28. The Protest, Pt. 1: Bystanders
20 Jan 2055 | 1500h
Snow was surprised at the amount of people gathered downtown today. He had been hearing a lot about this protest at school. All that anticipation meant that this wasn’t a day to miss. This could be a historical event to be talked about for years to come. He had to at least see what it was all about.
Snow had always been fascinated by protests. His first impression of them, if he wasn’t going to count something like the American Revolution, started with the Vietnam War protests almost a hundred years ago. He always thought it would have been fun to be a part of those. War seemed easy to protest.
After that, he thought of the protests earlier this century, including one called “Occupy Wall Street”. He didn’t understand much about this one, other than that it was a protest against rich people. That one made him feel a little guilty, having been brought up with the privilege he had. If he attained a similar level of wealth when he was older, he thought, he would feel compelled to give a good bit of it away to those who needed it.
Then there were always protests against specific presidents and pieces of legislation, but few of those had made it into his history books. In fact, his History classes rarely went beyond 2010 or so. The teachers probably thought the most recent history would be available to the students through public discourse. For instance, he was aware of the surprising election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the ‘Social Crash of ’31,’ when the old social media kingpins started to go bust. Of course, he knew New Idaho was founded in 2028, and the first Lucid Lens was sold in 2035. These events seemed to affect Snow’s world more than the many that preceded it. Maybe that’s why the earlier events were taught in school. Otherwise, he would have no reason to know any of it had happened at all.
If today’s event happened to have historic implications, then, Snow’s kids would likely not be learning about it in school—at least not directly. Snow would have to pass on the wisdom from his firsthand experience. Not that Snow could really picture himself having kids. If he was honest, Snow had a hard time seeing himself as an adult at all.
Snow didn’t find it necessary to think about the future just yet. He was lucky to be here right now. He watched the crowd gathering on the great lawn in front of the Government Building. Faces ranged from outraged to excited to confused to curious. Snow felt proud to be part of such a diverse city. It hadn’t even been around for 30 years. It struck Snow that he had been around for nearly half the history of New Idaho. He wondered if he would stay here his whole life, and how much of the city’s history he had yet to see.
Snow found a spot to sit on one of the short stone walls bordering the park. A small stage had been erected near the government building. The largest concentration of serious protestors gathered around the stage area, many of them with signs. As the crowd stretched toward Snow, the average citizen gradually took on a role closer to “observer”.
Snow felt a presence next to him, and looked to his left to see a girl a few years older than him, with long, amber hair and an anticipatory look on her face.
The girl turned to look at Snow. ‘Hi,’ she said. ‘What brings you here today?’
‘Um,’ Snow replied. ‘I don’t know. I guess I just thought this would be interesting. Like, it feels… I don’t know… Historical. If that makes sense.’
‘Mm.’ The girl nodded her head. ‘And what’s your name?’
‘Snow—that’s a pretty name. I’m Jessica.’
‘Nice to meet you.’
‘So you think this will be historical.’
‘I mean, it could be. Lots of people at school were talking about it. And protests just seem important, I guess.’
‘And you know what they’re protesting?’
‘Guaranteed Basic Income, I think. Like the Museum of F—The Museum of Oddities, I mean. Stuff like that.’
‘Right,’ Jessica said. ‘How do you feel about that?’
‘Um,’ Snow said. ‘I really don’t know. How do you feel about it?’
Jessica smiled. ‘I’d say I asked you first, but it’s actually refreshing to meet someone who admits when they don’t know something. To be honest, I doubt many people here actually know what they believe. It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the protest and just subscribe to somebody else’s beliefs.’
‘But to answer your question—well, my question, I guess—I should probably tell you that I actually work with the Government.’
‘Oh? What do you do?’
‘I’m actually the Vice Mayor.’ She chucked. ‘Don’t look so awe-struck. It’s actually not a very tough gig. Kiyoshi does most of the work. I’m basically just a glorified secretary. I give him a second opinion every now and then, but to be honest, I’m just 27. How much can I really be expected to know at this point in my life? Not that Vice Mayor doesn’t have a pretty professional ring to it.’ Snow nodded.
‘So anyway,’ Jessica continued, ‘of course I think GBI is a pretty decent idea. I wouldn’t be working with Kiyoshi if I didn’t think so. These people, they want to increase the wage, and I understand where they are coming from. They want to make more money. And I hope they do. I just think raising the wage will have a more sinister bill of consequences than they expect.’
‘But none of us want to see them bring in the Fed. So we’ll probably have to negotiate one way or another. I just hope it all works out.’
‘Yeah, I do too,’ Snow said. ‘Do you think it will?’
‘It’s hard to say,’ Jessica said. ‘Like I said, this is the sort of issue that a lot of people feel very passionate about, whether they truly understand it or not.’
On the other side of the park, next to the stage, a group of this sort of passionate people were making a pointed effort to bolster their argument, whether they understood it or not. Todd Felstein stood to the right of the stage, carrying a sign reading “NEW WAGE FOR THE NEW AGE”. Near him was the rest of the UNI Cohort, numbering an impressive seventy-five from Todd’s organization alone.
