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(Taking a small break between chapters in The Interregnum Mile to bring you something to consider)

Image result for shell game

Is Restorative Justice being “jacked?”

Restorative Justice (RJ) has a lengthy (centuries-old) global history too lengthy and complex to elucidate here. It  thankfully has become the recent focus of school disciplinary and judicial systems at a time when the school- to- prison pipeline is booming (thanks, private prisons), policy brutality is soaring, there is a rise in hate crimes (thanks, 2016 elections), and the inequitable rates of imprisonment and suspensions between white students and students of color have now continued unabated for decades.

However, despite its powerful and positive effects, and future potential to radically re envision our approach to peace, justice and sustainable communities, I am beginning to witness the emergence of something else calling itself “restorative justice,” but is perhaps offering us something else.

In schools across the United States, RJ being presented as group circle discussions on just about anything (so … nice democratic classroom practice… but not justice focused…) and the language being blended into what is being touted as “justice” frameworks are beginning to smack of something else reformy….GRIT.

Speaking to the GRIT narrative,  Pedro Noguera says “I’m not hearing in the conversation acknowledgments of the effect poverty, income inequality and the opportunity gap has on student achievement …All the grit in the world can’t compensate for the obstacles that face so many students in low income communities.” So, when RJ is synonymous with “grit” what happens to the focus on systemic injustice? It becomes  … something else.

RJ has its (contemporary) roots in 1970’s work in challenging systems of inequality by placing the tools for change and healing in the hands of children and communities themselves, and reducing the school- to- prison pipeline. RJ was (is) a practice intended to, “protect individuals, social stability and the integrity of the group.” (“Utu”Ministry of Justice, New Zealand. Retrieved 17 September 2013).

But more and more, what is being called RJ is in fact a focus on “character building” or “grit”—these terms attend to individual character, not on addressing systematic inequality. They place the narrative back in the neoliberal lap of individualism. While restorative justice is definitely personal (i.e perpetrator and victim), the focus is more on community building/healing than it is on strengthening personality traits. It is a process that commits people to one another in a rebalancing of the power distribution in society and shared behaviors. “Restorative justice views violence, community decline, and fear-based responses as indicators of broken relationships. It offers a different response, namely the use of restorative solutions to repair the harm related to conflict, crime, and victimization.” (Zehr, Howard. Changing Lenses – A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Scottdale PA: 2005, 268–69).

Now that RJ is the new “in” thing (everyone’s doing it) it has a following, and examples abound everywhere of teachers modeling this practice. Some of these classrooms are focused on “vocabulary” which includes teaching kids to focus on words like: orderliness, perseverance, and rigor. Not sure what any of that has to do with justice. What I am beginning to sense is that RJ is being carefully and quietly hijacked by the GRIT narrative that has recently gained traction as the vehicle for teaching (tracking? training?) social emotional learning. Yet, ironically they are at their core very different things. Grit and Duckworth’s study have been linked to racist practices and research.

Concepts such as “social-emotional or non-cognitive learning, or character education, or habits of success”  are NOT synonymous with restorative justice, much less equality, any more than Gardner’s learning styles are! Neither is “positive behavior support.”

Those are buzz words that have been developed and embraced by the same organizations that have contributed to decades of inequality through failed policies….now climbing aboard the RJ train. See the Face Book site sharing posts from Angela Duckworth and other practices that are justice “light”

While narratives of grit or habits of mind attempts to (re)colonize attitude and behaviors of students of color, RJ “represents a validation of values and practices that were characteristic of many indigenous groups,” whose traditions were “often discounted and repressed by western colonial powers.” source

Another article argues, “It is based on the principle that crime affects people, their families and communities (Strang, 2001).” And that RJ has, “an intention to reduce the violence inherent to the State’s apparatus

What reformers are able to do is to distract schools and communities from engaging in the more radical systemic work that RJ was intended to do…and places (again…) our best initiatives, the ones we believe in, into the hands of the reformers and privatizers who are experts at selling us back our ideas as watered down, declawed, defanged versions of their original selves. We’ve taken the equivalent of a revolutionary treatise and reduced it to a Hallmark card.

Notice the deft pivot at where the focus is on: “Making sure that students aren’t punished or jailed for actions stemming directly from their own years as victims of crimes and poor upbringing,” but nothing is said about transforming a violent and oppressive system of racialized policing and punishment. The focus is no longer on transforming the system, it is on children as victims of “poor upbringing” (not sure what that means…) or developing better “character.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that schools must have quality infrastructure in place to support children who are surviving trauma, children with behavioral challenges, and create nurturing non-punitive classroom communities. There is a place for classroom conversations, circles, and support for individual learning.

I just do not wish to confuse that with restorative justice, or to have the latter subsumed by the former, a process by which the system would (yet again) cease to be the focus of our collective attention, and we instead turn attention to children as isolated agents of “good choice” or “character.”

It is also being blended with social expectations that seem to have little to do with violence or justice:

One school site says “We aren’t interested in ‘punishment.’ Rather, we want to inculcate the values of empathy, orderliness, and manners in students – lifelong lessons which they will use in future arenas.” This almost sounds like the “good behavior” narratives promulgated by charter schools aiming to “civilize” urban black youth.

Orderliness and manners? There are even some resources for versions of “restorative” practices that focus on Habits of Mind traits like “persistence,” “striving for accuracy,” and “impulsivity control.”

Compare an original/earlier definition of RJ:

“(I)n these communities relationships and victim-offender interaction were personal, and usually led to strong bonds and sometimes even to reduction in deviant behaviour. Most importantly, deviance was seen as a community problem, and a community failure not simply as a matter for the offender to pay or restore.” source

With this more recent (watered down) version:

“Restorative justice is about understanding the role trauma plays on the brain and developing teaching methods that actually are based on the needs of the students.” Note the word “personalized” here which reminds me of “personalized learning” now code for “students staring at a screen” learning. Both seem to be trending.

The difference may seem slight…but it’s significant. The emphasis on “the brain” here gestures toward developing a role for the use of psychometrics for predictive analytics (can we predict who might become deviant or commit anti social behavior?) rather than systemic restoration or healing.

There are already links between the Five Factors personality test (used in predictive analytics and data miners in psy ops) and the Grit narrative. As I have posted in earlier blogs:

There is a growing emphasis on the “affective” learning of students.  Some examples include: “ETS’ SuccessNavigator assessment and ACT’s Engage College Domains and Scales Overview … the broader domains in these models are tied to those areas of the big five personality theory.” Also see Empirical identification of the major facets of Conscientiousness

Paul Thomas notes, “grit narratives are also often masks for race and class biases in the same way IQ was embraced throughout much of the twentieth century.”

Bridging grit and personality to restorative justice is merely one more link the in the passage of selling out progressive narratives (justice, peace or restoration for examples) into data profiteering and social corporate engineering. Education reform history is steeped in using such tactics.

See titles like “Justice and personality: Using integrative theories to derive moderators of justice effects” and “The Importance of Perceptions in Restorative Justice Conferences: The Influence of Offender Personality Traits on Procedural Justice and Shaming” to see where RJ language is being blended with new forms of personality testing.

Even Teach for America is on the Restorative Justice ticket.      #Hashtag irony.

