It was the Holiday.
The only holiday that still allowed the millions of men and women in the Great Circle of the Community from the farthest Alaskan towns across to the great sweep of the Upper Americas and the Atlantic Ocean to cities with familiar names like London and Paris and less familiar names like Armonia and Simetria through the empty industrial wastelands of Russia, to take a day off from work.
The bands were out in the street playing cheerful songs. Vendors giving away treats and drinks pulled their carts along, offering free samples, while drawing crowds along after them to their destination.
And for those who would still not come out into the sunshine of a summer day, each city block, each town district and each village council had appointed canvassers, volunteers who drew a little extra income by assembling lists of all local residents and urging them to get out and vote.
It was Election Day after all.
The vote of any individual meant nothing if there was less than total turnout. For weeks, the canvassers had huddled in makeshift Party offices studying charts and diagrams and listening to inspirational speeches by Organizers telling them that 100 percent turnout was the difference between full democracy and failure.
During the week before Election Day, they recruited teenage boys and girls to hand out armbands and buttons reading “I am the 100%” to the men and women coming home from work. These were meant to be worn everywhere until the day arrived. Now that the day had come there were 100% billboards and skytrails, balloons and floating river pads. Everyone had been exposed to 100% television and radio commercials.
Total saturation had been achieved.
Election Day across the Community had been set for July 15. There would be no more standing in line on cold autumn evenings. At least not in most places.
In Australia, July came out in the winter months, but they were obligated to go along with the rest of the Community. For the Greater Good.
That was the theme of Election Day and of everything else in the Community. It was on the buttons and the armbands and the skytrails and the balloons.
In the savage nationalistic and individualistic days before the Community, Election Day had been a time to vote for the things you wanted, but in the Community, it was when everyone came out to celebrate the Greater Good by voting for it.
The happy crowds trailing along after the bands and vendors, munching on soy dogs and guzzling alcohol-free beer, were not there to vote for candidates. Instead each man and woman eventually found themselves standing in front of a machine in an open space at a local park.
The old rituals of the privacy obsessed, the curtains and secret ballots, had been swept away in the New Openness which freed the Community of all its divisions. Voting had ceased to be a selfish act and there was no reason for anyone to want to hide their vote. Each voter was not casting a partisan ballot, but engaging in a show of unity. For the Greater Good.
There were no more candidates. No more bills. No more of the confusing mechanics of government. Each voter was confronted with a simple set of questions.
1. Do you want a better life?
2. Do you want to invest in our future?
3. Do you believe that everyone should get along?
4. Do you believe that education is important?
5. Do you think that we should do the best we can for our children?
6. Do you believe that people should give back more to the Community?
7. Do you want to do your part?
These simple 7 questions had taken government out of the abstract realm of politics and into the practical. The correct answers would lead to all sorts of technical processes; not least of these being an endorsement of the current government’s policies; but their most important function was unity.
As each voter answered correctly, a green light lit up over his machine and cheery music played. A wrong answer however led to a red blare and a dirge. Few voters, even those who could not read, made the same mistake twice. Especially since the answers were color coded with a green button for YES and a red button for NO.
There were those who deliberately voted against. You could see them pushing through the crowd, their faces red or sullen, buttons with all sorts of provocative slogans pinned to their chests. Some were plants, government agents who deliberately shouted hateful things at the crowd. And then there were other agents in the crowd who would lead popular counter-chants that would grow into songs that the entire mass of soy-dog chewers and alcohol-free beer drinkers would take up culminating in a cry of “We Are United.”
Fights might sometimes break out, but the police were there to quickly step in and keep matters from getting out of hand. The purpose of these incidents was to make the voters feel good about committing to the Community. Violence at this place and time would ruin the positive mood.
There were other times and places where violence would serve better, such as the bread line or the bill line.
Some of the oppositionists were even authentic. They had been forced out of their jobs or nursed some anti-social resentment against the Community. Their kind drifted into cells, usually run by Community agents, to spew their frustrations in basements and abandoned factories. Sometimes they would be provoked into plotting an act of violence and then quickly arrested before it could be carried out, their faces shamefully displayed on the Newscasts again and again as a lesson to others.
This would usually be done before an Election Day when the Community government had done something unpopular.
Anson felt sorry for the oppositionists in the crowd streaming toward the polling park. Their faces were covered in sweat and the anger in their eyes had given way to helplessness. Election Day was teaching them, once again, that there was no point in resisting because they were not fighting some distant government, but the wishes of their own friends and neighbors, their wives and children.
As a Community Mediator, Anson Roegen had seen proposals pass across his desk calling for the final elimination of the NO option to put an end to the Oppositionists and make them understand that history had left their kind behind and that there was no future for them.
Wiser heads in the Organs of the Community, the three organizations, the Department of Peace, the Department of Community Relations and the Department of Human Planing, that controlled most of the human race, had dissented.
The NO button gave the Oppositionists the illusion that they could still win. And at the end of each Election Day, the poll reporters would carefully designate 0.3% for the NO vote. The actual votes weren’t counted. That would have been a waste of manpower and resources. But the 0.3% gave them a crumb of hope.
When the government was unpopular, it might even move the number up to 0.4% and during the worst of the food shortages a decade ago, there had been 0.5% results for two years straight to make it seem as if the votes reflected public sentiment.
To the crowds that had eaten and guzzled, seeing the 99.7% result was an occasion to cheer knowing that they were safely in the majority. The system showed that they were right. But to the oppostionists, that 0.3% told them that all hope was not lost.
That there was a tiny minority that agreed with them.
The actual numbers were higher than 0.3% or 0.5%. Even with all the negative reinforcement, there were still areas where negativity held sway, where the people still remembered when there had been cheap food and cheap cars. And most of all, real jobs that paid a real wage, instead of government coupons of the kind received by everyone on the dole.
In these areas, aggressive efforts were being made, but sometimes with limited success.
When the actual votes were occasionally counted, for internal consumption only, the opposition to the Community scored between 12 and 18 percent of the vote. During the food shortages, it had managed 35 percent.
That had been a terrifying moment at the Department of Human Planning.
The jaunty tune stopped as the crowds reached the polling park and simultaneously every one of the dozens of marching bands leading streams of voters to the polls struck up the anthem of the Community, “We Are One.”
And the vendors stopped giving out samples and began to unload their full bounty, first sweets to the children, who were already learning to associate the anthem with free food and then actual, albeit watered down, beer to the adults had been taught long ago to associate the Holiday with the rare giveaways of historically unhealthy foods. It was important that the voters learn to associate short term pleasures with voting to anesthetize them against the long term pain of its consequences.
Anson watched from the shade of a twisted elm, its bark scarred with faded messages from teenagers who had long ago grown old and died in Community Wards. Their names had been overgrown, but in places he could still see the light ragged imprints of hearts standing out against the dark wood.
A mumbling oppostionist bumped into him, one foot dragging. Anson paid no attention to the words, even though it was his job as a Mediator to listen. The rhetoric was always the same. Freedom. Justice. Why can’t the government just leave a man alone?
These ideas were as dead as Mike who had loved Julie and Cathy who had loved Sam. They were kept around only to remind the many peoples of the Community that there was no going back.