In addition to his group from UNI, Todd had met a great deal of other townsfolk who appreciated what he was doing. He had to admit, it felt great to be loved in such a way. He had even recruited a new girl from town, Shylah Nieves, who he could tell was a firebrand to be reckoned with. She had come with her own sign, which she had obviously worked very hard on. She was ready and willing to protest with the best, and she had comfortably found what she was looking for in Todd’s leadership.
‘So you guys are from UNI, huh?’ she asked Todd.
The way she looked at him made Todd feel like a god, if only for today. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘we are. I’ve been involved with a number of important activist groups on campus. We need that sort of thing if we want to make any sort of meaningful change.’
‘What else are you involved in?’ Shylah asked.
‘Well, my friend Brian and I started the Jungle Club, which is trying to save the Jungle in the middle of the city.’
‘Are they cutting it down?’ Shylah looked horrified.
‘Not quite,’ Todd said, ‘but the botany students are constantly pruning the Jungle back and taking plants from it, which is undoubtedly depleting its natural resources.’
‘Oh my God,’ Shylah said. ‘I didn’t even know that! I can’t believe I wanted to go to UNI.’
‘You should,’ Todd said. ‘We need more people like you to help change the system.’
‘Because the system is so fucked up!’ Shylah said, feeling a righteous anger bubbling inside her. ‘Ugh! The world is shit!’
‘You can say that again!’ Another woman approached the two protestors, dressed completely in black from her hair to her feet. ‘Acacia Thompson,’ she said, holding out her hand. ‘With the Midcentury Ungrateful. Nice to meet you both. Do you have time for some questions?’
‘Of course,’ Todd said. ‘Ask me anything.’
‘Great.’ Acacia opened her black notebook and cleared her throat. ‘Excuse me. First of all, I want to know what you hope to accomplish from this protest.’
‘Ah,’ Todd said. ‘All we are really asking for is a fair wage for all. Whether or not you choose to work shouldn’t determine what you are worth. If you do choose to work, however, you have a right as an American to at least the Federal Minimum Wage. Did you know that “Mineshaft” only pays a third of the Federal Minimum?’
‘I did know that.’
‘It’s absurd. I’m not even sure how it’s legal. As citizens of this country, we have a constitutional right to higher welfare, especially in a city as wealthy as New Idaho. We have people with mansions built into the side of the Mountain Ring while the poorest are forced to live next to a hot and humid Jungle. They are made to feel like second-class citizens while the rich are sequestered in their mountain communities so they don’t even have to give a second glance to their brothers down below.’
‘It really is ridiculous, isn’t it?’
‘But what else can you expect with capitalism?’ Acacia said.
‘Oh my God, capitalism sucks!’ Shylah said.
‘You can say that again,’ Acacia said.
‘I will. Capitalism sucks!’
Acacia smiled. ‘And what was your name?’
‘Shylah Nieves,’ she responded. ‘I’m a senior at Jungle High.’
‘And can we get a quote from you on why capitalism sucks? I think our readers would just love that.’
‘Well,’ Shylah said, ‘I said earlier that the system was fucked. That system is capitalism. The definition of Capitalism is basically stealing money from poor people and giving it to rich people. It’s the opposite of what should happen. It’s the opposite of fair. People like Jarek Spuck, the CEO of Mineshaft, get insanely rich, then hire a ton of children and don’t even pay them a fair wage, so they are forced to live by the Jungle while his pockets get fatter and fatter.’
‘Preach, sister,’ Acacia said.
‘That’s why I was forced to live in the Jungle neighborhood. My house has four rooms, while the mansions up in the mountains have enough space to start a small hotel. Some of them even do rent out their rooms to travelers! My family could never do that. It just goes to show that in a capitalist society, you can only make money if you have money. The rest of us, who don’t have money, are stuck being poor forever.’
‘That’s awesome,’ Acacia said. ‘I mean, it’s horrible, but it’s awesome that someone as young as you already knows the truth. You’re the type who can help us change the world.’
‘I’m actually really happy to meet you,’ Shylah said. ‘I started reading the Midcentury Ungrateful a couple years ago. That’s how I learned most of this stuff.’
‘Oh,’ Acacia said, bringing her hand to her heart. ‘I’m touched. So Todd—or Shylah, if you would like to answer—how do we end this corrupt system?’
‘You’re seeing the start of it today,’ Todd said. ‘We are out here protesting, bringing awareness, and with a crowd like this, Mayor Krispyman can’t possibly ignore us. He’s bound to make some sort of statement.’
‘And if it doesn’t work?’ Acacia asked.
‘When something is unfair, it needs to be stopped one way or another. Today, I’m focused on today. But if they won’t listen to us, we won’t give up. We’ll have to resort to other means.’
‘Let’s just see where this first protest goes,’ Todd said. ‘Here, why don't you take my number—both of you. Maybe we can meet up and talk after this is all over.’