Street art image by Banksy
The Reflectors by J.P. Gault
They surrounded the reflecting pool with a combination of menace and fear in their eyes. They wore t-shirts that bore the mirror image of the word HOPE.
“Look!” screamed one man at a television camera. He positioned himself over the water and guided the camera’s lens to the reflection. “This is the only way we see hope!”
Around him, thousands of other people pointed northwest across The Ellipse and monuments to better days. “Hope’s not there!” they chanted. They directed their fingers to their chest. “Hope is here!”***
They first came as a hundred from western Kentucky, a ragtag caravan of out-of-work men and women who’d been meeting for the past three months over coffee and cigarettes. When it began, they talked about the unemployment office, COBRA benefits, and how to avoid foreclosure. With each cup of coffee and nervously-ashed smoke, with each passing week, with every hastily-wiped tear, the conversation’s scope grew wider. They talked about banks and credit cards. They talked about Cargill and Monsanto. They talked about abortion, and they talked about immigration.
Three months later, the Kentucky 100 caravanned in 20 vehicles across Appalachia to their nation’s capital. They sat around the reflecting pool, drank coffee from thermoses, and smoked cigarettes. Only the venue had changed. Each spring night, they slept in their tents. Each spring morning they rose, made coffee, and sat in fold-up camping chairs. They waved at television camera crews who walked by without notice. They designated a well-spoken leader to speak to news producers who inquired—usually—“What in the hell are you doing, exactly?” Each time, the man from Kentucky had said, “We’re confused. We don’t know what to do. We don’t recognize our country anymore and this was the only place we knew to come.” The news producers mostly offered a polite smile and said they might be back with a crew. They never returned.
Two weeks passed before a young man stopped in front of the reflecting pool and saw the small camp. By this point, only a couple dozen people remained. The leader was among them.
The young man held up a small video camera and asked, “What are you doing here?” The leader gave his speech and settled back into his camping chair. He figured he’d be going home within a week.
It took ten minutes to load the video to YouTube, 30 seconds to post links on Twitter and Facebook, and two days for the video to go viral. Titled “Only Place,” the video showed the man’s unshaven face, bloodshot eyes, and shaking fingers. He told the story of losing his job, living without benefits, and losing his home. “This was the only place I knew to come,” he finished. The caravans started two days later. The drivers scrawled “Only Place” on their back windows in shoe polish. By the end of the week, eight thousand people had set up camp.
Now, 20,000 people surrounded the reflecting pool. Around those people was a double line of riot police. There had been no violence. No one had thrown a rock. No one had fired a shot.
“We believe in democracy,” The President had said on Day 44. “We hear you on Pennsylvania Avenue and America hears you from coast to coast. Your voice is strong, your pain real.”
The network news producers had been forced to come back, and after the President’s speech, they offered a chance in front of their cameras. “You heard the President,” they said. “Are you satisfied?”
“It sounds to me,” said one man from Colorado, “like the President is saying that we live in America and not Egypt. It sounds to me like he says because we live in a democracy that our revolutions are conducted at the ballot box.”
“And?” said the producer.
“Well, let me ask you this,” said Colorado. “When was the last time anything changed?”
“I think the last election was pretty revolutionary, don’t you?” the producer said.
“If you’re asking me that question, you’re probably not ready to cover this story,” said Colorado. His shirt had the President’s face on it and the word HOPE beneath. “In 2008, I didn’t wear this shirt inside-out.”
On Day 99, fifty projection screens were set up around the reflecting pool. The President’s message to the nation streamed live in front what the foreign press was now calling The Reflectors. The U.S. press had settled on the phrase “anti-government protesters.”
“Give me time,” the President said. “I know your heart. I know you seek only what is due any American: respect, honor, and hope. If you don’t believe in what I can offer by the end of my term, replace me with someone who gives you hope.”
No one asked that night what would happen if a small group of Reflectors laughed at the President’s offer. No one asked what would happen in one of them threw a rock at one of the projection screens. No one asked what would happen when the first frightened riot cop fired a rubber bullet into the crowd.
No one in America expected the video they streamed online from the BBC would disappear along with their Facebook and Twitter feeds. No one expected that correspondents from Al Jazeera would be detained and charged with incitement. No one expected that the Reflector’s original leader—the trembling, smoking man from Kentucky—would be arrested for treason.
No one—least of all The Reflectors—knew that Egypt’s example was impossible in America, because America is a free country where revolution is against the law.
J.P. Gault is a writer from America.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Guest Post: The Reflectors
Allow me to introduce the first guest post from J.P. Gault...