Chapter 2: Geraniums
The scent took her right back to that deep hole of loneliness.
Brie paused before entering the old church, now a neighborhood venue. The geraniums: darkest red with a musky smell, framing the door in large matching pots. The scent from the loneliest time in her life. The scent always took her back to the feeling of despair, of being hopelessly alone.
When she’d been arrested she was detained in an empty room, and the scent came to her then. There were no geraniums in that cellblock, only isolation. But that was enough to bring on the clenched feeling in her gut, and with it the memory of the scent of being alone. Alone and under the control of others.
Julian, who’d met her at University Station, touched her arm. “Are you all right, Brie?”
She came out of it. Remembered where she was and what she was expected to do there. “I’m fine. Fine. How big a group do we have?”
“I was expecting fifty. But they tell me we’ve got over a hundred inside.”
The irony was clear to her. Her biggest childhood fear was loneliness; the geraniums had reawakened the fear. But in a moment she was going to walk through a crowd of people who were looking to her for support, for insight, for guidance.
Brie stepped into the room. The vaulted ceiling. The evenly spaced windows on both sides, and a stage where the altar must have once been. The murmur of a hundred masked voices subsided. “She’s here,” whispered from group to group as Julian guided her through to the stage.
Up the three wooden steps and to the center of the platform. Brie took off her mask, paused, scanned the crowd and spoke…
“Nothing I’m going to talk about here is illegal. Everything I’m about to say has been said before. This hall has been rented legitimately. We are a legal gathering.
“And yet, we must be afraid.
“Nothing I’ll talk about will harm anyone. Except. Except those with extreme wealth who are working night and day, through any means possible, to maintain and continue to grow their wealth at the expense of people and planet.”
“So we’re at risk. And care has been taken to protect us all. We decided to not meet on campus as a precaution. And although Julian and his team have arranged to record this gathering and my remarks, none of it is digital, and none of it will be put online. We’ve asked you all to wear hats and full masks, in the hope that they will make it difficult if not impossible to identify you.”
Many heads turned, scanning the room for the cameras and recording equipment.
Julian interrupted with, “We’re planning to release an edited version of this event over local low-power radio—schedule to be announced. Many of these small community-owned stations are looking for the same answers to these basic questions as we are. Best of all, these small-scale broadcasters are too little to be of interest to the corporate consolidators. At least for now.”
Julian stepped back so Brie could continue.
“So, get yourself a portable FM radio. Thanks, Julian.”
Brie continued. “We intend to stay low-key and analog. Hoping to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible. For the time being, anyway.”
“So, my advice. And I know you’re painfully aware of this, but it’s important to keep it top-of-mind.
“In spite of your education, your degrees, the knowledge and skills you’ve gained, there is employment for fewer than half of you. You spent the money and the time––and I know many of you are deeply in debt––but…
“…and I’m deeply saddened by this…
“…most of you will only be able to find low-paying jobs. Jobs that will not make it possible to live in any major U.S. city.”
Brie paused and scanned the room again.
“So you must find your own way. Here’s how.
“Gather a group of colleagues. Include artists, writers, technologists, strategists and business types. Build a group that is as diverse as possible in all things human. A new reality that leans toward mutual care.”
Then Brie slipped into the fluid narrative that seemed so natural to her, like reciting a poem from memory:
Within the group:
If you are a writer, write.
If a baker, bake
Or as a weaver, weave.
And so on.
As a coder, then code
Or a designer, please design.
You get the idea.
It’s about using what you have,
Plus the power of cooperation.
To first survive,
And later thrive.
The purpose of which
Is to build a new economy—
An economy that honors our earth.
A source of income—
Income shared within the group.
By pooling the skills
And forming a plan
That leads to income
Based on the skills at hand.
It’s not a new idea;
It’s as old as time.
If the food dried up, we moved on.
We found a way and made the move.
To first survive,
And later thrive.
She came out of her near-reverie state.
“Whatever you were doing yesterday isn’t relevant today. Today we must band together to find ways to sustain ourselves by traveling the oldest path to success as homo sapiens: the group.
“Together, examine the business models of the corporate behemoths. Look for what is missing: Where are they weak? Where are they hated and despised? Choose a direction, a path forward, informed by what you see as the opportunity. Set a deadline and a goal. Make sure everyone in your group is committed. Don’t be afraid to modify your plan as you go; all great creative work is based on iteration.
“Everyone in the group must know how to work and contribute. The group needs both the genius and the limited, along with the rest of us in between. If you’re best at scrubbing pots, scrub the pots. If you can contribute to the science, we need that too.
“And when you have children, include them. Don’t send them away so you can work. Include them so they learn your ways.
“You get the idea. It’s about forming small cooperative economies, fueled by our shared knowledge and hard work. Economies that provide for us and our children, using our combined intelligence and hard work, with the wealth from our labor returning to us—not some property owner or distant shareholder.”
Brie paused again. Checked the time. Nodding to Julian…
“I must be going soon. Although nothing I’ve said is against the law, it is subversive. Whenever methods outside the status quo are proposed, it’s dangerous.
“But before I go, let’s address the three questions I asked you to consider when we announced this gathering.
– What should we do about a government that allows, and even encourages, massive corporations to hoard the wealth?
– Can the kings of capital be encouraged to share? If so, how?
– Why aren’t there growing numbers of livable-wage jobs? Why isn’t the economy including more people in the success of massive growth, not fewer?
“I must go now; Julian is insisting. So break into small groups of ten or fewer. Discuss the questions. Form your answers and thoughts. Our team will record each group, and your thoughts will be included in the micro-broadcasts that are planned to be release through the low-power FM stations we’ve networked with.”
Julian, now on the stage next to Brie, grabbed her arm and hustled her out the back door, where a driver waited in a small Honda with a bag on the front seat containing someone’s dinner delivery. Opening the door, Julian instructed the driver, “Head into the neighborhood. Drive slowly. Deliver the meal as planned, then drop Brie at the boat launch.”
He turned back to her. “Thanks, Brie. Your poetic delivery had them. I think we’re going to get some real action. Be safe.” He shut the door and watched the car drive away.
Thirty minutes later Arial was waiting at the public pier, in the process of securing the bowline of her small yacht.
“God, Brie, it’s so good to see you.”
“It’s definitely been a while. Good to see you too, Arial. Where are we going? I’m exhausted.”
“It’s so good to be with friends,” Brie thought. The scent of geraniums had completely faded.
Arial smiled and hugged Brie. “Go ahead and crash below. We’ll catch up later.”