Who else might you ask could be leading this hijacking effort? Maybe Chiefs for Change?  who are passing out information using a finely tuned blurring instrument that seamlessly takes you from thinking your focusing on justice, when the shell game in fact is pulling a bait and switch. Note the article entitled: “The connection between grit, resilience, and equity”

What is their agenda? Read on:

“Wilson points out that leading businesses have found ways to diminish hierarchy, to create flatter organizations, and to reinvent work spaces and climates with the needs of real human beings in mind — and have profited as a result. Schools should learn lessons, he says. And they should invest in helping everyone come to a deeper understanding of behaviors that can quickly be classified as insubordination or disrespect, in ways that decrease conflict and punishment.”

With a nudge from researcher and blogger Alison Mcdowell I also did a search on relationships between RJ and social impact bonds. It appears to have been emerging in the U.K.  back in 2015. The article says: “Work with offenders is already delivered on a payment by results basis by the new community rehabilitation companies (CRCs). If an offender who had gone through restorative justice delivered by an independent provider as well as other CRC-funded activities does not go on to commit a further crime, who gets the credit?”

I guess justice is for sale.


The Interregnum Mile: Chapter Six

Posted: September 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

Chapter Six

“You did what???” Kelley demanded the previous evening, his voice echoing with incredulity.

The three of them stood around the empty darkened parking lot, and told Kelley everything they knew. The lot that ran alongside the Interregnum Mile was abandoned; cracked blacktop with lanky clusters of milkweed poking through. The only sounds were the distant hum of cars crawling up and down the busy streets through the center of town. From here, they could see tiny lights twittering inside the row homes, and hear the occasional honk of a car horn. The air was warm and still. But the night was growing late, and they didn’t have much time to discuss what was to be done.

“We had to confirm our suspicions,” Deacon said, insistently.

Ryder kept his eyes turned down toward his shoes. He felt both proud and fearful about divulging to Kelley the snooping they had done. But, they needed the help. There were only three of them. They were short on time and resources. It was time to ask for help.

Keesha recounted to Kelley the information she had been slowly gathering via her mother’s work computer which was kept at her home office. Every weekend she went to visit Susan, Keesha hacked into her mother’s data base to access the Romer Onyx network. She had to be careful that her snooping could not be traced back to Susan, lest she would lose her job. Or worse, she would be distraught by Keesha’s betrayal of her trust.

“I have copies of some of these contracts. I have copies of the emails,” Keesha told Kelley. “We aren’t making this up. We swear!”

Kelley sat, silent. Stunned. Even as a Black Hatter, he was impressed with the way in which they had pieced this together. “Who taught you to hack like that?” he asked her, with a wry smile buried just slightly beneath mock indignation.

“Well, I started with that old phone our friend Orion hides under his bed. Then, I just kept messin’ around with my mom’s computer every night she went to bed. It’s not hard once you figure out the basics.”

Kelley burst out laughing at this last comment. “Brains … wasted on the youth” he chuckled. “Well, not wasted in your case, I guess” he added, nodding toward Keesha, and then shaking his head at the boys. They didn’t disagree.

“Uncle Kelley,” Ryder jumped in. “Please. We need you. We need the Hatters. We need them to know that the data pods have been a distraction. Romer Onyx has gotten ten steps ahead, outthinking us. Meanwhile, we are still fighting the fight from decades ago, hanging on to the idea that what they wanted then, is what they still want. But it’s not. They want more. Everything I told you is true! And we are chasing the wrong leads, and searching in the wrong places. They have been counting on that. It’s not the data pods they want. The real fight is going on right below our feet. Under our streets. We need help.”

“We are gonna need more than that,” Kelley replied. “We need access.” They all paused in thought. Access meant geographical opportunities to get into RO’s physical buildings as well cyberspace.

Deacon finally chimed in. “Pop’s basement has got a tunnel that runs underneath through the city. When he was making his cellar for keeping things cool, he blasted a wall that opened right up into an old subway tunnel by mistake.”

Interregnum City hadn’t used the underground tunnels for a decade, at least. Instead, the community had repurposed the old trolley cars, and rebuilt the above-ground rail system to enable its citizens  to get around. It was less infrastructure to maintain, and easier to manage. Now, the tunnels lay empty and hollow like sedimentary half-memories.

“Anyone else besides you and Pops know these tunnels are accessible?” Kelley asked.

Deacon thought for a moment. “No. I don’t think so at least. My parents barely every go down there. I do most of the heavy carrying up and down from that cellar.” Kelley nodded, satisfied with this answer.

“So, Ryder. You and I are going to drive off to Arizona … as far as your mom is concerned. Deacon, you’re going to get us into those tunnels next week, after everyone’s in bed. You’ll have to tell Pops everything, I suppose.”

They all nodded in agreement.

“Yep,” Deacon said. “But…on some level… he knows something’s going on. He won’t take much convincing. And, I’ll have to get my old car fixed. It’s too far to travel on my bike.”

Keesha looked around at all three of them. “This is all so easy for all of you!” she bemoaned. “I’ve gotta go into the belly of the best!” She scraped the tips of her shoes against the parking lot gravel.

Kelley sighed slowly. Ryder fell silent, trying to stop the worry that was already crowding his mind.

After a long silence between the four of them, Kelley said, “Yes, Keesha, you do.”

Story Summary: 

Ryder, Keesha and Deacon, three lifelong friends, now in their teens have been named the leader-futures for Interregnum City, the first city to decolonize itself from the script of corporate enslavement. The city has gone “off-script.” They, along with their friends and families take the reader into a hopeful landscape of what might yet be possible if, and when, communities embrace the revolutionary power of the collective will, imagination and love. It is fiction of hope; representing any city in America and set in an unknown future time. This is a tale of what could be. Ryder, Deacon and Keesha confront obstacles such as the looming data pods built along the Interregnum Mile, and their secret discovery of the terror that lies waiting for their community if they cannot stop the colonizers secret mission in time. With the help of Ryder’s Uncle Kelley, Deacons grandfather Pops, and Keesha’s mother Susan, these three youth lead their city on a mission for reclamation, resurrection, and resurgence.

Chapter Five

Kelley was on duty with the watchmen late that evening.  He volunteered most nights. The job of protecting the data pods from data thieves took the place of having a family of his own; something he had never shown in interest in pursuing. The data pods, once churring and whirring with around -the -clock action now lay stagnant.

While the system was dead, thanks to Kelley and the others in the original insurgency, the data that had been reaped for decades still remained locked inside. They resembled the enormous first computers he had seen pictures of in history books-the computers which lined walls from ceiling to floor in the rooms of NASA space stations and the Pentagon back in the 1950s and 1960s. The data pods each ran fifty feet in length and thirty feet high, linked together by thin pipe like strands of iron sausage-holding  inside them the latest technology devised by Romer Onyx (R.O.).

R.O., as they were better known, were the first colonizers to invent a way to store data in these Intercept Nodes made of a hybrid alloy that wedded ancient alchemy with 21st century coding techniques. They intercepted all transactions that occurred electronically, which before going off script, was pretty much everything everyone did. The result was genius: Data that could never be destroyed or erased. But it had to kept in an Intercept Node to be preserved. The alchemical recipe transformed it from mere bites of binaries into true “gold.” But the temperature controls required special storage facilities.

