Mary Dreads walked along the boundary to the Green Zone, sipping absently from a large paper cup of hot coffee while dragging Parker on a leash along the sidewalk behind her. Parker was her scruffy little dog, a dirty pale orange animal who to onlookers sometimes appeared to be passed out. On Mary’s side of the wide avenue sat tumbling down structures, many abandoned, behind fencing, condemned. On the other side of the avenue stood restored Victorian homes that were part of the Green Zone.
The Green Zone was the university, with surrounding blocks of large houses and chain businesses which were in every way an extension of campus. The zone was “green,” i.e., environmentally conscious, yet with its extensive campus police and isolation from the greater neighborhood it was another kind of Green Zone as well—a protected enclave amid a world of poverty. The sarcastic use of the term began during the Iraq War, taken from the name of the American compound in Baghdad. The name stuck.
The Green Zone contained the area’s show dogs. Not just the designated Best. The Only. At moments in her life Mary had skirted the line. The crucial divide. Credit or debit. First class or the mass. Nobles or nowhere.
Behind its barriers the Green Zone was expanding, like a living organism gobbling up the ruined landscape then redeveloping and gentrifying it. The dividing line pushed farther and farther out.
Mary walked slowly along the busy avenue, a flood of cars streaming past. The houses of the Zone’s outer ring across the avenue were colored burnt red. This was fitting, as they always faced the sun.
Mary Dreads was a small young woman with small features and pale brown hair which she wore in dreadlocks in order to be recognizable, along with bright-colored garb. She knew she was unimpressive. Nevertheless she saw herself as a key figure in the insurgency she hoped would transform itself into revolution.
Her idol was Sofia Perovskaya, a 19th century Russian anarchist. Mary had learned about her in college. After the men fell from the forefront, Perovskaya took charge. Mary saw no less an outcome for herself. She knew the cause would have many stages. It required patience—Mary had of that virtue a warehouse. She was like a toy bulldog that once set on its path couldn’t be stopped.
She’d read and seen enough to know the weaknesses of movements. To know which individuals would be useful to the cause, and those who’d be useless.
At the African Lion one night she and Miles had written down four kinds of personalities to avoid, using scattershot input from Top Hat.
Top Hat preferred calling this category “Theorists.” Bullshit artists in late night bullshit sessions expending their activist energy on talk. Mary had known revolutionaries like this in college. They were the only kind she found there. Sure, talk was necessary. Top Hat loved to talk. But even he agreed that it needed to be focused on special moments. Talk to recruit, or to energize the cause. What Lara Vox did on the airwaves. Miles seldom talked, but was the brightest of them all. The biggest talkers never left the university. Soon enough they were at the front of classrooms, still talking.
Top Hat called them “Incrementalists.” These persons looked for any excuse to cash in a perceived gain. “Can’t we all just get along?” Uh, no, not if you want to change the world.
How do you get along with a jackboot pushing your face into the mud? Most Compromisers were professionals who didn’t want to change the current system at all. They looked for a place inside the system. Token opposition to the status quo. Their resume was important.
Top Hat and Mary had a one-word code between themselves for this kind of activist: “Liberal.”
There were fifty kinds of anarchist and 500 styles of Marxist. Are you an Anarcho-Syndicalist Trotskyite or a Green Third International Bukharin Socialist? None of these people were serious. They were ideologues. Purists. Maintaining the purity of their faction mattered most to them. The fundraising, pamphleteering, paying rent on a cheap storefront office, and the inevitable neverending internal disputes left no time or energy for anything else. Miles put it best when he said that for many people in this country, ideology was a prop. It allowed them to not think. They inhaled a ready-made set of beliefs to do their thinking for them.
For the serious revolutionary, specifics didn’t matter. Mary knew libertarians who were more dedicated radicals than many so-called leftists.
Those who joined the movement out of curiosity, who played the role on whim as a kind of hobby or entertainment, or who saw opportunity for themselves in the cause. Or maybe they just wanted to get laid.
Often these four types were four sides of the same person.
Mary’s reading of history showed that two things mattered for any revolutionary movement.
Leadership meant having a small group of dedicated activists setting an agenda that must be followed by everyone in order to have success.
This meant burning your boats. Leaving the plow behind. No turning back. This was the only acceptable mindset.
These were their stated rules. Mary’d found though that you knew instinctively who was a genuine comrade and who wasn’t. You could tell by their eyes. Bart the Bard, for instance, wore Marxist paraphernalia, but it’s not what he was about, other than to show he wanted rebellion against the existing order. He lived for rebellion.
They knew it wasn’t numbers that mattered, but the substance of those involved.
What was Mary’s background?
This question, she knew, would someday be asked in history books. Mary cringed at the thought of her family, and the dreary milieu she came from. She hoped this question wouldn’t be asked too hard.
What was the cause of her disillusion?
Mary Dreads was born disillusioned, she decided. She knew the world she was expected to conform to, with its silly social rituals and superficial idols, its condescending authority figures, wasn’t for her. She saw on every side of her only shallowness. Therefore the need to change that world.
What a coup to have Lara Vox involved! The city’s radical superhero. The further they drew Lara in and utilized her special talents, the more the cause would benefit. Mary walked to an important group meeting with Lara Vox now.
Mary heard Parker being dragged on the sidewalk behind her, zonked-out as always. Not quite a fearless attack dog. Not exactly a fitting companion for a dedicated revolutionary like herself.
She’d found Parker five years ago in an alleyway. The dog was marginally more alert at the time. Mary carried him home, cleaned him up, took him to a vet for shots, then presented him as a gift to a friend with a young daughter. The friend was a famous professor who’d had the child late in life via artificial insemination.
Mary liked the lonely little kid. The celebrated professor had a full schedule. The well-behaved dog was perfect for a well-behaved little girl.
Four years later the professor showed up at Mary’s door in the west side neighborhood where Mary now stayed. The woman had tracked down her former student.
“I’ve taken a new position,” the severe woman said, her teary-eyed daughter standing obediently behind her. “We’re moving to Wisconsin. Here’s your dog.”
Mary Dreads wasn’t sure how an active radical like herself could take care of an animal. Mary’s solution was to take Parker with her everywhere. Including her sixteen-hour a week job at a pizza shop, where Parker stayed in the back room. Parker didn’t mind. Neither did anyone else. He attended all the revolutionary meetings. Mary thought of him as part of the movement.
Mary sometimes wondered if Parker was just old, or if he was retarded. She’d decided he was no more retarded than anyone else in this stupid town.