Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #1943431
Free enterprise comes home
Character’s Political Views-Contest
Politics as Unusual
Ex-Major Jolene Carpenter returned home after two tours in the Middle East, a survivor by most definitions. She’d seen the aftereffects of hundreds of years of hate and discrimination on the bloody streets and graveyards in those countries, each touting their own ‘perfect’ brand of civilization.
Although her duties were tied primarily to financial and logistical processes, she’d seen the debilitating effects of large-scale corruption and brutality in the local communities by the politicians that were in place to serve them. Finally, unable to deal with the helplessness of her efforts to set things to right, she resigned her commission and left the Marine Corps after her last tour.
The prevailing American political postulate for correcting the ills of dysfunctional governments was simply to throw money at the problems, hoping things would sort themselves out over time. Of course, that process only exacerbated the problems, enabling the corrupters to embed themselves even more firmly in control.
Now, standing at the airport terminal, waiting for her father, Arthur, to pick her up, she finally felt a sense of home, comfort, mom and apple pie, as they used to refer to things ‘stateside.’ As the minutes passed, she noted one other reason for resigning her commission; a few letters from her father while she was overseas, passing on some concerns about recent events back home, resulting from the fouled economy. She might not be able to make a difference in where things were going these days, but she’d be a fool not to try.
A brief, but tearful welcome, and she found herself in her father’s old Ford pickup, seabag in the back, heading back to her childhood home. Her mother had passed years ago, but her father had dutifully finished raising her in accordance with the ‘old customs’, as her mother would have wanted.
There were five generations of Carpenters invested in this small city of twelve thousand, and they’d ultimately infiltrated into every fiber of the local culture. Most were related in some way, ‘shirttail’ they called it, and their bloodlines flowed throughout the region. Something had happened however, in the years following the ‘Big Recession’ that threatened to wrest the very soul from the industrious inhabitants, something that Jolene felt she needed to address.
The ride was mostly silent, only an occasional question from Jolene, and a short answer from her father. She was her father’s girl, that was certain, as they both sat in silence, analyzing, sifting through a million bits of information, trying to formulate a plan for change, something that could reverse the current course of events.
Once home and unpacked, Jolene kissed her pa goodnight, promising to review recent events in the morning. She had already done a fair amount of research on the changes in CARPENTIER over the past three years, and the germ of an idea had already formed in her mind. What she needed now was some validation, and a willing team to follow her.
Jet lag and fatigue did something to her that hadn’t happened in the past four years; she slept in. When she did awake, it was to the scent of freshly brewed coffee, bacon and biscuits. She knew now that she was home; really home.
She was sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying the home cooking of her pa when the doorbell rang, and she watched him let three people come in, ushering them to the table with her. Maude Carpenter, of Home Cooking Café; Wilson Giles of the Farmer’s Supply Center; and Caleb Stitch, of the Carpentier National Bank sat arranged around her, patiently waiting for something.
They’d all been under siege by corporate conglomerates to give up their small businesses to the insatiable hunger of the chains and their cheap products and had, so far, held out. Caleb was the only one of the party that seemed to be a bit uncomfortable being present, but they all waited until Jolene finished eating before revealing why they were there.
Wilson spoke first, clearing his throat nervously. He remembered Jolene growing up as a tomboy years ago, tough as nails and full of her mother’s religious upbringing. This was a new Jolene in front of him, and he wasn’t sure just how to begin.
“Uhm, Jolene,” he began, “Yer pa, uhm…Art, told us that you might be able to come up with some way to stop the takeover of businesses in Carpentier by outsiders.”
The other two were nodding their heads in agreement, as Wilson nervously looked down at his hands. “The big companies have been setting up competitive stores right next to our local stores whenever possible, then gradually lowering prices to below what our costs are, let alone any profits.” He continued. “It’s been causing family businesses that have been here for generations to go out of business, selling out to the chains. Once out of business, their families are forced to leave Carpentier to begin agi’n.”
Silence, as everyone studied her face; and after examining the reactions to Wilson’s comments, Jolene spoke up. “Grassroots…” she stated. Looking around at the expressions on their faces, she knew it needed more explanation.
As her pa rustled up some fresh coffee for the small group, she began to explain her experiences with the turbulent countries overseas, and what she saw that sabotaged any hope for their resolving similar economic problems.
“They’re all pissed off about being poor, having corrupt governments, and seeing no hope in their futures,” she continued. “They have an enormous amount of angry energy, enough to topple any government and make the changes necessary to improve their lives. But what they don’t have, is enough focus for that energy.”
Turning to Caleb, she asked, “How many of our legacy small businesses are left?”
Knowing the answer wouldn’t please her, he stuttered, “M-maybe a bit over a hundred; down from about 200 just three years ago. But the pressure to sell has been getting stronger since then as well.”