Like electrical towers and landfills of centuries before them, these data pods were built just within sight of the lowest socioeconomic neighborhoods, who lacked the legal or financial resources to fight it. Kelley’s community had been the first to have one built. No one knew of the potential health hazards that the alchemical wizards may have overlooked in their formulaic construction. No tests on effects to human development had ever been done. Some theorized it was worse than radiation. Scientists, often on the R.O payroll, made media statements convincing the public of their safety.

Kelley walked up and down the steel catwalks, his boot heels clanking and echoing in the silent evening air. The stars blinked through the clear navy blue sky. He looked down thirty feet below at the rolling hills festered with milkweed, dandelions and metal fragments from old household items. The hills spilled down toward the level fields and walls that lined the outskirts of the neighborhood.  Kelley considered the same dilemma he considered every evening as he walked back and forth across the catwalk while keeping an eye out for intruders.

He thought, “Until the community could find a way to disappear the data their job was to protect it. They couldn’t just simply blow up the data pods. That would potentially be the equivalent of exploding an oil refinery-since no one but the alchemists understood how the data pods even worked, no one could hazard a guess as to what elements might be released into the air, ground or water, if they did.”

But the insurgents had found a way to kill them, in effect. Kelley, then in his late teens had conspired with two of his friends, one a chemical genius (working as double agent from inside R.O.), and the other an expert metals expert in the properties of metals and welding, created a cocktail which they anticipated, if thrown into the right pipeline between the data pods, would create a neutralizing effect on the active agents needed to transmute the data. It took them years of meeting in secrecy to devise a successful cocktail. But finally, they created the perfect combination. Then, it was a matter of waiting and watching for the right moment to insert the cocktail into the alchemical beast. That was the window of opportunity the community needed. While the data pods grew weaker and weaker, infected with this invasive metallurgical kryptonite, the people took back their power. They took it all back.

And Romer Onyx had no forgotten. They would never forget. This community, right here, had started it all; the decolonizing insurgency that swept like wild fire across the nation once the people had finally had enough under the growing weight of corporate ownership. The secret cocktail for destabilizing the data pods was passed long through cryptic messages communicated by tags and art on city walls, passed from one city to the next. Despite their best and brightest, R. O analysts could never crack the secret code.

Alliances with other groups and communities, comprised of multiple social classes, ethnicities, gender identification, and religious affiliations all shared one thing common: Living under the pervasive yoke of corporate control; control of their behavior through social media, control over their choices through consumer product manipulations, control of freedoms through sorting and tracking, pipelines to prison, job, and placement in the economic hierarchy….all handed freely to the colonizers by way of data handed freely decade after decade. The public blindly outing their faith is goods and services promoted for their benefit.

But isn’t that how colonizers operate? They created the illusion that there is a problem (one which they create but transpose onto those they wish to correct), and then they move in (physically, psychologically, economically) into the space they need to grow their own interests, off the backs and minds of those whose space they have overtaken. All in the name of “progress.”

Even the middle class neighborhoods who had experienced mere fractions of controls and abuses at the hands of the elite were starting to catch on and begin the process of decolonizing their own communities; taking advice, and notes of wisdom from lived experience and histories from those in Kelley’s neighborhood. They had had the tools for resistance against tyranny built up for generations. Only now people, all people, were beginning to finally use it. But twenty years later, vigilance was still key.

Sure, the pods were stagnated, at least for now, but no one really knew how long the chemical cocktail Kelley and his friend had created would last. In addition, data thieves were known around the country to hack into segments of the pods and tear out smaller sections of the Intercept Nodes, and hook them up to makeshift computer-machine hybrids that could unlock the alchemical composition and release the original data.

He was pulled back from his thoughts when he heard what sounded like the shuffling of feet below him, coming from behind a small copse of scrub trees. He leaned into the walkie-talkie resting in his shirt pocket, “Hey, Lou. I think I got something. Over.”

He waited. Seconds later a voice, fragmented and crackled, came back, “OK. Go find out. I’ll stay up here. Tell me what you see. Over.”

Kelley checked to feel the two-foot metal pipe hanging from his belt. There were no guns of any kind in the community. They had been eliminated as well when they went off script, discarded alongside their electronic devices which has been the pipelines to the data pods and surveillance. They agreed during the insurgency that guns, too, would have be eliminated from their homes and streets. They had not had a single murder or violent assault in their community since decolonizing celebration day. Disagreements flaired. But the community had developed series of restorative and supportive practices that folded in legal, economic and health related professionals into teams. Teams also included committees of the youth.

Kelley wound down the spiral stairway at the far end of the metal catwalk and softly pressed his feet onto the soft grass, careful not to create any sound. He could see small movements from around the other side of scrub trees that were now only fifteen feet away. As he edged closer, keeping his body close to the walls of the data pods so as to blend in and not reveal his figure in the moonlight, he could hear voices. At least two. Maybe three. Then figures appeared. One of them was wearing a bright yellow shirt.

“Dumb ass,” Kelley noted to himself. “Some way to be invisible while trying to stealing Intercept Nodes.”

Kelley lunged into the scrub trees grabbing wildly for a solid grasp of the yellow shirt. He yanked hard, and pulled a tall thin figure from out of the brush. He locked the person’s head under one of his thick arms, and with his other arm. raised up the metal pipe over the person’s head.

“Don’t move you bastard, or I’ll knock you out!”

A second figure leapt out from behind the trees, waving his hands wildly. “Uncle Kelley! Stop! It’s me. Ryder!”

Deacon’s body went limp under the restraint of Kelley’s forearm. Kelley released his grip and Deacon crumpled to the earth. He moaned, and then coughed.

“What the hell, Ryder!” Kelley demanded. “Hold on.” He reached for the walkie-talkie. “Lou. Come in. Lou, you hear me?”

“Yeah. I hear you. What’s out there, Kelley? Everything okay?”

“Yeah.” Kelley sighed. Ryder could vaguely make out the frown of his displeasure through the darkness. “It’s my dumb-ass nephew. And his buddies. I’ll be back up in a sec. Over.”

Lou replied, “OK. Gotcha. You tell that Deacon, if he’s there, that he and I are gonna have a few words tomorrow morning. Over.”

Kelley peered at the patch of scrub trees. “You too, Keesha. Get your ass out here. I know you’re there.”

Keesha slowly slunk out from the darkness.

“I can explain!” Ryder began.

“I’ll bet you can,” Kelley said, laughing. “Can’t wait to hear you explain it to your mom!”

Ryder groaned. “Come on!” he pleaded. “She doesn’t have to know!” Ryder’s mother was not known for an easy or flexible nature when it came to child rearing.

“Humph. I see. Well, I’ll make a deal with you. You tell me the truth about what you all are doing out here. And maybe, just maybe, she won’t have to know.”

So they told him everything.

Chapter Four

Was going off script the right thing for our community? What is the future of decolonized zones?

Those were the questions scribbled in faded green marker on the white board in front of the basement-level reading room in the public library. Ryder sighed. He recognized the familiar handwriting, and understood from it that Jacob would be leading the group again. This was his favorite debate topic.

