The following is a guest post entry into our Survival & Preparedness Writing Contest.
Hope and Change by B.M.
The past 5 years had been very troubling for Brent and his family as they, and the rest of the country, had continued to struggle to recover from the previous presidents horrible financial management of the nation’s economy. His desire to allow a so called ‘free market economy’ combined with his prolonged war against Islam, a religion known for its generosity and honorable ways, had done irreparable damage to our economy and left us with a nine million dollar deficit. In fact the conservatives had forced our country’s beloved president to increase our national debt from nine trillion dollars when he took office in 2008 to over seventeen trillion dollars in just a short 5 year period. Jobs had become increasingly hard to come by, and housing had not been truly able to recover. With so many people still out of work, and unable to afford healthcare insurance, the current administration had to take drastic measures to find a way to offer everyone an opportunity to get adequate health care. The new act had been hampered by the conservatives again during its development with their incessant cries about fairness in business and the socialization of medicine. Luckily the new act had been passed, albeit with some unforeseen costs, and unexpected technological issues. Once in place, it had provided some form of healthcare for everyone. The economy had been so badly affected by that point that it continued to founder and any hope of a recovery seemed to dwindle more and more each day.
Brent had been out of work as a programmer the past few years, but due to the benevolent actions of our president he had been able to still provide for his family’s needs with the help of local and federal welfare and humanitarian programs. Something, he was sure, that the conservative right would not have done for them. He found that through these programs he was still able to go to a local big box store and shop for groceries, been able to pay the rent for their apartment, been provided a cell phone so he could stay in touch with his family, and even to still have a car. He had believed very deeply in his wonderful nation, in that people are so helpful and charitable to enable his family to continue to thrive. Brent had tried to give back in the only way he could; by being a voice of reason and being involved with such serious issues as the principles of fairness found in the redistribution of wealth from the rich to those they had taken advantage of for so long. Gun Control was another of his favorite issues because if they could get the dangerous ‘Assault Weapons’, and handguns, off of the streets, and keep them only in the hands of the military and law enforcement, then violence would surely die. In cities like New York, and States like California, the progressive movement had been able to remove these instruments of violence almost completely.
Even when he was unable to provide for the needs of his family on his own, the government made sure that they didn’t go without. That is, until last week. Last week he had gone to the store and found out that their limit for food had been cut by more than half. He was sure this was some new attack by the conservatives to take what he deserved and probably use it to give more to the one per centers. Probably some kind of tax breaks to help them keep even more money for themselves. Brent thought it was going to be very hard to make it and became angry. Some however must have been more upset than he was. There were crowds of people who rioted at the well-known big box stores all over the country. People got so mad that they even burned some of the stores to the ground just to show the big business types that they cannot get away with taking away their benefits. He even heard some of the people in his apartments talking about a big protest downtown in the business district where some of them had gotten arrested. It sounded pretty intense, and some of the businesses and banks ended up closing down and boarding up. His neighbors were really proud of that, but it was a bit of a pain since they used to shop at a couple of them. One was their dentist, whom he heard decided to closed up and leave town. The other was the clinic they took their kids to, but Brent figured that when things got back to normal they will return so they figured they wouldn’t miss any appointments or anything. Besides the Emergency room was still open and as long as the government was paying for their healthcare, they would use it for urgent care visits.
Things continued to get dicey as the weekend progressed and then on Monday the news was telling people the list of businesses that didn’t want their employees to come to work due to civil unrest in their areas. They also announced that some of the local hospitals were consolidating their patients into a others in safer areas, and closing. That night Brent and his family could hear sirens and see the reflections of flashing lights late into the night. The smell of smoke hung heavily in the air. The next morning the President was on the Television telling everyone that due to a faltering economy, and in spite of his every effort to recover from the previous administration, that federal aid, social security, and federal pensions were being suspended, as some of the facilities that processed these had been affected by protestors. To be honest many employees were not showing up due to the dangers of traveling to work, and some had been burned to the ground. This really created a stir in the nation, and Brent was surprised to hear that the people doing it were the ones who depended most on those checks. People were not sure what they were going to do, and it really shook Brent and his family, as they depended so much on these benefits. How could the government do this to people who relied on them for their very lives? The President had said something about setting up some FEMA Aid Stations around the nations where people in need could go to help, and that they would be ready very soon to start receiving people. He reported that they had even opened their arms to aid from the United Nations so this event could be quickly resolved and get our country back on a path to full health. This would also help our country become more involved in a more united world and not be so segregated, he said. These were changes he said “We can all believe in.”
