What does it take to spur you into action? (This series began with “Crossing the Line“.)
“Making it Count”
(Part 2 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
“Holy crap,” 11-year-old Kendrik Knox whispered excitedly. As his dropped spoon hit the cereal bowl, he reached for the milk-splattered tablet beside it. “That’s Gram!”
K2, as Kendrik preferred to be called, was a news junkie. That was his grandmother Natalie’s doing. She was a librarian, and had shown him how to find out what was really going on in the world. Of course, his folks weren’t too thrilled with that. Especially his dad, who’d pretty much written his own mother off as a lost cause when she announced that she was joining the ninety-nine percent. That’s why she’d gotten him the pad for his birthday — so they could message one another surreptitiously, even when she was minding a bookstand in a vacant downtown building lot.
It was Monday, September 17th, 2012, the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, and Kendrik was browsing the OWS livefeeds from around the world to see how the day was being celebrated when the master site suddenly switched to video from his own city. The camera was zoomed in on a woman with a book in her raised hand. The image was pretty shaky, but Kendrik would know his grandmother’s voice anywhere. “Good morning, officers,” she’d said, and the crowd, as the People’s Mike, echoed.
His eyes widened as the camera spun around to show the line of armored police she was addressing. Then it went back to his grandmother. It looked like she was scanning the street for someone. Whoever it was, she must have found them, because she straightened and stood silently for a few seconds. Then, in a loud, clear voice, she said, “We are non-violent.”
The livestreamer was startled by the sound of a police whistle, and spun back towards the cops. They had started to grab people and quickly zip plastic cuffs on them. The camera then turned back towards where his grandmother had been, but she was no longer there. It zoomed out momentarily, and then focused on a cop in the crowd. He was parting the people and leading someone in cuffs towards the street.
“Gram!” Kendrik cried.
“We are not threatening you.” This time it was another voice. But just as the camera had located the new speaker, a hand closed over the lens and the feed stopped.
“Kenny?” his mother called as she strode into the kitchen, “are you okay?”
He scooped up the tablet and brandished it at her. “I am, mom, but Gram’s just been arrested! I just saw a riot cop hauling her off, honest.”
She laughed dismissively. “Sure you did. Did she put you up to this?”
“I did see it! She was on the Internet!”
Unfortunately for Kendrik, it was getting late, and his mother hustled him off to walk to school. He took the tablet, but because it was wifi-only, there was no way he could track down the video clip en route. By the time he turned the corner, he’d already decided to blow off school and bus it down to the encampment to see what he could ferret out on his own.
“Hang in there, Gram,” he muttered as he boarded the downtown express, “I’ve got your back.” Of one thing he was absolutely sure: whatever trouble he might be in for playing hooky was nothing compared to the whirlwind his grandmother had just conjured up. And Kendrik wanted in on the action.
The first row behind the bus door was vacant, so he swung in and watched the city go by. When the bus stopped a while later to let two twenty-somethings deep in discussion get on, he noticed that they had OWS stickers on their gear.
“Man,” the first one said conspiratorially after swiping his fare card for the both of them, “did you see what they did to that riot cop?”
“Pretty harsh,” the other replied as he slid into the seat behind Kendrik. “But, geez, what’d he expect them to do when he body-blocked his wing-man to protect the cop who turned on them.”
“I don’t know,” the first said, “if you’re a cop, aren’t you supposed to hang tight? I mean, protect your buds-in-blue and all that?”
“Yeah. Well, after that old gal threw it down on the People’s Mike, I thought for sure they were gonna have her for lunch.”
Kendrik swung one knee onto the seat and turned to face them. “Are you talking about what happened this morning at the Occupy downtown?”
“Sure kid. We’re heading there now. Why?”
“That was my gram. I mean the lady who greeted the cops. Do you know what happened to her? I had to leave after that livestreamer was taken down.”
The man nodded. “It was pretty intense, kid. After that cop cuffed her and led her into the street, this other woman breaks through the line of cops and starts screaming at their CO about them all being the mayor’s private army and everything. And that riot cop who’d turned? He was right there beside her. So then the other woman – your gram – drops to her knees and goes limp on the cop trying to get her into the paddywagon. And throughout all this, the string of occupiers passing around the People’s Mike are running through a litany of all the violence that’s been wrung down on protesters over the years. Damn!”