“The mayor?” she asked to no one in particular.
Maude broke in with a snort, and said, “Edgar’s sold out to the ‘big boys’,” she said, “overruling any complaints by our folks about being pirated by predatory pricing from those sharks, and besides, most folks think he’s being paid off for cooperating with them, not us.”
“Edgar Pollard, of Pollard Auto Sales?” Jolene asked.
“Yeah,” Wilson replied. “He’s been in office for two years now, two more years to go. There were a lot of suspicions over the balloting that got him in, too.”
This sounded altogether too familiar to Jolene, as she was faced firsthand with the self-serving machinations of overseas ‘elections’ while there.
More silence, then Jolene looked at each of them in turn, finally asking them what they’d done so far to battle the business takeovers.
Wilson explained that they’d contacted the Democratic Politicians for their district and explained their dilemma. After conferring with them, the politicians assured them that they’d take the matter up in Congress at their next meeting, and see how things shook out. IF there were interest, they’d pursue the matter.
The same had been done with the Republican representatives in their district, and the answer was pretty much the same. The problem of course, is by the time the ‘issue’ was addressed, the home folks would already have been driven out of business.
The solution, Jolene suggested, was focus. They didn’t need an Independent Party trying to establish legitimacy over a long period of time to come up with something. They had the means to do something immediately; IF everyone were to act as a coordinated team.
The main reason others failed, but not the only one, was that the Mideastern communities diluted their protest energies too thin to penetrate the corrupt forces they were against. Religion; clans; castes; political parties; even neighborhood rivalries were tossed into the mix, resulting in a revolt against everything. The opposing forces only had to focus on one thing; maintaining the status quo.
“Before the big boys moved in, was everyone in Carpentier able to survive with the prices and merchandise they’d been buying for decades?” she asked. She watched as everyone nodded in the affirmative.
“Then, the first step is to convince our community to continue buying from the local businesses, exclusively, regardless of the ‘slash-price’ practices of the newcomers. Customers would be no worse off than they were before the big shops began edging local businesses out.”
“Keep in mind when you speak to our folks, if the local businesses are elbowed out, those ‘winners’ will be wanting to recoup the losses they incurred by dropping their prices to run off competition, so prices for merchandise will skyrocket.”
“All businesses need buyers, and when the newcomers begin losing them, it’ll be a simple economic observation that they will no longer be profitable in our area. From a strictly business standpoint, they’ll have to move on to some other area to pillage for profit.”
“A great man once said, “of the people, by the people, for the people”, and this is the way we’ll approach our problem. Our politicians have forgotten much about what made this country great, but our people haven’t, and we still have ‘free enterprise’ tools to make things right again.”
“People buy from people; it’s always worked that way, so we need to make that work for us once again,” she finished.
“By the way, I’ll bet I can convince Jed Thibodeau in Leon, about twenty miles north, to beat Edgar’s best price on transportation by 10%, in case anyone wants to do business elsewhere.” She smiled, knowing that those present remembered that Jed and Jolene had been an item years ago growing up.
Arthur also noted that they were both single now, and the reason for their breakup, her military service, didn’t seem like an obstacle for them getting together once again. ‘Grandchildren?’ he wondered. Smiling, he thought, ‘Maybe; just maybe.’
“Grassroots,” she’d told them; it meant they had to pull together. She’d been the polarizing element in their movement, but it still struggled through the first month until everyone understood what the plan would ultimately accomplish. This had turned into THEIR plan, for THEIR futures, and the ultimate legacy they’d turn over to THEIR children.
It worked, and became an example of what a small, proud community could do if they all worked together, with focus, and shedding all those descriptions that separated them; Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and countless other sects; any political affiliations; local rivalries; race; personal disputes and whatever. Focusing on a singular goal gave them all what they were most interested in for THEIR community; together.
Edgar had finally folded up shop; bankrupt after several months of zero sales, and had left town along with many of the pirate ‘big shops’ that had tried to take over Carpentier. That left over a year on Edgar’s Mayoral term, but the Assistant City Manager refused to step into the vacant position, letting everyone know that her nomination for that position was Ex-US Marine Corps Major Jolene Carpenter, and since she didn’t have a job yet, knew she wasn’t in any position to decline.
At her inauguration, as the proceedings ran down, she was pleasantly surprised to note Jed Thibodeau near the front of the dais, applauding her appointment, grinning ear to ear.
Finally, confetti and trash lying around the staging area, Jolene took in a deep breath, and sat down to review what had taken place. She’d never planned on assuming a political life, but having seen the failures that still continued to take place in other parts of the world, she swore that she’d do whatever it took to set things right in hers.
A noise, and as she looked up, she saw Jed watching her quietly.
He smiled, and finally said, “I know a great spot to take a beautiful lady to dinner.”
‘Hell yeah’ she thought, ‘why not?’