ruth said. ‘Families have to put their children to work just to live in our town. If you aren’t in the lower class, you might not realize it, but when you meet people who live in that situation, you can’t help but feel for the injustice they go through!’
‘But if they didn’t have the GBI, wouldn’t they just be left with no jobs? I thought the GBI was just for people who were trying to find work?’
‘You’d think that, wouldn’t you,’ said Todd. ‘Let me ask, where did you grow up?’
‘As I thought. And you were never on GBI, I’m guessing?’
‘No, I was pretty lucky.’
‘Very lucky indeed. See, the narrative I hear a lot from people of your demographic is the one you just gave me. “They will just work that job until they can find a real job; they wouldn’t have a job at all without GBI.” Well, that’s one way to look at things. Another way to look at it is by looking at reality—families are forced to work GBI jobs to make any sort of money. They get trapped in these jobs without hope of getting anything better. And if the federal government made New Idaho play by the same minimum wage rules as the rest of the country, employers would be forced to give workers a fair wage, and some of the poorest New Idahoans would be able to escape the crippling poverty they are in.’
‘But wouldn’t unemployment rise?’
‘Sir—what’s your name?’
‘Dylon. Do you mean to tell me that America was better off in the early 1800s? Because there was near 100% employment among black humans at the time. Does that sound like a good alternative?’
‘I’m definitely not in favor of slavery, no,’ said Dylon.
‘Then join the fight against New Slavery.’ Todd handed Dylon a flyer. ‘We hope to see you there.’
‘Thanks,’ said Dylon. He walked across Okapi field. Todd watched as he crossed to the Humanities College, where he dropped the flyer in the first recycling bin he came across.
‘Dammit,’ Todd cursed under his breath.
‘It’s okay,’ Ruth consoled him. ‘We only want the ones who want to come.’
‘I guess you’re right.’
‘Trust me, there will be a lot of them,’ Ruth said, and patted Todd on the hand. ‘I can feel it. On January 20, the town-wide NIANS protest will be the biggest protest per capita of any city this century. Trust me. We still have ten days.’