The weekly debate sessions gave the young members of the community a chance to develop their critical thinking and research skills. Each subset of neighborhood, or city blocs, had debate groups. Skills they were told, and understood, were the key to fending off colonizers and hijackers. Their weekly policy debate training developed knowledge of structural social, political and economic issues. Colonizers were the slick moneyed corporations who historically had come in looking like lambs and then tore the communities apart like lions. These colonizers, like all those that came before them, came as “saviors,” promising to “fix” what they deemed wrong with the people. Then, after destroying the communities, they swooped back in with the so-called solutions…at a price.

Hijackers worked differently. They moved in disguise. They gained the trust of the community and then redirected the efforts for change away from anything radical that would upset the system, and sell the movement out in the name of “cooperation” or “compromise.” Hijackers knew the best way to defeat revolutionary action was to invite their adversary into the big tent and make them feel like they belonged. In such a way could you assuage the anger of the people, while maintaining power and control.

Being armed with their own facts and their skills at arguing and maintaining their decision to become, and remain, an “off script” community was a vital facet to their survival.

“We have to be prepared to answer those questions!” Ryder overheard Jacob saying to a group of teens at the far corner of the room.

Ryder smiled a little. Uncle Kelley would agree with Jacob. “If we cannot defend our decisions against all critical questions, then we cannot anticipate our weaknesses nor own where we need to improve ourselves,” his uncle repeated over and over like a mantra.

Suddenly Keesha appeared at his left side. “Hey,” she murmured causally. He looked at the clock. 10:00 a.m. Where was Deacon?

“Hey,” replied Ryder.

Together they located Deacon, now pushing his way through a small cluster of people by the snack and beverage table. He grabbed a fist full of crackers out of the large yellow bowl and met the gaze of his two friends. Ryder gestured with a nod of his head for Deacon to “hurry over.”

“Did you hear that noise this morning? Did you feel it?” Deacon asked as he got closer.

“Hush!” Keesha admonished, looking around furtively.

“Like anybody’s paying attention to us, Keesh,” Deacon retorted, his mouth full of crackers.

“Yeah. We heard it. And I felt it,” Ryder added. His feet had quivered as if a rug were being pulled quickly back and forth beneath him.

“Everyone’s been saying it was just a bunch of drones that crashed. Or building demolition from the town of Westborough. They’ve been doin’ a lot of reconstruction. Seems to be an explanation that is satisfying most folks.”

“No.” Keesha said, keeping her face expressionless and her voice low. “It’s them. I know it.”

How do you know?” Deacon’s voice was edged with skepticism.

“I just feel it.” She was always so sure of herself. “We have to get to Westborough. I know that’s where they’re at!”

Ryder opened his mouth to add his thoughts, but he was cut off.

“Hey, everyone!” Jacob called. “Let’s get started.”

Ryder estimated about fifty kids present today most on them around his age. Attendance wasn’t required. Attendance wasn’t a requirement for anything, usually. When something is of necessity, calling it required is merely redundant. In Ryder’s world, in the “off script” community, things were required for their well-being. Choosing not to participate had its own natural consequences, like not having enough to eat, or not being able to move up into the job of one’s choice, or not caring for one’s own home, family or street. Motivation to participate became internalized. Necessity was its own requirement. Being a part of the larger course of the family, community, and future generations created a sense of desire, of pride, of belonging. What Ryder and the others were doing mattered.

Jacob announced, “Today we will hear from Sam and Marcie. They have each prepared an argument to reflect one side of the issue. As usual, they will take turns making a statement. Their point-counter point statements will continue for five minutes. This will be followed by a summary analysis given by someone whose name will be pulled from the jar. So all y’all need to listen and be prepared to respond!” There was a light wave of laughter.

Sam, dressed in a bright yellow over-sized T shirt and brown slacks strutted to the front of the room. There were hoot and hollers from the audience. Marci, much taller in height than her adversary, cheered, “Oh, I got this!” and waved her arms in the air as she moved toward the podium. Her waist length braids swung from side to side as she moved. The girls clapped.

Jacob shouted over the clamor so as to quiet the room, “OK. Marci. Sam. You have five minutes. No outburst are permitted by the audience. If you disrupt the debate you will be asked to leave. The question for today is:  ‘Was becoming a decolonized zone and going off script the right thing for our community?’” He looked down at a stop watch, clicked it with his thumb, and shouted, “Go!”

Marci leapt like a horse out of the starting gate: “Well, it wasn’t a choice.”

Sam replied “Yes it was. There’s always a choice.”

Marci said, “After realizing the full magnitude of abandonment by the larger socioeconomic order, well they never really were here to begin with…other than to shuffle us from school to prison, we could have chosen to languish that way. Some communities still do.”

“We lost money from the billionaire class. We lost access to that world. They wanted to train us and bring us into the fold,” replied Sam.

Marci’s voice was rising. “But the ones who left us to go into that world never came back. Or they came back –changed-doing the bidding of the master. Instead, we have learned to form real alliances, all over this country with other cities, with other groups, doing what we are doing. Neighborhoods like King-Lincoln, back in the day, showed us we can create something for ourselves. But we cannot remain isolated either. These are intersections of need and respect.”

Keesha thought of her mother and then pushed the thought aside quickly. She leaned in to Deacon and Ryder. “We need to talk!”

“Shhhh!!” said the boy beside her. Deacon and Ryder glared at the boy but complied.

“Later,” Ryder whispered. “Tonight. At the tower.” Deacon and Keesha nodded.

Sam demanded in a low but firm voice, “How can we really have any true power while existing outside the system? How long can we remain apart? King-Lincoln was ripped apart by outside forces. So what makes us different?”

Marci responded, “This is a different time. When the corporate class became the master class they sold out white folk too. And we were able to create a new alliance because the colonized class just expanded. So we are not apart. People are coming to our side!”

Sam said, “But can our movement really go to scale? Can we really expect the whole world to change? We are up against data pods. We are up against Colonizers and Hijackers who will never…never stop. We need to think about our long term survival.”

Marci shouted, “Exactly! This is how we survive. Others are waking up. It’s been gradual for decades. We must continue to build our off-script alliances. But what was partial independence for generations finally was now in our community realized as full independence. We had the knowledge at our disposal the whole time. Starting with the abolition movement, and the Black Panther party, the Surrealists, and Black Lives Matter to name just a few. Malcolm X once said, ‘I just don’t believe that when people are being unjustly oppressed that they should let someone else set rules for them by which they can come out from under that oppression’.”

Sam looked intently down at his notes. He said, “But we cannot pretend the rules aren’t there. We should be finding ways to go out there, and work with the rules as they are, and then change them. Why can’t we work with the corporate colonizers and get a seat at the table for ourselves?”

Keesha thought of her mother. She worried, Was she right?

Marci would not be deterred. “Because,” she replied, “Nowhere in history can we find a moment where that has worked for people like us…. People of color, and folks of all races with little or no money or privilege, and anyone whose identity doesn’t fit into the “script” written for society. Show me where anything was handed to us that we didn’t demand and fight for.”

The audience cheered. “Quiet!” demanded Jacob.

