Posted February 21st 2017 at 7:00 am by
in Alternative Futures

Alternative Futures: The Coalition

The Resistance, as always, is evolving and experimenting. We are one faction of those fighting for the future: a group of writers, thinkers, and artists using our powers to fight imagination with imagination. Through a pirate communications channel (CoLab Radio), we are imagining Alternative Futures – creating stories to question the existing dominant power structure and (re)build our own.

Powerlines_Sunset

June waited in the dirt pullout off of County Road 7. The sun was at high-noon and the June heat weighed heavy on her shoulders, cloaking her in a suffocating blanket. Normally, she would have stayed in the car; the country radio would be on low, whispering nasally love songs in the background, the AC determined to turn the car into an ice box, but not quite defying newton’s law of summer: hotter than hell in Clarence County.  Normally, she would meet Red and Rome at the Kwik Stop, where she would get a cold drink to press against her sweating forehead as she waited for them to arrive, late as always.  But, the county sheriff was as likely to be there as anywhere else, and they didn’t need any extra attention at a time like this.  So, instead, she was in full sun, pacing next to her car, too distracted to concern with the weather.

In the distance she heard the strained groan of a car shifting into third gear before the silver Buick came around the bend and into view. She folded her arms and frowned at the windshield of the vehicle as it pulled off the road in front of her.

 “Good mornin’ June,” Rome shouted to her as he emerged from the passenger seat.  

“You’re late,” June responded.

“Well, yea we ran into some weather across Oklahoma.” The man was smiling a wide gap-toothed grin, unfazed by June’s scowl.

June and Rome had grown up only three blocks from one another, but the commercial rail yard and its set of four tracks between their neighborhoods might as well have been a 10-foot wall.

“C’mon, lets hit the road,” Rome ushered her to the car.

She recognized that Rome’s country accent had gotten thinner. Rome hadn’t been away for all too long, but in-between he had been from the hills of Pennsylvania to Winemucca, Nevada. It was the ‘meet-and-greet grand tour,’ as he called it, which in large part consisted of speeches, then shaking hands and discussing the weather and the electric bill with cautious country folks on every dot on the map in between. That type of work, done well, would require a lot of different masks, choreographed movements, and rehearsed skits for any man; no less a black man from the sticks of Clarence County.

“Hey, Red,” June greeted the driver as they picked up speed. Red turned to June, smiled and tipped his broad Stetson hat and turned his attention back the splintered asphalt on the two-lane highway.  June looked to see if Red still had on the well-polished, black Tony Llama boots she remembered. He did. Redford Bundy was a true western ranch kid.  

Yea, those Bundy’s.

He had been too young to recall the family standoffs. But he had grown up in between a number of Tea Party–supporting and Patriot Movement-heavy communities that considered the Bundys as heroes.  And that spirit of revolution and independence had certainly made an impact on the kid.

As June understood it, Rome and Red had built the Country People’s Party from the start.  It was an unlikely duo – Rome was a black nationalist from the South and Red was, well, a Bundy.

The two had met in a casino in Crow Agency, Montana. Red was fresh out of a two-year stint at Deer Lodge Penitentiary, on account of the two crates of guns en route to Oregon, where the Oath Keepers were prepping to defy the gun control legislation that would, it was said, ‘rip your guns from your cold, dead hands.’

After two years of pull-ups, sleepless nights on creaky cots, and a library full of history books, Red had been dismissed with the contents of his wallet and a whole new idea of how the world worked. On that day, he had hitch-hiked from Anaconda to Hardin to the Little Big Horn Casino with plans to double what was left of his life’s savings – $85.

On account of the peculiarities of time-warping that occur in dimly lit casinos, in which the passing of one moment into another is measured by the pulse of the Lucky Sevens, bells, and bars whizzing along the reels of the slot machines, Red had let the hours bleed into the days. He lost the last of his savings at the blackjack table and, cursing his luck, he staggered half-drunk down the hallway. As fate would have it, he picked the wrong door on his way to the restroom and landed in the midst of one of Rome’s southern baptist-style UAW rallies.

There was a buzz of excitement in the crowd, and after Red’s vision converged from two worlds into one, he was surprised to see that all the commotion in the room was on account of a black man in a blue button-up shirt with a microphone and a notepad under his arm.  Here in lily white Montana, of all places.