As the week dragged on, Brent and his family began to be increasingly uneasy as gunshots and violence could be heard from neighboring apartment units. One night as they were sleeping they heard someone banging on their door and yelling to let them in. Brent’s wife tried to calm the kids and keep them quiet while he stood to the side of the door clutching his favorite golf club in case they tried to enter. The banging and yelling stopped after a time, and suddenly a gun shot was heard as a small beam of light now shown through from the lights outside. The man yelling said something about coming back, and then left. The bullet had gone through his door and through the wall into his children’s room. Brent quickly checked on his family, and after confirming that no one had been hurt, he spent the rest of the night in a chair facing the door.
As his wife and he sat for breakfast they discussed the issue from the night before, and tried to examine their options, they were few. They could stay and hope that the man would not come back, especially with friends, but with nothing which to defend themselves with, other than a golf club, it was not a great choice. The only other option was for them to leave and go to one of the FEMA Aid Stations, where they were sure they could get food, water, and security. As they were sitting there the emergency broadcast tone was heard on the TV in the next room where his kids were complaining that their cartoon had been interrupted. The Governors voice was then heard as he announced that he was following suit with other states and declaring martial law to keep the peace. No one was allowed to be out on the streets after 9pm or before 6am. That is unless they had written proof that they were traveling to or from their employment, and then only if it were an essential service such as healthcare, fire, or other emergency services. He further explained that prices for any goods were to be frozen at current prices to prevent any gouging due to the emergency, and anyone caught looting would be shot on sight. Anyone found in violation of curfew would be detained on sight by the National Guard who had been called up for this Emergency. It was interesting that only about one third of them answered the call though. They were the young single men without families to worry about. The family men seemed to not have heard about the call up and stayed with their families. Since law enforcement was being overwhelmed, UN Peace Keepers had been brought in to help maintain order. They were easily identified by their blue beret’s and different patterned camouflaged uniforms. They also carried different rifles than the US military and law enforcements M-16.
Brent and his wife first thought that with martial law in place, maybe they would be safe in their home, so they stayed another night, which while restless, was uneventful. When they learned that there were issues with the call up of the National Guard they realized that it may not happen soon enough, and the thought of foreign soldiers protecting them was a little disturbing. The next day they finally decided to pack up their necessities and go to one of the FEMA Aid Stations. Fliers had been distributed to inform people that busses would leave from downtown on a daily basis, in the afternoon, to take people to the Aid Stations, so that is where they decided to head since it was so close to where they lived. It almost seemed that this is how things were supposed to be. It was so convenient that Brent again felt a little glimmer of hope with his government once again helping to care for he and his family.
That afternoon they arrived at the check in station for a bus ride to the Aid Station about three hours before the buses were to depart. They had brought with them their legal papers, family photos that couldn’t be replaced, and some valuable family heirloom jewelry her mother had left to them when she passed. They noticed a lot of people who, like themselves, seemed relieved to be there. They were asked to fill out a survey to inform officials of any talents they had or skills that could help in this time of emergency. It also asked some questions about what personal items they had for recording purposes and to prevent loss, how many in their family (with ages, genders, and names), their religious background, some medical questions, and even some very personal questions about their lifestyles. All in all Brent figured that they must really be organized and ready to provide for all of their needs since the survey was so very detailed. After filling out and turning in the survey they sat in an area to wait for their turn to board the bus.
10 minutes before the bus was to leave, Brent’s family was finally called to come forward. They went to the desk where they were checked off a list, and then instructed to tag their belongings as they would be brought in a separate truck behind the bus, and to pass through a gate where they would be loaded onto the buses. After they passed through the gate they were met by an official looking woman who was flanked on either side by UN Peace Keepers in their blue beret’s, camouflaged uniforms, holding their rifles. They were instructed that to keep things peaceful they were having the men on one bus, and the women and children were boarding the second bus. Brent was nervous at first, but then decided that they needed to get to the Aid Station and that with the trouble they had heard about on the news with fighting and violence that it made some sense. As they boarded their buses, they were handed a bottle of water, a granola bar, took their seats and began their journey to the Aid Stations. Brent sat enjoying his “In-Flight Snack”, as some of the men jokingly call it, and looked over his shoulder to see his families bus following along right behind his. He couldn’t see the “baggage” truck, but figured it must be coming. After all, all of their belongings were on it.
