TUESDAY: At the Protest

BY JULIE JOHNSON

Copyright is held by the author.

Scene One

Ron stares moodily across the road at the large crowd milling about on the other side.

“I don’t understand it. We said two o’clock. Are they late? Why don’t we have more people?”

Ahmed shrugs. He is eating a tuna sandwich, his placard resting against the wall.

“Is our message not clear enough?” Ron asks. “Maybe our Facebook friends can’t find us. Maybe they are confused.”

Both look at their signs.

Ron’s says: Climate Change is a hoax.

Ahmed’s says: Don’t believe the lies about climate change!

Loreen’s says: Save the oil workers from extinction!

Nope. They’re clear.

Ron answers his own question with a firm nod.

“Seems clear to me, yeah,” Ahmed agrees.

“Maybe we need to offer food? Would that bring more people over to our side? Do you think they have donuts and coffee over there?”

Ahmed shrugs again.

“Let’s send Loreen over. She’s wearing a wool sweater from Guatemala. And she’s not an old white male.”

Ahmed stares at him. He isn’t an old white male, either.

But Ron declares: “She’ll fit in better.” He calls out: “Hey, Loreen!”

Scene Two

The  protesters on the other side start chanting.

“Hey, ho! Climate Change has got to go!”

Loreen pushes her way into the crowd, adopting the chant over enthusiastically, and clapping.

It’s not that easy to start a conversation in the middle of a chant. Eventually the chant speeds up and ends in an ecstatic bout of shouting, clapping —and drumming.

(Drums? They’ve got drums? When did the drums show up?)

Finally, there is a bit of breathing space.

Loreen nudges the woman beside her, who is dressed head to toe in Gortex, her long brown-grey hair in pigtail braids like she’s 16, not late 40s.

“You got any food over here? Coffee? Donuts?”

The woman, who is tall and thin — and probably does Pilates — wrinkles her nose and shakes her head.

“Donuts, god no. But if you’re hungry I brought my homemade protein bars. They’ve got hemp hearts. Would you like one?”

Sure, why not?

“Why, thank you!”

The woman digs around in a backpack (also Gortex — isn’t that plastic?).

Loreen smiles and accepts the protein bar. In addition to the hemp seeds, it has dried cherries and bits of dark chocolate. It is very good.

Maybe their secret weapon really is food.

Loreen compliments the woman on her delicious bar and gobbles it up

“What group are you here with?” The woman asks her.

“That one.” Loreen points forward. She is pointing across the street but also into the crowd.

“Which one?”

“That one.” Loreen point again — and then decides just to say it.

She is done with hiding her ‘true self’. It’s time to be honest about who she really is. “I’m with the group across the street.”

The woman still doesn’t get it.

Which one?”

Loreen points again and this time the crowd shifts and parts a little so the woman can see Ron and Ahmed across the way, holding their climate denial signage.

Loreen can tell the moment it registers. The moment the woman realizes who, exactly, Loreen is here with.

“Oh,” the woman says, as all the colour drains from her face.

“Thanks for the bar. Gotta go! Back into the fray! The fight is far from over, isn’t that right?”

Scene Three

Hannah finds her friend Jenna in the noisy and burgeoning protest crowd.

“Jenna, you won’t believe this!”

Jenna is talking with a dark haired man holding two Earths close to his chest. The Earths are about the size of cantaloupes — or D cups, as portrayed in cartoons.

One is the Earth of renown: vibrant blue and green.

The other is a Death Star version: grey and brown.

Here, rendered in paper mache, are the two pathways forward.

Fix climate change and you get to keep the blue marble.

Don’t fix it and Ta! Dah! The Death Star is now yours.

“Jenna!”

Jenna turns to Hannah and though it is clear that Hannah has a message of some urgency, Jenna pre-emps it with an introduction.

“Hannah, this is Johnathan. He’s an art teacher at the high school.”

Hannah rushes through the niceties of a first meet up.

“Wonderful, hi, nice to meet you.”

Johnathan inclines his head in greeting and Hannah decides he is handsome, though not perfectly so. His nose is perhaps too bulbous.

But his thick salt and pepper hair curls delectably at the nape of his neck. And his eyes behind his round-framed glasses are a sparkly blue.

Hannah can easily imagine him as the lead in a ‘professor-turned-international-spy’ type of action film.

No wonder Jenna has gravitated towards him.