Marci continued. “We finally realize now in the 21st century version of colonization that history reveals how the colonizers only ever give us what they wanted to give us, under the illusion that we are now their equals, the illusion that we can have a piece of their pie. Meanwhile they kept finding new ways to stack the deck, rearrange the rules, and put us right back at square one. We had to cease being dependent on them for any of our success.”

Sam was showing signs of frustration his voice raised a pitch and his brows furrowed. “Yeah but there has to be some compromise. We cannot isolate ourselves from a bigger movement. The outside world sees us as ‘extremists’ and don’t take us seriously. In addition, with what resources are we going to make it without them?”

Marci didn’t skip a beat, as if she anticipated he would make this point. She said, “Re-organizing the resources took some doin’. But with a collective will and wisdom that focused on us, on ourselves taking care of each other is the only means of survival. We created our own cooperative business with our own capitol. We developed our own schools, educating our children by our own community volunteers, and using a curriculum that met our needs. We created our own medical centers and community clean-up crews, and assistance for the elders.” As if to really drive the point home she added, “We need to create routes to connect with others doing the same.”

The crowd burst into more hoots and hollers.

“They will run interference,” Sam countered. “So why don’t instead think of how we can work out there in the corporate world with them and make changes from within?”

Marci continued, “Either we go to scale for full independence, or we would have been quietly annihilated. And blamed for our own demise. Come on, people, don’t you all wonder what that noise was this morning? Ya’ll think that’s some coincidence?” Everyone in the crowd settled into an uncomfortable stillness. “They’re up to something! The watchmen have to keep….” She was cut off before completed the sentence.

Jacob called out, “Time!!!!” and held up the stop watch. Applause rang out causing the walls to vibrate.



Chapter Three

Keesha hand shook causing the blue paint to zig zag uncontrollably across the cement canvas.

“Crap!” she shouted.

The near-perfect replica of the blue sky, white clouds, brown and green trees, and cityscape was now interrupted by a thick solid blue stipe that crashed through the scene like a lightning bolt. Keesha and everyone else working on the mural paused in their work and looked around for the source of the “boom” that had caused Keesha to disrupt her creative process. John craned his head upwards. Marcus and Lucy stood up and ran to the corner. They peered around, turned back toward the group, and shrugged.

Keesha refocused on her mural. “Crap,” she exclaimed again to no one in particular. “That totally ruined my sky! I was minutes from being finished.”

No one else in the group seemed upset by her mistake in the painting. Her mural team was used to her outbursts. The whole mural had been her vision. She wrinkled her brow and assessed the damage.

Lucy asked the boy standing beside her, “But what was that?” There has been a loud rumble, and the ground had seemed to gently sway beneath them. The water in the clear glass Bell jars, loaded with brushes, was still dancing around with tiny ripples.

The question was met with murmurs. Keesha remained silent. She was too busy being furious that two months of dedication were just brought down with a single blue accidental stroke. She pulled at her short braids, rubbing the large beads between her thumb and forefinger the way she did whenever she was considering something. She made sure to always have at least five beads fitted into her short weave because she secretly believed this made her a more creative thinker.

The mural was the last one in a series that the community economic network had commissioned Keesha and a small group of young people to complete; the task was to “tell the story of the neighborhood”-painted on the walls of the newly rehabbed row homes and offices for all the world to see (or at least the passers-by crossing the intersection between Dulaney St. and 5th Ave). A visual history of her community.

Keesha’s mom disapproved. But what else was new?

“Why are you bothering to paint on the sides of walls, Keesha?” her mom Susan would say, and shake her head. “You know I can get you a job at The Gallery anytime you want.”

By the time Keesha was twelve she had started thinking of her mom as a corporate sell-out. Susan Franks had moved away from their neighborhood for a six figure multiyear grant from the Museum of Art to work on their cultural exhibit, leaving behind her two daughters: Keesha and Keesha’s older sister Naomi. “Left behind” was not a wholly accurate description of what Susan had done to her daughters. The girls had chosen to stay in what, for them, was “home.” Susan was inwardly disappointed, but she honored her daughters’ wishes to remain in the community.

Keesha knew her father only as “Donor X.” Single and professionally successful, too busy for love, Susan had decided at the age of 35 that she would become a mother, with or without the help of a husband — and having none she decided to find a donor instead. Then, just one year ago, when the girls had grown to the ages of 17 and 14, she received “the job offer of a life time” and moved out of their “off script” neighborhood and into South Wick, the corporate sponsored neighborhood that had been introduced decades ago as “smart cities.” The marketing had been brilliant by design.

Naomi, the ever “older- than- her- years” daughter stepped up to raise Keesha, while the two occasioned the train on weekends to visit Susan in her studio condo on the 15th floor of the Romer Onyx Industry complex.

“Being on script isn’t so bad, you know, Keesha,” Susan said one morning while clipping the delicate blue flowers off the potted hydrangea that flourished on the rooftop Romer Onyx rooftop garden. Keesha looked at her feet and winced. “You’re getting so tall, now,” Susan said gently. She was indeed one of the taller girls in her age group. Her mother smiled and stroked the side of Keesha’s left arm. She didn’t want to disappoint her mom. But something in her was just “drawn” differently than her mom. Standing at only five feet two inches tall, compared to her mother’s nearly six foot tall stature, the difference inside and out were both noticeable. Who could she blame for being who she was? Donor X?

“Mom. I love you. But it’s just not my kind of art. I like being off script.”

Susan sighed. “Keesha. You’ll see. When you grow up, you’ll see. The real world doesn’t work that way. That’s just a fantasy land is all it is. How long is that gonna last you think. Huh?”

Sure, the Indigenous Intersections, linking city- to- city all over the country and completely subverting the on script grid of corporate ownership was growing. But who really knew what would happen next? How long could it last?

Keesha didn’t care. This…here…this community was her home, with, or without, her mother. She would make her own way. She had Naomi. And there was Ryder and Deacon, her two best friends.

Keesha examined the blue sky in the mural. Maybe it is fixable, she assured herself.

“Anyone know what that noise was?” asked the short stocky boy standing beside Keesha. Keesha dropped her paint brush into the Bell jar of watery blue liquid, wiped her hands on the sides of her denim pants and stood up. She turned back to look at the fat blue misplaced streak on the wall across her nearly completed frame. She would have to fix it later.

Keesha had her theories about the cause of the low rumble and shaking ground. Really, she wasn’t surprised by the unidentified sound. Part of her had been waiting for it. But she didn’t want to say it out loud. She had to tell D. and Ride, first.

NOTE: This is a full-length book, being published chapter by chapter with a new chapter posted every one or two weeks. Readers will have to stay tuned for “what’s next.” The story is copyrighted by the author (Morna McDermott) but may be freely shared and re-blogged/posted (with citation to the author). The purpose of the story was to create a thought experiment. What will happen if/when the corporate destruction of public education and society is complete? Can we begin to imagine/enact a different set of societal structures that are more equitable, anti-racist, sustainable, and democratic? Do we have the collective will to manifest such a future? What can we learn from good examples in the past? Can we take some cues from the world of fiction to begin the conversation? This is a story of hope.

Please join us and enjoy the story! Feedback/comments welcome in the comment box. 


