The Poverty Line

More enforcement droids were coming with their weapons readied. But people had taken enough. Those who had been waiting in the long line so that they could continue their meager existences were angry. They surged at the enforcement droids and collectively smashed them to bits in a process of spontaneous rebellion.

Short Story by Jack Bragen

There was a long line of people that formed at six in the morning at the door of the Department of Domestic Poverty (Concord, California Branch), because it was Wednesday. People needed their restriction cards refreshed so that they would be allowed to buy food and cigarettes, so that they could pay rental fees on their cubicles, and so that they wouldn’t be subject to a fine and imprisonment.

As I waited in line, I remembered how events had unfolded, even though it was illegal for me to think about this. The government had become increasingly controlling, increasingly sinister, and increasingly omnipotent.

It had happened in stages, each change being spoon-fed to the public so that it would be harder to point out the gradual erosion of liberty, and object that the government was pulling a fast one.

A man next to me deliberately jostled me with a pretense of it being unintentional. “Sorry,” he said. It was a mock apology. He was a towering, stocky man and I didn’t want to argue with him.

“Don’t worry about it,” I replied, not knowing how I could appease the gentleman.

“Pardon me,” he said, in that tone of voice that bullying men use — that fake politeness. “Can I go ahead of you? I’m really in dire straits.”

I replied, “We are all in dire straits. I can’t give up my spot.” I sized up the antagonist, looking for vulnerable spots in case it came to a fight. If I gave up my spot to him, what would stop the next person in line from asking the same thing? And the next?

Meanwhile, an enforcement droid, the type on wheels rather than legs, had shown up. It was within range of stunning either me or the man with whom I had been arguing. “You two, present your cards! You first!” The robot pointed a mechanical finger at my opponent.

We were both about to get pain-whipped. It is excruciating pain and no one wants it. Afterward, they refresh your card because you are usually too weak to continue standing in line.

There were a few people who routinely misbehaved, preferring the physical agony over having to wait all day to get their card refreshed.

My opponent produced an aluminum baseball bat seemingly out of nowhere, and caught the enforcement droid by surprise. It was quickly reduced to a heap of sparking electronic pieces.

Everyone in line cheered.

"The Poverty Line." Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

 

More enforcement droids were coming. I counted five of them and they had their weapons readied. But people had taken enough. The people who had been waiting in the long line so that they could continue their meager existences were angry. They surged at the enforcement droids and collectively smashed them to bits.

In the process of this spontaneous rebellion, one person was shot. An ambulance appeared that had been electronically summoned. Emergency medical care had become worse then a joke, and the ambulance was merely a disposal service. The crowd gathered around the ambulance and overturned it.

I spotted the man who had started it all. He was stooping over the remains of the robot he had destroyed, and was apparently trying to refresh his card using the electronic pieces. I saw him smile and get ready to walk away.

I quickly walked toward him. “I’ve got to shake your hand,” I said. “I’m Al.” I reached toward the stranger.

He reached out a hand. “Baker,” he said, introducing himself.

“Way to go, Baker,” I said.

I swiped my card on the electronic piece that I had seen Baker use, and we both slipped away from the angry crowd which was now breaking windows. I stopped at the food bank and got some food, and went to my cubicle where my wife and daughter waited. I would have a story to tell them.

A Life Consecrated to Compassion and Justice

On the bleak streets of the Tenderloin, a sister took a stand against inhumanity. Her solidarity was inspired by the beatitudes and consecrated to the poor.

The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

Street Spirit Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin

This atrocity was happening in a very wealthy city. It was happening right under our noses. It was very visible. And there was not the united voice of the faith community speaking out. That was the spark of Religious Witness. From that moment, I knew what I had to do.

Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin, Part Two

“What’s forming in my mind is Jesus in the temple when he became angry at the unjust and very exclusive systems of society. That is the very reason that there are the poor and the marginalized. It is not enough just to provide food, clothing and housing.”

‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I Remember Who I Am

“And Now Where?” Lithograph by Rockwell Kent

By and by, I calm down. I meditate. I pray. It is a beautiful day. The sun is setting. I weave my way toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me. I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.