Story-prep 3: Death by Inches

If you’ve been following along, you know that the story idea that burrowed into my head a few days ago wants me to show a Confidence Vampire intent on preying upon an Occupy being thwarted. As metaphor, it exposes the internal struggle you’d have between stifling yourself and speaking out (or acting) against a bully. Stifling yourself like that is pernicious, because each time you defer, you relinquish another bit of self-confidence, and the bully grows that much more sure of him or herself. Death by inches.

It’s an interesting challenge. I mean, think about it. What would put you in a bind over whether to roll over or not? Say you’re on the job, and word comes down from management that all of the people who actually do the work are getting their pay cut by 10 percent. People who had previously been told that it was illegal for them to unionize. Technical workers. (The incident inspired one of my stories.) When that happened at the contract house where my wife worked, a few people quit, some mounted a protest, but most everyone grumbled and swallowed the insult. Every one of those people had signed an employment contract that included the pay rate, and now they all knew that such contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Those between corporations are sacrosanct, but when it’s an employee, it’s just a damn piece of paper. It’s an old story. The people, companies and issues change, but the dynamic stays the same. Unions are important. That’s why they’re being crushed. It demoralizes the citizenry.

For the story, though, I needed an equivalent situation that the Occupy would have to deal with, something that would reduce their effectiveness but which still left a way to exist, albeit in a weakened state. It’s nothing new for them, though. That’s been the pattern all along. Bullhorns were prohibited, and the People’s Mike arose in its place. Structures were prohibited, and the occupiers made do. Standing to protest was prohibited, and orbiting marches were developed. Each time, the Occupy accepted the restriction in order to survive, and each time the confidence of the occupiers was sapped a bit more, until a change of focus started to bubble up, displacing the focus on maintaining a physical presence at some site or other with a commitment to occupy the national debate.

But this is a story, so I can set it at any point in the life of the Occupy. And what struck me was that at the heart of the occupy movement is the same force that ignited the union movement: the need to act as one. People acting in concert, marching, protesting, speaking out, being the People’s Mike. And that, from the perspective of the Confidence Vampire, is a tasty nexus to bite, because sapping that force could suck the life out of both movements at once.

What if the city acted to prohibit groups of more than 10 from acting or speaking in unison? That stabs at the heart of any kind of physical mass action. No marches. No die-ins. You couldn’t even use the People’s Mike effectively under that restriction. And the implications go all the way to complete lock-down and a police state. That’s the sort of thing that could ignite a conflagration. And yet some people would still look for ways to politely acquiesce. But it would make a hell of a discussion at the General Assembly.

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[Note: You can read Story-prep 4, or the short story itself, “Crossing the Line“]

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