The ride was surprisingly short and ended near an old abandoned airport that closed in the 80’s due to protesting its effect on the environment. When they arrived they were ask to disembark and enter a staging area where their identities were once again confirmed and each person was given a small metal bracelet that they said would be used for identification, similar to how the military used dog tags. The Aid Station seemed well protected with a twelve foot tall fence surrounding it with razor wire on the top. Along the bottom of the fence and about 8 feet away from the fence was a 4 foot tall wall made of metal wire cages filled with rocks. The living area seemed to be a compound made of semi rigid walled tents lined up in rows. And the administrative buildings were the old tower and maintenance buildings. Apparently the FEMA Staff had quarters in what once were the Quonset hut hangars. There were watch towers on each corner of the compound so he felt sure that no bandits or other bad people could get to them. Brent was surprised to see that his bus had entered a different fenced off area for this than the one his family was on, but he looked forward to reuniting with them inside the living compound after disembarking. He lined up as directed, with the others and entered a trailer to check in. Once inside they were instructed that to eliminate the possibility of any parasites, or other ‘bugs’ from getting into the camp that they would need to take a shower, and then they would be issued some clothes. Brent chuckled thinking that his dear wife would have to do all of this with their kids in tow as he enjoyed the warm showers. He toweled dry and then retrieved the clothes from a staff member behind a counter. They were not exactly what he had imagined, but then again this was all new to him. He was given some white underclothing that fit a bit loosely, a blue jumpsuit, a pair of white socks, and some slip on blue canvas deck shoes. Some of the men jokingly ask where the shuffleboard would be on the cruise as they put them on.
After dressing they entered a large classroom with tables and chairs lined up similar to what he had used in college. Brent was surprised that he still had not been reunited with his wife and when he ask about it, was instructed that they needed to complete an indoctrination class, and then any questions not yet answered, could be addressed. Brent sat through the class where they were instructed that they would be working on various projects to help earn their keep, and to keep people from becoming idle during the emergency. Brent was impressed that they were trying to create a sense of community right off the bat by helping each other fill the needs of the whole. It was truly quite a Utopian concept. They were told that due to the confined quarters they would be living in, it was very important that everyone do their part to help keep the peace, and to keep their living space clean. Inspections would be weekly to ensure that living conditions did not lend to disease or discomfort for others. They were even instructed that if they witnessed or overheard anything that could cause problems to make sure they reported it immediately. As a matter of fact, anyone that reported something which was found to be helpful in keeping the peace would be rewarded for being a good citizen.
The class took about ninety minutes and then they were told they would be fed in the classroom since it had gotten late, then they would be moving into the living compound. They were served a lunch consisting of a spaghetti with a piece of garlic bread, a side salad with Italian dressing, and some grape juice. The managing director for the FEMA Aid Station introduced herself and welcomed them as they ate. She informed them that her staff was here to ensure their safety and security during the emergency affecting the nation. After Dinner they actually felt pretty full, and after the long day they were ready to settle into their living areas. As they filed past a trash can after dinner to dump their plates, cups, and plastic ware they were directed through a door and down a ramp to the living compound. The living compound was separated from the administrative, and staff quarters, by another tall fence, which to Brent, meant less chance of any fraternization issues.
As Brent entered the living compound he noticed that he only saw men walking around. Wanting to find his family quickly, he approached a one of the FEMA Staff and asked where he might be able to locate his wife and children. The guard responded that he could go over by a fence he gestured to and meet them there. As Brent approached the blood drained from his face as he realized that his wife and children were standing on the other side of the fence. His wife was holding their 2 year old daughter in her arms while his 4 year old son was clutching her leg. She seemed very upset about things, but Brent assured her there must some mistake and he would take care of things. He went back to the gate at the base of the ramp to the training room he had just left, but it was locked from the other side. He approached a FEMA Staff member and asked when he would be reunited with his family, to which the reply was “When the emergency is over and you are allowed to return to your homes. They don’t have the room for families to live together here, so they keep the men separate from the women and children to reduce the potential for any problems.”
Brent was shocked and asked where their personal property they had checked was. “It has been checked in and will be stored for you. We don’t allow people to have personal property to keep theft from occurring.” The FEMA Staffer responded.
Brent started to get upset, but fearing reprisal he simply ask, “Where do I live then?”
The Staffer pointed to the tents and said, “In any bunk that has a rolled up mattress on it. You are free to choose.”
“You said ‘when we are allowed to leave’; does that mean we cannot leave if we decide we wanted to?” Brent Asked.
“We don’t allow people to leave in case they decide to try and come back with bad people to do bad things. It is just safer to keep everyone here until the emergency has passed.” The staff member replied.
Brent was starting to realize what was happening, and he started to head back to the ‘fence’ to talk with his wife. As he trudged along, he remembered a quote from Benjamin Franklin which he had learned from his grandpa at a very early age:
“Those who would give up essential freedoms for a little security, deserve neither freedom or security”
He realized that he had not only given up his freedom, but he had actively participated in trying to eliminate freedoms that had been guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but he had not considered those things in the heat of the moment. Things just seemed to be ‘what was best for everyone’. He had given in to the things of the world which were not important or were in violation of what he had been taught in Sunday school as a child. Things he had once known to be true, but had only seemed like ‘old fashioned’ or ‘antiquated’ ways of thinking. He reflected on his life since being out of work and thought about a scripture his grandpa on his mothers side had quoted once from the fifth chapter of the First Epistle of Timothy verse eight, saying; “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than in infidel.”