Kendrik stared at him for a long moment. “So… they took her to jail?”
“I don’t know, kid. Last I saw, the cop that was with her had been called off to deal with something else.” He held out his smartphone. “Here, see for yourself.”
Kendrik took the phone and held it against the top of the seat back so they could all see the screen. “Okay, everyone,” the livestreamer said, gasping for air, “this is Ishmael. Becky’s rig was just confiscated, so I guess I’m it. Dirty lasts.” He zoomed in on a cyclone fence. “Do you see that? Behind the fence, there’s a bunch of uniformed police. I hear they’ve been called in from all over the county. That’s the border guard. They’ve got mace and tasers, and they’re watching for escapees.” He zoomed back in and pointed the camera towards the open end of the lot. “It’s been crazy down here. The cops have been entering in teams and rounding up a group of people at a time with those orange plastic nets, so they can walk them out and cart them off.” Then he panned around the encampment. “There’s not many of us left down here, so if you know—.”
Black. The feed went dead.
The three exchanged uncomfortable glances while the bus slowed for a light. Once he had the phone back, the man gestured suspiciously at Kendrik and said, “Hey, what are you doing on the downtown express? Shouldn’t you be in school?”
Kendrik gave him a withering look. “I don’t care. This is more important. My Gram’s in trouble.”
“So look,” he said, “as long as we’re all headed down there, we might as well work together. “I’m Jason. He’s Marty.”
“Call me K2.”
“Like the peak?”
“Yeah. Well, it was originally just on account of my name, but my Gram showed me a book about all the people who died climbing Mt. Kechu. She’s a librarian. A subversive one.”
“No, kid,” Jason said, laughing, “your Gram’s a leader!”
The dusty building site where the encampment had been was empty when they arrived, and a portable cyclone fence had been erected across the street side of the lot, the only one that didn’t have a fence on it already.
“Okay,” Kendrik said, “so now what?”
“I suppose we could try to figure out where they took everyone,” Jason said, “or… we could bust this gate open and retake the camp.”
“Retake the camp?” Marty said doubtfully. “What good would that do? There’s just the three of us.”
Kendrik looked at him for a moment, and then gazed out across the vacant lot. “You just reminded me of something my Gram messaged last week,” he said. “It only takes one person to change the world.”
They both eyed him curiously.
“And like you said, there are three of us.”
“So what’d you have in mind, K2?”
A mischievous grin lit his face. “Turnabout. Put out the word. Reconstitute the encampment. Only this time we keep the little present they left the Occupy.”
“Now, now,” a gravelly voice said from behind them, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea, little man.”
They turned, and found themselves facing a very smug-looking porker in a business suit.
“Well then,” he said, “I’m Wendell Jones.”
“The high-rise developer, right?” said Jason. “Yeah. I’ve seen your slimy propaganda on what passes for the news in this city.”
“Good,” he said, “then you know why I’m here. Now that the vermin have been evicted, I can close my deal with the idiots who own this lot, and finally build something profitable on it.”
“I see,” Marty said, “and, uh, I suppose you needed to come down and see for yourself that it’s empty because you can’t figure out how to operate a web browser?”
Jones sneered and turned to leave. “Get a job, both of you.”
“We own our own tech company, you moron,” Jason called after him.
He stopped, turned, and said, “Uh-huh. Well, if you keep hanging around underage boys like that, you may find that business of yours in the dumper.” Then he left.
“Well,” Kendrik said impatiently, “you heard him. He only gets to buy this lot if it stays vacant. We’ve got work to do!”
Jason reached out and rattled the fence. “I’d love to, but there’s a little problem to deal with. Either we’re going to have cut ourselves an entrance, or everyone we get down here will have to scale this with their gear. And I don’t happen to own a set of bolt cutters.”
“I do.” The voice belonged to a fortyish woman in pink mechanic’s coveralls who was standing by the fence a few yards behind Kendrik. She was examining the padlock on the chain joining two sections together. Once she had their attention, she added, “but before I go get them, I need some information.”