Story Summary

Ryder, Keesha, and Deacon, three lifelong friends, now in their teens have been named the leader-futures for Interregnum City, the first city to decolonize itself from the script of corporate enslavement. The city has gone “off-script.” They, along with their friends and families take the reader into a hopeful landscape of what might yet be possible if, and when, communities embrace the revolutionary power of the collective will, imagination and love. It is fiction of hope; representing any city in America and set in an unknown future time. This is a tale of what could be. Ryder, Deacon and Keesha confront obstacles such as the looming data pods built along the Interregnum Mile, and their secret discovery of the terror that lies waiting for their community if they cannot stop the colonizers secret mission in time. With the help of Ryder’s Uncle Kelley, Deacons grandfather Pops, and Keesha’s mother Susan, these three youth lead their city on a mission for reclamation, resurrection, and resurgence.


The phone on the wall had rung four times already.

“Get the damn phone!” Deacon shouted from behind the counter.

“Don’t you cuss in my shop, young man!” his mother called from the kitchen.

“Yes’m. Sorry, mom,” Deacon called back. He was sorry, even if his voice didn’t sound convincing. He was too busy lining up the sandwiches and salads in the glass front case. Deacon was in a rush because people were already lining up outside the entrance. And because he wanted to meet Ryder before they had to go off to their community rotations at 10:00 that morning. They were so rarely placed together at the same time, leaving Deacon to fend for himself. Keesha was always working with the muralists. So he had given up long ago of hoping to be placed alongside her. He couldn’t draw stick figures. Besides, he felt better putting his arms and his back into his days’ work. Deacon always marveled at the beauty of both creation and destruction; like when they demolished the old buildings … and creation like when he and the others rehabbed a house and made it new again. It was concrete and satisfying work, and appealed to his affection for double-edged swords like chaos and order.

“Come on, Pops, your phone is ringing,” Deacon said again, more softly this time.

The ring tone on their deli’s “location phone” agitated him. It was shrill and demanding, not like the cool smooth tones that old cell phones used to make, or at least the one Orion had shown him in secret. Nobody Deacon knew had one of those anymore, except for Orion.  And the Blacker Hatters. That last bit wasn’t public knowledge, but it was quietly understood. After their garden commitment one evening last July, Orion secretly showed Deacon and the other kids the old cell phone he kept hidden under his bed, like porn or a hand gun. “It’s not activated,” he would re assure the other kids. But he pressed the “ring” button and his audience of impressed peers “oohed” and “ahhed” with amazement as the screen lit up. The small object vibrated in his hand with each ring. Eliminating cell phones was part of their community agreement to become a decolonized zone when they unscripted. The action was necessary to stop feeding the fuel line to the data pods. Cell phone were the main artery of data mining from the people to the powerful.

It had worked. Eliminating their cell phone and all electronic data collecting devices had broken the back of the corporate masters. Orion looked at Ryder that day and said, “Didn’t your Uncle Kelley want you to ‘come up’ learning how to be a Blacker Hatter?”

Ryder shook his head to suggest “I don’t know.”

A new batch of the younger generation would have to eventually replace middle aged people like Kelley and manage the data shield, and keep up the “secret operations” to take down the corporate data systems and protect their community from pirates and hijackers. Deacon was fascinated by it all. Maybe he’d talk to Uncle Kelley himself and offer to take Ryder’s place since Ryder expressed little interest.

Deacon’s grandfather answered the phone which hung on the wall between the front of the deli and the back kitchen.

“Hello! Watson’s Deli!” he said into the mouth piece.

Deacon returned to his task, lining up the perfectly golden glazed donut rings, one after the other, until he had three rows of twelve. There was one left that didn’t quite fit into the tray. Looking carefully around first for his mother’s watchful eye, when he saw the coast was clear, he crammed the last remaining donut into his mouth and chewed quickly. He pushed the tray into the glass case and slid it shut. The store would be opening any minute.

“Uh uh,” his grandfather was saying into the phone. “Yes. That’s right.” He leaned his large sinewy figure up against the door frame as if he knew he might need to get comfortable, making his “this could take a while” expression.

“Who is it?” his mother called from the back.

“Another reporter,” Deacon said after swallowing the remaining evidence of the stolen donut. “At least, I think it is.” He listened.

“It’s quite simple, really,” Pops explained. “You all don’t need a five installments expose for your newspaper to understand this.” Pops never had patience for stupid questions, or stupid people. “Our community saw it coming.” He paused to hear a question from the reporter.

“How? Well, because we knew what being colonized and enslaved looks and feels like. It’s sandwiched into our history.” Pops loved making deli jokes. “So we could see the corporations for what they were. Masters. We were all their property. Those white middle class suburban folk just wasn’t looking in the right direction. They were too busy eating up the next device or cool app or online service to pay attention to what they were giving up.”

He paused again. He face twisted with greater annoyance.  He listened. “That’s right. Our deli shop was the first to decolonize in this neighborhood.” He shifted his weight on his feet. “Look. We resisted out of necessity. The world around us had abandoned us.”

He paused for effect. Then continued, “Places all over the country … like Detroit. No grocery stores. No businesses. No banks. No jobs,” He was gesturing with his hands and fingers, counting the items one by one. “Eventually they even took their electricity and our water. Left those people to starve. They tried to hang on. They tried to pull themselves out of it. They played the game. Meanwhile, the corporations did come into our neighborhoods to use up those kids. With those online schools…”

He spat on the floor and continued, “Kids sittin’ at computers all day… or those charter schools!” His sentence trailed off. “The corporations came in and mined those babies for their own purposes-which was profits and control. You start messin’ with people’s kids you gonna get push back!”

He listened again to the voice on the other side of the line. Pop’s body language suggested to Deacon that he was not pleased with what this reporter was trying to say.

“I don’t care what you were told about charter schools!” Pop’s yelled into the phone, “They sold us out …our kids, and our communities, so that Wall Street billionaires could own our public education system, and track our children right into their privately owned prison systems. Owning our children from cradle to grave. Then they built these data pods right in our backyards, like freeways or pipelines cutting right through our communities.”

He paused to listen.

“Uh uh. That’s right.” He nodded. “Yes. I don’t know why you want to include all of that in your story, now. Everybody knows that history. Our community was the first to refuse corporate colonization. The government led them right to our doorstep too. Promising to help. But we got smart, fast. And we had nothing to lose. We started our own food production. My deli shop was the first modeled as a community collective. We trained our people. We employed our people. We feed our people. And the model worked. It caught on. So we created our own jobs. We fixed up our own neighborhoods. We policed our own streets. And we started our own public education system. And we didn’t need no corporate masters anymore and their philanthropic generosity.”

That last words bled with resentment as they rolled off his tongue.

People were starting to file into the shop. The noise-level rose and Pops placed one finger in his ear to hear better.

“What’s that? Yes. Well, you’re welcome to come visit anytime and see what we do and how we do it. I know Cincinnati and some others are doing the same thing. But you come one down anytime. Got the best bagels on the East coast.” Then he smiled. Deacon knew it was true, too. “Well thank you for inquiring. I look forward to reading your article when it comes out.”