Before Brent could make it back to the fence he was in tears. How could he face his wife and children and tell them that he had failed them as a father, as a leader in his home, and that he had sold them into bondage because he had not held true to what he knew deep in his heart to be true? He slumped to the ground in the center of the compound, surrounded by men, and yet all alone. He sat there and he sobbed.
Life in the camps was not as rosy as Brent had believed it would be. Security was only there to keep people in our out, but once inside it seemed more like a medium security prison. They were made to work, mostly in the garden, and for this you received three square meals a day. Much of the meals came from that very same garden. The staff would often address the groups on Friday nights or during meals to remind them that through sustainability they would be able to continue enjoying the fruits of their labors. One man rose during one of the speeches and said something about “Agenda 21”, but he was quickly escorted out and re-educated. He was much quieter when he returned.
It would be seven months and three weeks to the day since arriving at the FEMA facility before they were allowed to leave, and Brent was once again able to hold his children again. His wife would require a bit longer though, for he had not upheld the oath he had made to her at their wedding. He had promised to care for nurture, and protect her. During their time in the camp and for the years leading up to it he had neither cared for, nor nurtured her or his children. He had allowed the government to do that for him, while he had spent his time working his way into bondage and willingly giving up the liberty he had taken for granted. As for protecting her, he had failed miserably. While in the camp as his wife had been assaulted by one of the blue bereted U.N. Staff ‘protectors’. She never spoke about it, but her demeanor had completely changed one day as she became distant and silent. The days were long, and the work was hard, but every evening Brent would go to the fence and talk with his children. His wife had remained withdrawn since her assault, and sat off to the side as they spoke. The guilt Brent felt for failing his family was almost unbearable as time crept by at an agonizingly slow pace. Of course, their personal items that had been stored turned up missing, and when finally located, the heirloom jewelry had been ‘misplaced’ and was never recovered.
As for the nation, it would take years before the people were again able to restore the republic which they had failed to keep. Hundreds of thousands would die off during the dark years due to illness, or violence, and most of them during the first 6 months after the crash. Later it would be revealed that the most violent areas seemed to the areas where guns had been outlawed. Apparently only the law abiding citizens had obeyed the laws, and the criminal element still had their guns. In most of those cases like it seemed that gun free zones were nothing more than a victim rich environment for the wolves to hunt in.
It would take a second civil war before another Constitutional government could be re-established and the rights of the people restored once again. This new government did away with the private banking Federal Reserve, and returned to a gold / silver standard.
They brought home America’s sons and daughters from the wars they had been fighting for other nations, and put them to work rebuilding the infrastructure of the once great United States of America.
America’s borders were finally secured, as holding citizenship was considered a selective and high honor.
Senators, Congressmen, and representatives were again elected according to the constitution, and any of them not upholding their oaths of office were subject to Section three of the fourteenth amendment and summarily removed from office.
Treaties which were unconstitutional were un-ratified, as were all amendments which gave more power to the government and removed power from the states, and the people.
ALL people were considered equal, not only before the law, but in every way, and they learned to work together.
Voting became a requirement for citizenship.
Taxes were once again raised through Tariffs on imports and exports, and the government shrunk in size as people realized that the power lay in themselves and not in their elected leaders.
People in need were given aid, but by their families, neighbors, and churches. When the reason for the aid had passed and they were once again able to contribute to another’s needs they did so. Not out of a sense of requirement, but because it was the honorable thing to do.
Slowly life returned to something better than what had been considered normal.
As for Brent and his family; he and his wife had worked through the strained episode of the camp and its emotional after effects. It was awkward at first, but he had committed himself to earning her love and respect again even if it took the rest of his life to do so. It didn’t take long before she saw the change in him. He opened his own business, a bakery, and was able to help those in need by providing food and comfort. His wife took in children while families were working, and between the two of them they were able to provide for their family. Their children grew and developed healthy and happy habits while they learned skills to help them in their futures. Life had not gone back to the 1800’s, but maybe to the 1950’s.
Life was a slower more manageable pace, with less distraction, and people valued more while having less.
Technology was still around, but it was used for important things, and not as a way to waste time waiting for the latest news about insignificant things.
Slowly over time These United States of America once again grew to be the land of milk and honey, and people all around the world were once again envious of her citizens. It returned to being a world leader, and was the voice of liberty. Never again to be thought of as a Democracy, but as the Republic it was at its birth. A place where displaying the Flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or even public prayer was considered patriotic, not as a form of extremism. It was once again filled with peaceful Americans, the land of the free, and the home of the brave.