Kendrik walked towards her. “Okay, lady,” he said jauntily, “shoot.”
The two men exchanged surprised glances and followed.
“I heard about what happened here this morning,” she said. “Is it true that it was Natalie Knox, the librarian, who threw down the gauntlet with the People’s Mike when the storm troopers arrived?”
Marty nudged his young friend. “You’re on, kid.”
“That’s right,” he said proudly. “And we’re gonna make the mayor regret he ever sent his goons down here to arrest her. Why? Do you know her?”
She smiled broadly. “Yeah. I do, young man. My name’s Althea, by the way. Althea Gordon.”
“Hi. I’m Kendrik Knox, but my friends call me K2.”
“I’m honored. But shouldn’t it be K3?”
“Nah. The third K’s silent, so it doesn’t count.”
She laughed delightedly. “That’s good. I see you inherited her sense of humor. Well, Kendrik, a few years ago, your grandmother Natalie helped me get back into the workforce after my marriage fell apart. Not in a million years would I have ever dreamed that I’d be fabricating public art installations for a living. And yet that’s exactly what happened, because she believed in me. I owe her. I owe her big time. So what’s the plan here?”
“It’s pretty simple, really,” Jason said. “We need a flash-mob, and we need it now. But in order for this operation to get any traction, we absolutely have to get some livestreams going. It’s a sure bet the local media aren’t going to pay any attention to us unless we give them something they can’t afford to miss. And that means there has to be something to see. We’ll need signage, traffic, and lots of warm bodies.”
“Great,” Althea said. “I’ll go get my cutters and whatever else I can rustle together. Back soon.”
People started arriving, most of them looking for friends and relatives who’d been at the encampment. After he got them up to speed, Jason asked them some questions to gauge their interests and abilities, and started assigning them to various tasks. He also asked anyone with a cell phone to put the word out about what else was needed. Marty assembled a team to start cleaning up the debris that remained on the site, but since Althea hadn’t returned yet, they scaled the fence and started policing the area.
As the morning wore on, Kendrik, who’d taken it upon himself to welcome people to the new encampment, became antsy about how his school might have reacted to his absence. If they called his parents, he’d be in for a lot of trouble. Fortunately, Althea returned with more than just the bolt cutters. A couple of her friends had chipped in to get stuff to eat, so at least he wouldn’t have to do his worrying on an empty stomach.
Once the chain was cut, people who weren’t up to climbing the fence started streaming into the site. And that’s when the police car rolled up. Kendrik drifted closer so he could hear better.
“That’s right,” the officer said, “a bunch of people have re-entered the site. It looks like they cut their way in. The thing is, I don’t know whether they’re trespassing or not. The landowner did say the Occupy Wall Street people could stay they there as long as they wanted. So unless they break that new rule, I’m gonna just sit here and do what I can to keep the peace.”
Kendrik jumped when Jason suddenly tapped him on the shoulder.
“Got a minute, kid?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“We’ve finished setting up the new video streaming kit, and were discussing what to do with it. Althea had the best suggestion. She thinks that since your grandmother set off this morning’s fireworks, we ought to give you the honor of telling the world this isn’t over yet. What do you think?”
Kendrik gaped. “What would I say?”
“Well, you can probably say whatever you want, but I think you ought to think about it like you’re speaking directly to your grandmother, and everyone else is just lurking on your skype call.”
“All right. Where are we doing this?”
“How about right here?”
Kendrik nodded thoughtfully, and Jason motioned for the livestreamer to come closer.
“Hi Gram.” Kendrik said unsteadily. “It’s K2. Don’t tell mom, but after I saw you get arrested on the Internet, I ditched school and took a bus to the encampment. I met some really nice people, including a lady welder who said she owed you a favor. Oh, yeah. We ran into this guy called Wendell Jones when we got here. He said he could buy this place and build something on it if there was nobody occupying it, so we decided to save it for you and the others. I heard that you told the folks here about the Wobblies last night, and about how they all watched one another’s back. Well, we’re doing them one better. They hauled your entire encampment away, so we gathered another one to take its place. Most of them are friends and family of the people they took away this morning. We’ve got your back, Gram.”
(The series continues in “Scaling K2“)