I’m sitting in a corner of an unfurnished room filled with anarchists and activists. They’re hatching plans for world revolution and Alex has asked me to sit quietly out of the way and take notes until they’re done. I’m bored by their ramblings about social action and culture jamming. They’re puerile and naïve. I light a cigarette.
“You can smoke in here,” some student in a pink keffiyeh sneers.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize that’s what it said on the lease,” I reply and everyone laughs. My suspicions were right: they’re squatting in this hole. We’re in government-subsidized building where the tenants pay only a fraction of the rent of their hipster- scuppie neighbors.
The government pays the landlords the difference. It’s a joint effort between the city and the feds to curb ghetto sprawl on the outskirts by allowing the poor to remain within the city core. But it’s also slowing the gentrification process that mob contractors depend on to be able to bribe city officials, so the mob has started paying off the landlords to evict as many tenants as possible and not rent out the vacated units to anyone else. This way, the landlords can petition the city to rezone their properties for redevelopment and the mob can pick up the contracts when it happens.
This has been an ongoing problem for years, but one that works out for everyone: the slumlords, the contractors, the city officials who take their bribes, and the squatters who need a place to live out acts of revolution and civil disobedience – they get a place to squat in and act out their dreams of social justice without anyone calling the cops because the landlords just really need the units vacant on paper.
The whole thing is just a big fucking farce, but you can’t expect anyone to put an end to something that benefits everyone involved.
“This is a community space,” the kid retorts, “Where everyone has a right to a safe, non-toxic environment.”
“Well, why didn’t you just say so?” I respond, stubbing my cigarette out in a crack between the floorboards. Someone else resumes the meeting and the student goes back to taking notes and looking pensive.
The meetings ends and Alex leads me into the only room with a door. The organizers are waiting there and there’s a blue tarp over the window.
“Gentlemen,” he says, closing the door behind him, “This is Carl, the guy I was telling you about.”
“Well, he looks like a hack, and he quacks like a hack…” one of them comments.
“Carl, this is Jeremy,” he introduces me. “He’s kind of our creative director.”
“So the whole flash protest was your idea?” I ask, extending my hand.
“Yeah, kind of,” he explains. “These days, we have to get more creative than the usual march or sit-in.”
“Yeah, I agree,” I tell him. “It’s a good idea. I like it. It makes demonstrating seem a lot more fun and interesting to the average Joe – something they can understand and even relate to. Maybe even something they can get behind or involved with.”
“Well, that’s the idea,” he goes on. “Too often, protests are to confrontational. They end up alienating or even antagonizing the people you’re trying to reach: the general public. And that doesn’t really work when you’re trying to win public support,” he says. “With all the money and the muscle and the media that the 1% control, public support is really our only hope for effecting any change. We need public outrage on our side, and the only way we can gain that is by making them open up to what’s actually going on around them.”
“Of course, your problem,” I add, “is that the 1% controls the media, so how do you let the public know that this is happening.”
“Exactly,” he says.
“Well, leave that to me,” I assure him.
“And how exactly are you going to do that?” he asks.
“By making the journalists feel like they’re missing out on something special and exclusive,” I say.
“All right,” Jeremy smiles. “If Alex is vouching for you, I’ll trust in your abilities. After all, it’s not like we have anything to lose.”
“That’s right, you don’t,” I agree.
“So what do you need from us?” he asks me.
“Not much, really. I got most of what I need from that little Pow-Wow,” I say. “I’ll put together a kind of media kit and send it to you by tonight – nothing major, just a couple of words on the cause in everyday language that the average Joe and Jane can grasp. Once you sign off on it, I can get to work. But if we’re really going to pull this off in two days, I’m going to need feedback right away.”
“Sounds good,” Jeremy says, shaking my hand again. “Alex will make sure you get all my info.”
“All right. Speak soon,” I say, and Alex follows me out of the room.
“Thanks for taking this on,” he says, walking me to the door.
“Don’t mention it,” I say. “This is a chance for me to work on something that really means something,” I say and I walk out the door.
The weather outside is rainy and shitty, and I don’t feel like walking home so I duck into the metro to take it only a couple of stops. I’m waiting on the platform and a train pulls in on the other side of the tracks. I recognize a head of hair in the crowd getting off and she’s with another guy. He can’t be more than 22/23 and she’s holding his hand. I call out her name but she scuttles up the stairs, dragging him in tow, and my train pulls in before I can decide to chase after her. I get on and reassure myself that all I have to do is get through this media kit, and then I can get drunk and forget all about her again for a little while longer.