People were lined up, ready with their orders and their forms of payment. Some held cash in their hands. Mrs. Randall had two dozen eggs. She must be bartering for the pastrami on rye again Deacon supposed. John Eldridge had a paper commitment to swap three loaves of Italian bread and two pounds of potato salad in exchange for car repairs. Pops would be grateful for that. His car hadn’t been running for a month and it made making his home deliveries difficult. Deacon was tired of riding his bike to and from everybodies homes. His energy flowed through the streets bringing food wherever it was needed. There were no more homeless shelters. No one lived on the streets and o one went hungry anymore. Pop’s deli had been a part of that change.

Imagining himself flowing through the streets on his bike with sandwich orders made him think of Joe, his economics mentor. “Currency … Current. How are the words connected?” Deacon asked himself, pulling the long French baguette into a paper wrapper for Denisha. He knew that Joe, who was now nineteen years old, was going to probably bring it up during their economics hour at the library.

“Deacon,” his mom called. “Bring those eggs from Mrs. Randall back here, please. I can use them this afternoon.”

“Ok, mom.”

Deacon walked into the steaming hot kitchen with the eggs under his arm. All ovens were on full blast. The large square fan wedged into the factory sized window pushed lukewarm air across his face.

He practiced in his head what he would say to Joe. “Money was one source of currency. But currents are a flow of waves, electrical… or like water. It also means now. Present tense. And currency is s a medium of exchange.”

Joe, always the argumentative thinker would of course reject any suggestion Deacon offered.

He could hear him now, “So is money the most valuable currency we have? For centuries we treated human beings as currency for the profits of others. What kinds of other currency can we begin imagining now that can free of from that?”

He had a lot of respect for Joe. They had known each other all their lives and as Joe grew older, he took the role of mentoring the younger kids very seriously.

Deacon would have to drum up an answer later. The line was now out the door and he couldn’t fill his head with abstract theories while filling the food orders. Besides he was quite sure Keesha would beat him to an answer. She always did. Her smarts were her currency, he thought. But they had think bigger, the three of them, him Keesha and Ryder, because soon they were to be the leaders, and they would have to lead with answers.

The cacophony of kitchen equipment and workers talking drowned out the sound of a rumble and roar coming from outside. Looking at the expressions of people passing by on the street Deacon knew something had just happened. He carried three trays of quiches toward the front counter and noticed the disturbed countenance on the faces of the people around him. There were murmurs. Concerned and hushed tones.

“What was that?!” someone shouted.

Karl Jensen was craning his neck up out the deli front window toward the sky. He shook his head, proffering no answer. Folks on the side walk looked up, down and at each other, shrugging their shoulders.

But Deacon had a solid hunch.

NOTE: This is a full-length book, being published chapter by chapter with a new chapter posted every two weeks. Readers will have to stay tuned for “what’s next.” The story is copyrighted by the author (Morna McDermott) but may be freely shared and re-blogged/posted (with citation to the author). The purpose of the story was to create a thought experiment. What will happen if/when the corporate destruction of public education and society is complete? Can we begin to imagine/enact a different set of societal structures that are more equitable, anti-racist, sustainable, and democratic? Do we have the collective will to manifest such a future? What can we learn from good examples in the past? Can we take some cues from the world of fiction to begin the conversation? This is a story of hope.

Please join us and enjoy the story! Feedback/comments welcome in the comment box. 


Story Summary

Ryder, Keesha, and Deacon, three lifelong friends, now in their teens have been named the leader-futures for Interregnum City, the first city to decolonize itself from the script of corporate enslavement. The city has gone “off-script.” They, along with their friends and families take the reader into a hopeful landscape of what might yet be possible if, and when, communities embrace the revolutionary power of the collective will, imagination and love. It is fiction of hope; representing any city in America and set in an unknown future time. This is a tale of what could be. Ryder, Deacon and Keesha confront obstacles such as the looming data pods built along the Interregnum Mile, and their secret discovery of the terror that lies waiting for their community if they cannot stop the colonizers secret mission in time. With the help of Ryder’s Uncle Kelley, Deacons grandfather Pops, and Keesha’s mother Susan, these three youth lead their city on a mission for reclamation, resurrection, and resurgence.



The bloated data pods heaved and groaned with the weight of their burden. Like fat over fed cows they seemed sleepy, rested with a deadening stillness. Even though the pipelines had been dismantled years ago, after the explosions the original cache of intellectual oil still lay inside-billions of dollars of untapped financial fuel. The people called it the compost of rotted imagination and fetid possibility.

Ryder, mature for his fourteen years, liked letting that image roll around in his mind. Ryder liked to be contrary to common assumptions. Where others saw destruction he saw creation. Words like rotted and fetid reminded him of the garden his neighborhood quad had started. Every morning he stood at his bedroom window on the tenth floor of his housing project dressing for his community engagement, or perhaps the recreational trip if it was Friday. No matter what lay ahead for the day, he’d stand at the window and look down. Today he could see his friends Jacob and Chloe kneeling down in the soil along the rows of early tomatoes. They were laughing about something, perhaps a joke Jacob was making but even with the window open to let in the warm June breeze, Ryder couldn’t make out what they were saying.

Looking farther beyond the garden and down the city block, dotted with brightly colored row houses: orange, blue, pink and yellow, like a checkerboard of brick squares lining up on both sides of the street, he could see the data pods. High along the city skyline they were an ever present visible reminder to the people just how low they had gone in the name of “progress.” Then, scanning his eyes over the shaded parks, crowded storefronts, cafes, and thick over grown garden jungles (the keystone of every block), Ryder thought about how far they had come since “the interregnum”- when they fought to go off script and decolonize their city.  That’s why they replaced their colonized name with a new nickname: Interregnum City, in honor of the infamous Interregnum Mile which the Blacker Hatters (known for their illegal hacking skills) had dismantled. Ryder would try and conjure images of a world before they broke free. At least, he thought what he could of it using his imagination. Their community was re-created decades before Ryder was even born, but he enjoyed re hearing of it from his grandfather and his uncle Kelly, one of the original Blacker Hatters, the rouge hacking group. His father, he assumed would have been full of stories too, if he were here now. Unlike the innumerable details he had been given about the history of the movement, all he knew of his father’s fate was “whereabouts unknown.” It was all anyone, even his mother, knew.

The sky was a light overcast grey and Ryder knew that if he was working with Mrs. Johnson today, for his Legacy Contribution project, she’d want to take a walk through the park and sit on the bench to feed pigeons like she did every week. He’d be chilly if the wind picked up so he pulled a plain forest green sweatshirt from his middle dresser drawer and slid it over his tall thin frame. In his mind, he could hear his Uncle Kelley, using that booming dramatic tone he liked to use when he was talking about the movement to unscript themselves. If history only relied on his uncle Kelley for the retelling one would think he had single handedly dismantled the data mining pods and chased the corporations out of every city in America. He smiled to himself with affection. Kelley was short on stature, but he wasn’t short on bravado. Or courage, if the five inch knife scar going up the right side of his torso, was any indication. Decades since the injury, the scar still rippled up along his rib cage like the San Andrea’s fault.  Ryder thought of Kelley’s low voicem rising and falling with each piece of the story. He’d always begin the same way:

“There was a time, Ryder, when public schools were actual buildings where you went and sat all day in a classroom. Each classroom had a teacher. And you would read books, and fill out worksheets and take tests to show what you had learned.”

