The doorbell interrupted Jim Owen Brown’s breakfast. He abandoned his meal and went to open the door, a full mug of coffee in his hand. A woman and a man, both wearing suits and broad smiles, greeted him. The man held a clipboard.
“Hello,” said the woman, her voice as sweet as candy cane, “are you Mr. Jim Owen Brown, Sr.?”
Jim had to stop himself from laughing out loud at such a question. Every adult in the union knew who he was, even young fresh-out-of-college lackeys like the two people in front of him. Most people called him by his political moniker, Vice President JOBS.
Jim took a sip of coffee before answering. “Yes, I am he.”
“Great. It is a pleasure to meet you,” said the woman. “My name is Jessica, and this is my co-worker Keith. We represent CAP, Corporations Are People, and we have some information for you about next week’s general vote.”
The man thrust the clipboard forward at an angle that, in order for Jim to read what was on it, he had to hold it and turn it right side. Jim didn’t fall for the bait. He crossed his arms across his chest. He said, “I’m not interested,” before taking another sip of coffee. He should’ve closed the door, ended the conversation right then and there, but a perverted part of him wanted to see how the two would respond. He wanted to see them squirm.
“We value your time, Mr. Brown, Sr.,” Jessica said, as if reading from a script. “This will only take a moment of your time.”
“Trust me, we’re not here to sell you anything or swing your vote, sir,” said Keith. “We have statistics that will help you make a more informed decision on Tuesday concerning Bill H.R. 269, commonly known as the Bundt-Johnson Return to Fair Tax Bill—”
“I said I’m not interested.” Jim’s voice was firm, nearly a yell. He knew how he had to be to folks like them. Hell, he was one of them fifty years ago.
Back then they were called canvassers. Now they were called lobbyists. Ironically, when Jim was canvassing, he was working to reduce the influence and power special interests and corporate lobbyists had in Washington. Those were a different type of lobbyist.
Keith opened his mouth, probably to make a rebuttal, but closed it after Jessica lightly elbowed his side. “That you for your time, Mr. Brown, Sr.,” said Jessica, her voice audible saccharin. “Have a wonderful day.” The two walked off his porch, on their way to the next house.
Jim watched them until they left his property. He shut the door and returned to his kitchen. His buttered toast had grown cold. He ate it anyway.
Beside his plate was a manila envelope. It contained a list of bills introduced in Congress that the people would vote on next week. They came in the mail almost every Thursday. The idea was to have people spend at least a portion of their weekend familiarizing themselves with the issues before the general vote the following Tuesday. It didn’t always work like that; Jim knew that some of his neighbors never read the listings nor voted come Tuesday.
That kind of political apathy rubbed Jim the wrong way, especially now, after he worked for decades to actually have the votes from the citizenry count for more than just choosing a representative. He tired not to let it bother him too much; his physician warned him to keep his level of stress down. His days as Vice President JOBS were twenty years in the past. Now he was simply Jim Owen Brown, Sr., a retiree living in an Arizona suburb.
Politics were more than a profession to Jim; it was his passion, his calling. He remained informed on the issues, even before they became issues. He still had friends who were active in politics, and they would call him to gather his thoughts on certain topics. He read the top political blogs, but avoided listening to the talking heads on cable news programs and talk radio. He couldn’t watch C-SPAN, as it made him nauseous with nostalgia.
Typically, Jim knew what would be voted on, and how he would vote, before Thursday’s missive. Voting every week for forty-seven weeks (there were no voting all of December and the first week of January, unless there was an emergency) could take its toll on people, especially considering that there was the possibility of voting on local, state, and federal issues all on the same day. It didn’t happen often, but it did happen.
Jim had finished breakfast and was putting his dishes in the sink when his phone rang. He answered it without looking at the caller I.D. He quickly regretted the oversight.
-Hello- said a computerized automated voice. -This is a message from Equity Funds for America about the general vote on Tuesday.-
Jim hung up before he wasted any additional time on the call. His phone immediately rung again. Jim hesitated, and then glanced at the flashing screen in his hand. He smiled as he answered the call.
“Good to hear your voice, JOBS. How are things?”
Jim looked out his kitchen window. He spotted the two young CAP lobbyists hurrying down the sidewalk. The man wiped his forehead with a thick handkerchief. “Somewhat annoying,” he said, “but otherwise, things are swell.”
“Understandable. It is that time of the week.”
“Indeed. Besides, you and I sort of created this monster.”
Brian sighed. “Not this again, JOBS. I mean, we understood events could have unfolded the way they have, but we aren’t to blame. We aren’t responsible for how people, or bodies of people, reacted. We did the right thing. We helped change the course of American history.”
Brian was right, and Jim hated that he knew it. Brian Whittacker was POTUS during Jim’s stint as VP. It was a historic time of political upheaval in the U.S. All around the country, the people voted the incumbents—whether Democrat, Republican or Independent—out of office. They were replaced by candidates that were Unaffiliated—a political quasi-party that was determined to relinquish power back to the people. Elected Unaffiliated politicians uprooted the American political system by trusting the people to take control of the country’s direction.
The legislature on all levels still introduced bills and worked them through committee. Then the bills were passed on to the American populace for them to vote. When it came for the elected officials to vote, they went with what their constituents decided.
