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Union of Consumers

December 18, 2013

* Author’s note: I offer this piece of fiction in the spirit of the holidays. Please share it as you see fit. *


On the third day of the strike Union Leader John Hertzner climbed the art-pole in the middle of Pioneer Square. Dodging water geysers the installation spurted at random intervals, he twisted a discarded copy of The Economist into a makeshift bullhorn.

“My fellow Consumers!” he hollered. “We shall not be sold!”

Twenty thousand voices roared in response.

“We shall not be sold plastic junk made in sweatshops halfway around the world!” he continued, yelling into the tube. “When the choices are abhorrent the only option is to opt out! Don’t buy anything this holiday season, not a thing! They won’t be able to sustain the losses, do you hear me? They’ll have to give in to our demands!”

The crowd clapped appreciatively.

John dodged a geyser. In his peripherals a black limousine parked with a herky-jerky motion, impeded by the strikers who’d filled the Square and spread into the adjacent streets.

“We’ve got the power!” John screamed. “Our dollars fuel their economy! Together we can demand the change we want to see in the world!”

The cheering rose to a crescendo, and John paused to catch his breath. His gaze wandered to the limousine. People were getting out of it – people in suits. There were in fact two limousines and an accompanying cavalcade of policemen on motorbikes. The strikers closest to this delegation had shied away, opening a space around them. The policemen formed two lines. In the middle a woman in a navy suit with immaculately coiffed hair stood at attention, flanked by several aides. Lackeys from the second limousine scurried about with cameras and equipment.

The rest of the crowd seemed to be following John’s gaze, for the cheering had died off. By the time a lackey pressed a microphone into the woman’s hand the Square was silent.

“Greetings, Union Members,” she said, and it sounded as if her voice was in everyone’s ear at the same moment. She spoke over their murmurs. “My name is Jodie Luna Dampier, and I’m the Secretary of Consumption.” She nodded at John, atop the art-pole. “Greetings, Union Leader.”

“We know who you are,” he yelled. “You’re not welcome here!”

Jodie Luna Dampier, nonplussed, shifted her focus to the crowd. “Do you notice how clear my voice is? I’m using a product bought off the shelf of…” she pretended to look around, “that store right there. You can set them to a frequency only you and your friends know about, and voila! instant walkie-talkie. Or it can transmit to a broad audience, like I’m doing.” She smiled craftily. “No need to shout into a newspaper ever again.”

“Nice try!” John shouted. “But you can’t buy us that easily. We demand local options, and better quality products, and guaranteed replacements when things fall apart!”

Jodie Luna Dampier sighed. “I’m not trying to buy you, Mr. Hertzner. I want to get all of you back to shopping as much as you do. But what you’re asking takes time. And it’s expensive. Frankly trying to bankrupt the very companies you’re demanding make these changes seems counter-productive to me.”

The crowd began to murmur, talking over this new idea.

“No!” called John, seeing the momentum shifting. “We’re not trying to bankrupt anyone. We’re simply demanding certain changes be made.” He appealed to the crowd. “It’s just their profit we’re cutting into. They can afford it.”

John turned to the Secretary of Consumption. “We’re being realistic. The changes will cost money and we’ll have to absorb that. Prices will go up. But as you can see, there’s a market for it.”

Jodie Luna Dampier whispered to an aide. He hurried to the limousine, then paused to lean against its side and talk quietly to himself. He kept his eyes on the street. Finally a tour bus nosed around the corner several blocks away. He grunted, murmured something, and returned to the Secretary’s side. She nodded at him.

“Union Members!” she cried, cutting off John’s oration. “I am sorry it has come to this! But the economy is a cycle, and the cycle will go on – with or without you. There are other, and better, ways to make change in the world today. You can read about them on my website. In the meantime, happy holidays. I hope your stockings aren’t empty this year.”

The crowd murmured, now apprehensively.

A string of tour buses pulled up alongside the Square. The doors opened and people began to get out. Normal people. Carrying shopping bags and collapsible baskets.

“Scabs!” shouted Union Leader Hertzner. He waved his arms wildly, as if trying to conduct a giant orchestra. “Pickets!”

The most fervent sign-holders shook their signs and began chanting. Some went as far as to try to block the shoppers’ exiting from a bus, but the police soon saw an end to this and it was clear the strike was broken. Several Union Members dropped their signs. Some just stood and gawked, as if waiting for the best solution to be agreed upon before venturing to act.

“There’s only so much Christmas inventory,” Jodie Luna Dampier reminded them. “Don’t let them get all of it!”

That did it. The Square emptied faster than a sinking ship, the Union Members back to work, hurrying to fill their holiday shopping quotas. The scabs filed back onto the buses. The second limousine pulled away with half the police escort.

Jodie Luna Dampier left her aides and walked across the deserted Square. She stood at the base of the art-pole and craned her neck up towards John Hertzner.

“It’s over, John,” she said softly. “Come on down.”

John dodged another geyser. Spray marks attested to previous hits. He shook his head fiercely.

The Secretary of Consumption produced a small package wrapped in blue paper with red and white ribbons. She held it up.

“I have a present for you, John.”

“For… me?”

Jodie Luna Dampier smiled. “Merry Christmas, John.”

John ignored another spray from the art-pole. He eyed her suspiciously, his eyes darting between the present and her smile. Finally he climbed down and snatched it from her fingers.

“What is it?” He shook it by his ear.

“Open it and find out, silly.”

John slowly drew the ribbons off and tore the tape away from the paper. A box emerged beneath the blue wrapping. John pocketed the ribbon and paper carefully. He glanced at Jodie Luna Dampier once, quizzically, before opening the box.

It held a miniature set of silver handcuffs complete with a working key.

John stared into the box. His body tensed. “Are you arresting me?”

Jodie Luna Dampier laughed, once. An abrupt chirp. “One would think you of all men might recognize the symbolic.”

“The-” John tore his gaze from the box, meeting her eyes with a sheer effort of will.

She flapped her hands abruptly. “I have the afternoon off,” she announced. “There’s still a few things on my Christmas list. Would you like to go shopping?”



From → True Stories

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