“Now I’m not saying its gonna be easy,” the man said, pacing the front of the room, “I’m not even telling you that we can win. But what I am telling you is that if we do nothing, you’re gonna wake up in November, and there ain’t gon’ be a truck waiting for you. It’ll be whizzing by on its own, with a robot for a driver and an e-lectric engine under the seats.

“What are you gonna do, then? Go get a computer-programming job with one of them tech companies?  Go program the robots driving your truck around the country?”

The group of men in the folding chairs, mostly white and a few native, were laughing and shaking their heads. Red watched as the man’s tones and tempos moved the crowd rhythmically, and he thought of a snake charmer with a basket of cobras.  

Red had introduced himself to Rome after the meeting, with the conviction that he had found purpose once again. He saw the fight as a means to return to his family’s political legacy. Ammon Bundy was still a diesel mechanic in Idaho, and the Tesla Battery Plant was being built on the very land that his grandfather, Cliven had contested with the BLM in his big stand-off.

Rome hadn’t paid Red much mind at the time, but over the coming months he recognized the man’s ambition, and stubbornness, and the two grew to be quite the team. And, while the UAW and several gas station chains made up the muscle and the money behind the fight, it was Red and Rome that had unlocked the backbone of the effort.

That had happened at a truck stop diner outside of Little Rock, when Rome had showed the map to Red. It was the map of electric cooperative service areas, spread out across the country, covering the furthest corners of every empty space in the nation.

“42 million people.” Rome sat back and grinned wide. “Those co-ops make over $45 billion in revenue every year.  And all that money is owned by all the families in those areas. Red, they got their own grassroots PAC. They got their own lobbying arm in DC. And, they’ve got the money.”

In the end, the bill passed without so much as a few minutes of air-time for their demonstrations. But, for the duo, it had proved their theory.  They had put the co-ops in play and it had moved the needle. And that set in motion the grander plans they had been scheming ever since that night in the Little Rock diner.  

7 years later, the pieces were finally coming together.

*                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *      

“This here is one section of the Foster Plantation land, but it accounts for about a quarter of the land in the county.” June covered the dashboard with the map of Clarence County as the Buick cruised through the fields of young soybeans.

“It’s been setting there, empty and fallow for the last two years.  Foster’s been trying to sell it and he’s got two buyers planning to split it.  The first is a 90,000 square foot data center facility. The other is a drone manufacturing plant, Rocketdrone.  Jobs our folks aren’t gonna have access to.

“That section of the plantation butts up against the Tenn-Tom,” June traced the shaded section along the river. “It has the best soil in the county. Its part of the floodplain.  With harvests going dry all across California, some of the folks want to turn this area back into farming country.  They’ve taken the Country People’s Party platform on land reparations to heart.

“Anyway, on Wednesday, a lineman called and told me there was a huge crowd of people out at the Fosters.  Most of the neighborhoods had been out of power for two days from the last storm… Everyone was on edge… By the time I got there, it was already over.”

June watched the timber skeleton of a barn pass by. She was facing the window now, and her voice took on a tremor that made Rome hold his breath.

“They showed up with guns, axes, scrap rebar and told Mr. Foster they were taking the land.  They ran him out. Dumped a bunch of his major equipment into the river and they were out tilling the land with a few of his tractors the next morning. At this point they’ve cleared 150 acres and plan to start seeding today.”

The car went silent for a long moment.

“Rome,” June said slowly, “they’re calling in the National Guard. Plus, Rocketdrone is sending a private security team out. This could get ugly quick.”

Rome sighed and lowered his head for several moments before speaking. “There’s no easy way,” he agreed.

They sifted through the details of the situation until they reached the Foster driveway, adorned with a thick bronze gate and bookended by two life-size brass lions. There were three guards standing there, gripping 30.6 hunting rifles across their chests.  Rome recognized them from childhood, though it took a minute for his memories to come together with the scene in front of him.

They were the same men he had passed by a thousand times, coming to and from the schoolyard. In the morning, they would congregate on a neighbor’s porch, quiet and brooding, reading the paper or sipping coffee and watching the day stir to life.  But, by the afternoon, they would be in full uproar, playing spades or dominoes and drinking dark liquor.  

