Fiction – The day before the day before the day before the Revolution

Hannah: “Have you decided if you’re coming to this?”

Otto: “I’ll pass, but thanks for the invite.”

Hannah: “You don’t care about these issues?”

Otto:  “Sweet that you tried, but that’s not bait I rise to anymore, sorry.”

Hannah: “Oh, you’re doing the ‘I’m so mature and zen thing’?”

Otto:  “Or my ‘de-assholification’, if you want. Neither of us – and no-one else I know – was particularly enlightened by me when I was sighing and eye-rolling and worse.”

Hannah:  “Fair point, well-made. But why aren’t you coming, at least update your knowledge.”

Otto:  “There are more efficient ways of doing that – of getting understanding –  than schlepping to some under-attended meeting staged by under-strategic people to listen to some underwhelming guy tell me things I could get from reading his book, or his blog, or whatever.”

Hannah:  “You talk about efficiency – as if you’re going to be here at home pushing the revolution forward instead.”

Otto:  “I think you need bigger scare quotes around revolution, to be honest.”

Hannah:  “I really don’t understand you, and I am beginning not to be bothered to make the effort. You keep banging on about the need for fundamental change, but when someone comes to town saying exactly that, you can’t even be bothered to come along – to a free meeting – to hear what is being said.  You can see why people think this new version of you is not really an improvement on the old version?”

Otto:  “Ooh, my favourite subject… Shall we NOT talk about me, and my reputation and what other people think? Because neither of us gives a damn. But if you want, I will explain why I am not joining you at the meeting before the meeting before the barricades are set up?”

Hannah: “We’re leaving in ten minutes, you’ve got five of them. That’s a ceiling, not a target”

Otto:  “I love a challenge. One, is I have already BEEN to this meeting. Anyone who has ever been “involved” has. We troop in. There are chairs set out, almost certainly in rows. We are not encouraged to talk to anyone nearby, so we cluster with those we know, or scroll on our phones to avoid – gasp – talking to a stranger.  Then, a few minutes later than announced, the meeting starts. The organiser blethers and gushes, and then hands over to  – usually  – the Big External Speaker, the one off the tellie who occasionally is on the radio. Has a column in the Guardian. He – and it is usually he – has a new book out. He’s going to talk about his research, for a few minutes. It’s almost always longer than he said. And it’s painful level detail, but people bask in that, because it makes them feel informed, and responsible.  And the conclusion?  Well, if we’re talking bluntly, his conclusion is that shit is fucked up and the government needs to regulate the corporations and – of course – everyone needs to buy his book.  THEN – and this is the real heart-breaker, the real reason I refuse to collude in these shitshows, this turning of people into ego-fodder.  Then it is “over to questions.”  And hands shoot up. And its hands belonging to white men of a certain youth or age – and before you interject, yes, I KNOW I was one of these assholes, and I cringe at the memory every single day. And these men have googled about this issue, and want everyone to know it. They’re either licking the Big Guy’s bollocks, stanning like those Muskbots on Twitter and hoping for some reflected glory, or they are some kind of eco-Trot – either Stalinist or ‘anarchist’ or whatever – wanting to edge-lord the whole thing and say that it’s actually much worse and in any case, what Big External Speaker hasn’t said – for reasons of cowardice or liberalism – is that we need a REVOLUUUUUUUUUUUUTION man. Like, right NOW.”  And then there’s the guy who doesn’t have a question really, so much as a comment.
And all these vampires, their questions go on forever.  And the chair doesn’t usually know what to do. Then the Big External Guy speaks back, and you see people start to gather their things and leave. The energy leaks out the room at the same time.  Finally, some women, realising the question they had is actually BETTER than what has gone before, tentatively raise their delicate hands. But it’s too late. The meeting is over, the chair calls for a round of applause. Most people bolt for the door. Some crowd the Big Speaker, to lick or punch. Others hang around wondering if everyone is off to a pub. Rinse, repeat, rinse repeat.”

Hannah:  “That sounds very rehearsed.  Have you been doing Travis Bickle in the mirror again. ‘ You talkin’ to me?’”

Otto: “If it sounds rehearsed, it’s because I have lived it over and over, and written about it – and what could be done differently at very great length very very often.”

Hannah: “To what effect?”

Otto:  “You know to what effect. To precisely zero effect. Telling me I have had no impact isn’t going to finesse me along to this thing you know.

Hannah: Paranoia meds not working then?

Otto: Whatever. The comment is not worthy of you, of this discussion.. And yes, as you well know, I have written about the why of that, the why this is a stable ritual, even though it doesn’t actually work.”

Hannah:  “Well, maybe it’s a phase everyone has to go through?”

Otto:  “Maybe. I have certainly gone through it.  But how many people “go through” it and at the other end of the through are just back on their sofa,  shouting at the television, thinking nothing can change? How many potential active members of social movement organisations are fed into the mincemeat machine that is the standard meeting, the standard group? I can’t face it anymore. I go to these things, I feel like some solider in the trenches, watching the new replacements arrive, fresh-faced, and I don’t even have time to learn their names before they jump out of the trench and get machine-gunned, to be replaced by more, probably even younger, like at the end of Starship Troopers? Why learn their names? And more importantly why give support – through my attendance – to organisers so selfish and stupid, so unwilling to see the pattern, and to even try to innovate. Or to Big Names who grift on “the cat should wear a bell” without ever being the old mouse who asks the key question. Why be complicit?”

Hannah:  “So, you’re not coming?”

Otto:  “Well played. Have a nice evening. I think that’s your winged chariot I hear, drawing near.”

Hannah:  “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Otto: “As you like.”

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