When I figured out how to write this story, I realized that it had to be told with some characters I’d already created. (This is part of a series related to my novel, “Burnout Fever”, which is available for the Nook reader and app. Catch up from the links listed here or here.”)
Part 1 of a series
by P. Orin Zack
“You don’t know my father,” Melissa Fox said sharply. “He would never have done such a thing.” And she should know. After all, Arthur Fox had been in congress since she was in middle school.
Derek Boa looked away for a moment, but kept straightening the pile of forms in front of him on the table. “Now, granted,” he said, slower than before, “he wasn’t elected until after the PATRIOT Act was passed, but he’s still voted against his own positions in trade for favors. So my statement stands: members of congress cannot be trusted to represent the will of the people who elected them. They’re manipulation honey-pots just waiting to be used. Every one of them.”
Melissa hadn’t attended a meeting of Constitutional Evolution before, and now she didn’t see much point in repeating the mistake. She’d heard about it in one of the Internet discussion groups she frequented, and thought that its plan to use workshops to experiment with changes to the structure and processes of governance were a good civic use for her talent as an artist. The problem was, its founder turned out to be a pompous jerk, one who just begged for a comeuppance.
“So you’re essentially saying that everything congress has done for the past few hundred years has been for the benefit of some secret cabal, some shadowy group of megalomaniacs with delusions of world domination? Is that what you think?” Her voice was starting to crack.
He nodded. “Uh huh. And not just congress. The Supreme Court as well.”
“The high court, too? So in your exalted opinion, two branches of government are corrupt?”
“Corruptible,” he corrected. “And no. Not two branches. All three of them. Or have you forgotten the second Bush administration?”
“What?” She clutched double handfuls of her blond hair and mimed pulling it out.
“Just who the hell do you think you are anyway? If you have that low an opinion of everyone in government, what’s the point of this group of yours, anyway? Why bother fixing the constitution if there’s no way it’ll ever be used for the common good! So what’s your game, then? What are you really all about, Derek?”
Boa stood there for a long moment, studying her face, saying nothing. Then he shrugged, slipped the pile of paper into his briefcase, and turned to leave.
“He’s about fixing something that’s way past broken, if you ask me.”
Melissa spun around. The black man who had spoken was an inch shorter than she was, and wore a George Mason University jersey. There was a glint in his eye and a steel-spring feel to his stance. She nodded an abbreviated greeting. “Is he, now?”
“Damn right. And he’s going to make it happen, too.”
She poked a finger towards Boa, who was approaching a svelte redhead near the door. “That man just accused everyone in the government of being corrupt. I don’t think they’re going to want to listen to him.” She fumed for a moment, then turned again to the man in the jersey. “I got here while you were flogging some lame protest technique. What’s your stake in this?”
“At the risk of sounding pompous,” he said, flashing a grin, “I’m Rodney Falk. People tell me I’m a good organizer.”
Her nose wrinkled in distaste. “What? You mean you’re in management?”
Falk laughed. “Hardly. Unless you’re talking about arranging devious ways of making a point in a very public manner. That was the nub of my rant, after all. A lot of people seem to think that the reason for holding a public action is to get a message across.”
“Well, isn’t it?”
“Sure, but not in the literal way that so many people think. What’s more important is to insinuate an idea into the back of people’s minds, to get them to think about your issue in a way that breaks down their objections to it. And, yeah, some people say that’s being manipulative, but so is advertising, and so is what Derek does when he lights a fire under a group of people and gets them off their duff.”
She glanced over towards the door. Derek was speaking to someone else now. “So you think he’s just a good motivational speaker?”
“I do. I also think the reason he does it is worth fighting for. But getting back to what you were on about earlier… He’s right. Everyone in government is corruptible. There’s too much opportunity to pass it all up – money, power, recognition. Whatever you really want, there’s someone out there willing to trade it for something you don’t consider important.”
Her face hardened. “No. I know my father. He would never –.”
Falk shook his head. “He’s probably already done it more times that even he likes to think about. None of them talk about it. None of them admits it. But they all do it. They have to. It’s the only way to get things done. It’s politics. That’s what government’s all about. Believe me. I’ve been spoiling their games since I was in grade school.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that he accused my father of being bought and paid for, and then had the nerve to just walk away.”
“Oh, I understood. I understood that he thinks he can level charges against people indiscriminately. That his buds will step up to protect him. That’s what you’re doing, you know. Bodyguarding him.” Her voice rose a notch. “Well, I have this to say about that. If you’re going to accuse people, at least have the decency do it to their face. Letting someone else fight your battles is just an underhanded way of ducking accountability. Out in the real world, when you slander someone, there are penalties. You can be sued, you know!”
“Out in the real word?” Falk said sharply. “What do you know about living in the real word? You’re certainly not going to learn about that by watching your father. Congresspeople live in a maze of perks offered by the hired mouthpieces of every special interest you can imagine. And it all goes back to money, because there’s a mountain of it to be made by getting enough congresspeople to dance to your tune. If you want to talk about accountability, start there. Who’s your father really accountable to, the people who voted for him, the people in his district, or the moneyed interests that call his tune?”
Melissa was aghast. “So what do you expect me to do? Accuse my own father of kowtowing to special interests, dare him to stand up to the people whose money makes it possible to grease the wheels of compromise?”
“That’d do for a start,” a calm voice said close to her right ear. It was the redhead. She held out a hand. “Hi. I’m Gisella. You’re new here, aren’t you.”
“And I think it’ll be a very short visit, too. I’m leaving.”
Melissa looked around for Boa. He hadn’t moved, but was watching intently. “After what he said? Why should I?”
Gisella smiled broadly. “Because you’ve proven his point.”
“What? Proven what point?”
“That anyone can be manipulated. He laid a challenge, and you accepted.”
“I still don’t know what you’re–.”
“When you walked in here, you had ‘observer’ painted all over you. I’m a gamer. I have a habit of noticing the social scripts that people drag along with them. Call it a knack.”
“Well, I did just come by to see what–.”
Gisella gestured towards Boa. “Derek’s script has to do with getting people involved. He’s really very good at it, too. Case in point. When I walked over here, you’d already worked out something that you could do. You were even asking for permission to do it.”
Rodney was grinning sheepishly, and Derek was slowly approaching them.
“Now wait a minute,” Melissa said defensively. “I was just being facetious. I’d never even consider asking my father anything like that.”
“But you did,” Boa said, rejoining them. “You had to consider it in order to rule it out. And that’s the first step towards actually doing it. I’m sorry I had to put you through that – manipulating you like that — but I get the feeling that you have a lot to offer this group, and I didn’t want to let you walk out without lighting that fire you’ve been suppressing. So, welcome to Constitutional Evolution. I hope to see you back next time.”
Rodney and Gisella smiled at one another. “Same here.”
[Afterward: The activities of Constitutional Evolution continue in “Peace Initiative“.]
Copyright 2007 by P. Orin Zack