However, this is no longer the time for harmless flirtations and making new friends.

“A woman came over to this side,” she announces. “From over there.”

Hannah points across the street to where three people stand defiantly with Climate Denial signs.

“What?” asks Jenna, confused.

“That woman. In the sweater. She came here to get food. I gave her a hemp bar! I thought she was on our side!”

“How strange!” Jenna frowns.

“Maybe, deep down, she wants to be on our side,” Johnathan says. “Maybe she came over to see what we are all about.”

Hannah squares her shoulders.

“I’m going over there. Wish me luck!”

“But the march starts any minute!” says Jenna.

“I’m going!” Hannah is resolute.

She crosses the street.

Scene Four

Their initial plan had been to silently merge with the protest march, so that on the news, in the midst of the bobbing placards declaring “Save Our Planet, Save Ourselves!” and “What We Stand For is What We Stand On” and “Climate Justice Now”, the viewer would also see: “Climate Change Is a Hoax!”, “Don’t Believe the Lies about Climate Change!” and “Save the Oil Workers from Extinction!”

How they had laughed at their own sneakiness! Not only would they get free media coverage, but the climate protesters wouldn’t even know about their ambush until long after they had done it.

They were going to slip in and out like ghosts. 

But then, at the last minute, Loreen decided that they should “take a stand” and “be true to themselves.”

The first to arrive, with all of their materials, she set up their placards facing outwards for all to read, putting their denial out there, full frontal.

By the time Ron and Ahmed showed up, there was nothing to be done but shift to Plan B and stand there, boldly holding their signs.

Looking ridiculous, Ron thinks. Just the three of them.

“We need more people,” Ron complains again.

“Here comes someone,” Ahmed nods at the slim woman wearing spandex tights and a deep blue, tight fitting running jacket. She is crossing the street and headed right towards them.

“Uh oh,” says Loreen, pulling her placard down to cover her face. “It’s the granola bar lady.”

The Granola Bar Lady has her hair in pig-tails but her face is that of a mature woman. There are grooves by her mouth. Laugh lines by her eyes.

Her nose is straight — and regal. Her eyes flash: chocolate brown.

Maybe she is . . . Italian?

Ron feels dazed. He isn’t a confrontational person. Not at heart. In theory, maybe. Things always sound good in theory.

Reality has a tendency to let him down. Like: now.

He is not ready for this woman’s intensity.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she hisses.

Ron stays quiet. Loreen, still hiding behind her sign, stays quiet.

Only Ahmed speaks.

Scene Five

“Would you like a tuna sandwich?” Ahmed asks knowing that, in all things, it pays to be polite.

Hannah is taken aback by this response to her question.

But only for a moment.

Of course, she knows climate deniers are people too. They eat sandwiches. Have friends. Their hands get cold in the autumn air, just like hers.

But their obstinance is so frustrating! Their refusal to accept scientific fact makes her want to pull her pigtails out!

“I don’t think you got the right memo. This is a Climate Change protest. We want to get rid of Climate Change, not keep it. We want to save the world, not kill it. The science is clear and the evidence is growing all around us. If we don’t act now, we endanger ourselves and innumerable other species. We face a catastrophe of unprecedented consequences. How dare you come here and demand we not take action?”

“We happen to like things as they are,” says Ahmed.

“Then you are digging our collective grave.”

“So be it.”

“So be it?” Hannah repeats, outraged. Her pulse spikes and her mind momentarily shuts off. She has no come-back.

It’s a stand-off, of course. How could Hannah ever have presumed otherwise?

As if anything she says right now will shift their incomprehensible mind-set.

She may as well be shouting at her teenage boys to clean up their rooms.

That’s how effective this little conversation would be.

She may as well be shouting into a void.

“Fine,” she says. “Have it your way. Drown the world. See if I care!”

She flounces off and Ahmed watches her go, experiencing a sudden wave of sadness. She hadn’t let him explain. They never do. It is never rational, never calm. He yearns for another’s understanding. That feeling of confirmation. Of acceptance.

And yet, again, he is denied.

And Ron watches her go, thinking: what are you worried about? Look at the numbers! You’re on the winning side! You’ll win, eventually!

And Loreen digs her phone from her purse and googles the words “hemp”, “cherries”, “chocolate”, and “granola bar”.

Because, darn, that granola bar sure was tasty!

Better than any donut she has ever had.

We look ridiculous.

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>