There was only one time when this did not happen. Senator William Gunz, from Wisconsin, had voted on a military spending bill opposite to what the people in his district had voted. The people of Wisconsin were outraged. They picketed his D.C. office. They called him at home and at work at all hours of the day to vent their disgust at his disregard for their opinions. This went on for weeks, and showed no sign of relenting. Eventually Senator Gunz had had enough and resigned.
The people of Wisconsin had given the other elected officials a severe warning: our voices will not be ignored any longer.
Senators and Representatives spent the majority of their time in office not campaigning for their next term and throwing fundraisers, but having town hall meetings, which were streamed live so that anyone could watch from anywhere online; the live broadcasts were screened in libraries and community centers. The meetings were where the congressperson made his or her case to the citizens. It was also when citizens could submit their own proposed bills to their congressperson.
This was quite exhausting. In the first eight years, there were few members of Congress who ran for a second term. No one attempted a third term. Congress became a revolving door of fresh blood and new ideas.
Things eventually fell into a normalized routine. Politicians and voters adjusted to the new USA they had created—which was often referred to as the Utopian States of America.
“Besides,” said Brian, continuing his thought, “we achieved true reform, true change, without violence, without a military takeover.”
Jim scoffed at the notion. He didn’t see eye-to-eye with Brian on this regard. There were marches and rallies where protesters died. He recalled a particularly bloody affair in Chicago when a handful of police officers fired live ammunition, instead of rubber bullets, into a peaceful group of protestors occupying Grant Park. Thirteen unarmed civilians were killed that day, including three children under ten.
“Don’t forget about Chicago, May 15th.” Jim’s tone was scolding, but he did not regret it. “Or the Morehouse Massacre. Or the November of No in Arizona and Texas. Or—”
“I haven’t,” said Brian, his voice weary. “I know I wasn’t there in Chicago like you were, but I’ve seen the videos. Ah!” Brian’s tone livened. “I remember why I called you. I wanted to tell you that Howard Rand was found dead in his home in Pyongyang this morning.”
Jim shook his head. Although he had no love for Howard, he was not pleased to hear this news. What he felt was complicated. Relief, maybe, that he could put his hatred for Rand to rest, although closure took decades longer than he wanted. And even if Howard was murdered, punished for his crimes, his death will not repair the families he had destroyed.
Rand was once an associate of his and Brian’s, before they had ran for the presidency. Rand was a firecracker, reckless and an advocate for violence. After Howard’s stunts resulted in bad publicity, and unnecessary deaths, Jim and Brian had to distance themselves, and their young movement, from Howard Rand.
Jim and Brian believed in non-violent resistance. It went against every major political upheaval that happened in human history. But they believed that in order to be better than their opponent, they could not stoop down to the tactics of terrorism—including brutal police enforcement of unjust policies—that the enemy used.
Howard, however, didn’t agree with them. There was an incident in Seattle that gained national attention for, what Jim believed, was the wrong reason. Howard had organized a protest to bring to attention the police’s brutal beating of a homeless woman (and a whole grocery list of offenses), and, after they got tear gassed by the cops, Rand convinced his protestors that they should blow up government buildings with C-4.
Howard’s plan for domestic terrorism was thwarted, Rand was indicted, but he escaped from prison and eluded the authorities for years. He eventually fled to North Korea, where he was granted asylum.
‘Well,” said Jim, “I can’t say that this news has saddened me. Thanks for keeping me in the loop.”
“No problem. I’d figured you’d want to know, since what happened to your son and all.” He regretted those words the moment he said them. “Ah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”
“I know,” said Jim. He sniffled. “I still can’t believe he’s gone. At the time, I had no idea he had been taken in by Howard’s silver tongue.”
“A lot of kids were, back then. Luckily old fogies like us were around to channel their energy constructively.” Brian chuckled.
Jim laughed too, though he found nothing funny about his son buried in a coffin. Although his son’s death spurred him to tackle the core of the American system with renewed vigor, and become vice president, Jim still would rather have his only child alive to see it.
“Well, that’s what I called to say,” said Brian. “See you on the course Saturday?”
“Yeah, same as always.”
Jim ended the call. He went to his desk and removed the occupant of its top drawer. He stared at the black metal gleaming back at him. He thought of the thirteen lives lost that cool spring day in Chicago, the new breed of annoying lobbyists, the radical politics of Howard Rand, and of Jim, Jr. So much had gone wrong for the right path to be established. But that was little consolation for a grieving father.
More than that, Jim felt he had personally failed each and every person lost. He was there in Chicago. He could’ve used his gift of rhetoric to calm both sides, but instead he sat back as tempers flared and bullets pierced flesh.
He could have been a better mentor to Howard, showed him the effectiveness of non-violent protests and civil disobedience, that violence was not the answer, and that a nation which killed in order to be formed would not hesitate to kill dissidents in order to maintain power. Instead, he had shoved Howard away when he should have embraced him in brotherly love.
He could have been a better father and role model to Jim, could’ve been visible to his son instead of out trying to be visible for the movement. Maybe if he was there he would have found out his son was running around with Howard Rand, and warned him of Rand’s dangerous philosophy.
Jim did none of this, and it was too late in the game to make amends. He had traded lives and his conscious for a society where lobbyists pestered him every Thursday—a society he helped to create.
Jim picked up the gun on his desk. Unlike every morning for the past three years, his hand did not shake when he put the muzzle to the side of his head. He closed his eyes, took a deep inhale, and pulled the trigger before he could exhale.
Words = Life
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