“Learned about what?” Ryder would ask. He tried to imagine what these buildings would look like. His mind could not quite determine what a “work sheet” could be. There was “work”… that’s the part he got. Everyone he knew worked. But what was a sheet? Like a bed sheet?

Kelley would say, “Whatever it was the government, well… really the corporate overlords using the government, wanted you to learn. We went from slavery to segregation to the promise of education. But once we got the right to attend public schools with white kids, they started coming up with all sorts of tests and regulations that put us right back where we were….” He stopped briefly to think carefully. “There were lots of folks, of all races tryin’ to create changes that would support what our kids and our communities needed. Parents, teachers, members of the communities. Even students were fighting for their own rights. But the corporate class with all their money and power just rolled over any resistance. They used the tests in schools to sort and track us into low paying jobs, and to close our schools and to push us out of an education before we had completed a diploma. But even that wasn’t enough for them!”

Ryder had heard the story a million times. This was where Uncle Kelley’s voice would rise to a roiled pitch. “They decided to hand over our schools and our children to private businesses for a profit! They turned public schools into charter school runs by companies who treated our kids like prisoners or investments for their portfolios. And the schools they couldn’t close, well, they let the corporations in through the back door. They outsourced everything from the tests, to the curriculum, and the classroom, the teachers, and finally even our kids’ private data, all handed over to these companies.”

“You mean all the information jammed up in the data pods, Uncle Kelley?”

Whenever Ryder looked out his bedroom window at the rusted machines slumped along Interregnum Mile, in his childish imagination they resembled iron dinosaurs. Something from a dystopic fairy tale. Well, even if they weren’t dinosaurs, that last part was accurate. The world had been living in a dystopic fairy tale.

“What did they do with the data, Uncle Kelley?”

“They used it to control our minds and our bodies. The electronic whip, we called it. With all that information, they could manipulate the choices we made. When Net neutrality was abolished the whole world around each of us was manufactured in a way to make us see what they wanted is to see, and to believe what they wanted us to believe. They controlled the access we had to the world. Worse yet, the data was used against us so prisons were built based on 3rd grade test scores of children of color. Employers decided whether to hire you based on a discipline record that went all the way back into kindergarten, Health care centers decided whether or not to provide you services based on the data they got from what you bought at the grocery store. If you ate foods that weren’t on the approved list, they could refuse to give you health care.  In schools they tracked kid’s pulses and eye movements to be sure they were paying attention. If the computer told the corporate masters you weren’t working hard enough, you could be severely punished.” Ryder did not bother to ask how.

Kelley’s voice dropped low and slow for emphasis. “That data… they just sucked right out of us… made themselves so wealthy and powerful that the people lost all hope of ever being able to have access to a free mind or clean food, clean water, or clean land ever again.”

Ryder tried to picture all that data, all that information like sewage flowing through clogged pipes churning and bubbling up on large screens as psychometric profiles and predictive behaviors. Even at the age of 14 he vaguely understood that in the wrong hands this would have brought his people back to a time of slavery and colonization. But this time, all people, black white or brown were going to be for sale. They had fought it back once. And the people woke up.

But the war wasn’t over. It had just gone underground. While Kelley was always eager to talk about the past with anyone willing to listen, neither he, nor any of the other adults, in Ryder’s world, would talk about the future. That was the cold chill of paralysis that kept up Ryder each night. Lying awake knowing that he, and Deacon and Keesha and the others were left with amorphous task of “re-imaging their future.”

Since they were toddlers, it seemed as if the three of them operated as one organic body: Keesha had the brains, Deacon had the courage, and Ryder had the heart. Best friends. Inseparable since their learning experiences in the Young Peoples Learning Center (YPLC). Deacon and Keesha were convinced that Ryder’s ability to feel so deeply for others came from spending his youth helping his mom who ran the YPLC on their street. Each apartment building, or city block of row homes, had its own YPLC to care for and educate the young children until the age of nine. In these small brightly painted rooms filled with music, paint, building blocks, books and outdoors spaces, the little ones from birth to nine years of age learned the basics: how to read, write, do math, sing, draw, speak multiple languages, cook, build and grow. Then they were graduated to city centers where they chartered their own learning agendas. Of course, parents and family members had influence on what the youth might learn, especially if there was a family business involved. But their contributions, which were places of learning, also contributed back to and within their community. All learning had purpose. And students chose their course. Back before going off script, the colonizers had tried to camouflage their corporate interests in the cloak of community efforts. But the people learned quickly that billions of dollars from outside sources were never intended to grow their community but to drain it. Double speaking in words of equality, freedom and choice, disguised social impact bonds and vulture philanthropy only worked for so long. Shortly after, they were driven out.

“Too much time with all those babies!” Deacon would sneer, using a tone of disgust underlining the word “babies.” Deacon couldn’t sit still long enough to listen to long drawn out stories strung together by small children with runny noses. He wanted round- the- clock action.

“Nu uh. It’s cause of his daddy. Ryder’s got preacher’s blood in him” Keesha would counter. The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Ryder’s father when he was still a small infant was usually a hands-off topic no one could brooch with Ryder without winding up facing his fists in their face. But Keesha- she just knew how to say things just right so that the words were not unkind, or taunting. They were simply true. There wasn’t much Keesha could say or do that angered Ryder. With her, more so than with any of the others, his patience was endless. Whenever he saw her smile, or laugh, or simply draw a breath, Ryder’s whole body would light up with electricity. Simply being in her space created an invisible ripple effect from her to him. No one else could see it. But he could feel it. He wasn’t quite sure if she ever noticed this. But what folks did notice was how there was an unspoken orchestra of unity between the three of them. As young children they had simply revolved like planets into one another’s orbits and now they rotated around each other’s fields of gravity, inexplicably drawn together- even though their worlds at home were so markedly different. All they really had in common was their community, their age, and each other.

By the time they were twelve years old the Council of Elders had made it clear that very soon, the fate of their community, the growing success of the decolonized zone, rested with them. “Nothing thrills a teenager like getting the power he’s been yammering for” Kelley would say with an “I told you so” tone of voice. The he’d laugh. Ryder didn’t find it funny. None of them did. Sure they had the Council of Community Elders to lean on.  But it was really on them. And Ryder, not a huge risk taker, clung to Deacon and Keesha for their courage.

“Ryder!” his mom called from the kitchen downstairs. His mind was back to full attention of the present. He looked at the clock next to his bed. “Oh crap, I’m late! Coming mom! Be right there.”

As his foot hit the first stair he heard a low rumble from outside. The rumble grew into a roar. The house vibrated for a moment and he clutched the railing.

“Mom!” he called.

“Ryder, get down here. Quickly!”

He raced down skipping steps as he went. “What was that?

“I don’t know.”

“Call Uncle Kelley.”

She reached for the phone by the kitchen sink. Then a calm settled over the area. Ryder could hear neighbors outside on the street murmuring and asking questions. His mom hung up. “No answer.”

“I’ll go and find out, Mom. Don’t worry” Ryder said as he pushed open the front door to their row house and out onto the stoop. First thing he had to do was find Deacon.