They had scared Rome for several years, all the way through middle school, and he would often cross the street and quicken his pace as the men stumbled around the yard, launching foaming jeers at one another. Yet here they were, old and gray-haired men; skin and bones. But sober and stoic, jaws clenched and standing at attention, gripping their rifles. Rome thought they looked like life-hardened soldiers, prepared for battle.  The men recognized June in the passenger seat and opened the gate.  

When the Buick pulled into the old rodeo arena, the people were already congregated in the stands.  There was a nervous, fidgety excitement in the crowd as Rome and June emerged from the vehicle and stood before them, in the center of the bare dirt grounds of the arena. June watched his face darken, his eyes turn from cheerful and glittering in the back seat of the Buick to cold steel before the crowd of his hometown.   Red took his usual position, leaning against the hood of the car and scanning the bleachers for any signs of trouble.  He had his arms crossed and his shooting hand was only a half-inch away from the grip.  It remained there, steady and alert.

“Good afternoon!” Rome shouted to the crowd, and they echoed his greeting.

“Well look what you got yourself into here! Gahddang! I leave for a couple of weeks and y’all decide to have yourself a little revolution here!”

The crowd laughed. A few men whooped out loud and pumped their fists in the air.

After the crowd had settled down again, Rome lowered his gaze, widening his stance and settling his hands in the air in front of him, which Red had taken to calling his ‘preacher’s stance.’

“I’ve got a lot of memories of this place, yes I do. I got good memories of this place and I got bad memories of this place. I got my first job here, at fourteen, getting paid in cash for bucking hay bales, then the next summer putting cotton bales onto trucks and then two summers later over at the grain elevator. How many of y’all had a job out here at one time or another?” Several hands went up.  “And how does it feel to be working out here for yourself instead of working to put money into Mr. Foster’s bank account?”

“It feels good!” Several people shouted.

“That’s good! Remember how good that feels when things get tough out here.” Rome responded. The he shifted his stance, leaning from side to side for several moments as the crowd leaned in. He seemed to murmur to himself, then threw his arms wide and his head up to the sky, which Red called his ‘hail mary stance’. “Brothers and sisters, we must remain united in these tough days to come.  United on this soil, where all of America’s troubles began. United here in this place, where we have seen decades and centuries of trouble. Where our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers worked in chains. Where our grandfathers and grandmothers worked as sharecroppers, white folks and black folks alike.”

The crowd nodded vigorously.  One older women hollered, “tell it, brother!” Which was just the encouragement Rome needed.

“And so, if it started with us, and with this soil beneath our feet…It has got to end with us! It has got to end with freeing this place, this soil, and freeing ourselves! It started with us and so it’s got to end with us. And if we win…When we win…We will begin to see the effects all across the world!”

June watched the crowd respond to Rome’s words.  They were all on their feet, clapping and slapping one another on the shoulders. They were whistling and hollering.

She thought to herself of the first time that Rome had returned to Clarence County, with Red sitting shotgun in the same silver Buick, with the electric cooperative map in his lap.  She thought of how it had all seemed a wild fantasy back then.  Those late nights, as she watched Rome and Red muse over the possibilities, with a table of cluttered notes under a dim lamp. She recalled the fantasies that she had conjured up at night, staring at the ceiling in the weeks between those meetings. And how she felt, with each passing day between Rome and Red’s visits, that those dreams seemed further away, harder for her to reach in the darkness.

She thought of their last visit. It had still been early spring, but a cold spell had come through and had frosted the budding flowers of the redbuds and the pear trees.  They had spent a long night sorting through the finances, and had come up short on all accounts. At around midnight, they had taken a break in Rome’s grandmothers backyard for some fresh air.  Red had dragged several dead branches into the middle of the lawn.  He had spent several minutes snapping the twigs and branches, carefully and methodically stacking them into three concentric teepees, with the smallest twigs in the middle and the larger branches on the outside. June had watched him the whole time, wondering whether all that careful work was necessary.  After all, there had been a gasoline can in the yard. Red had turned to her, as if reading her mind and smiled.  

He rubbed his hands together and whispered, just loud enough for the two of them to hear. “Now, all we need is a spark.”

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