by Noah Fischer
During five months of constant meetings in the basement of the Brooklyn Army Terminal, the coalition had been hashing out plans to occupy the Whitney Museum on the eve of the 2032 election. The ragtag group consisted of art workers, prison reformers, and debt strikers, brought together out of desperation in the face of staggeringly powerful opponents. Startups like Libert-e merged debt trading with the efficient new prison technologies that locked people up by using their own implanted devices called Ultras. Libert-e had recently acquired Netflix to build up its entertainment strategy, releasing a hyper-viral miniseries called Safeworld that dramatized the promise of ethical high-tech detention, and the activists had nearly lost the public debate. Latitia, the leader of the prison reformers, became convinced during the Brooklyn meetings that in order to be heard they needed to shut down the Whitney Museum, since it was controlled by Libert-e’s president, Agnesia S., and was going to serve as the headquarters for the launch of the Art Party into national politics. The coalition would attempt to take over the Art Party with the whole nation watching.
Yet during all those sessions in Brooklyn, not a soul had spoken up to ask what they would actually do if they succeeded. And although it was a long shot, what would they then do if the Art Party actually won the national election? It was an absurd scenario, so no one asked, but that’s exactly what happened. The Art Party had gambled on an eleventh-hour positive genetic message and unexpectedly won. Meanwhile, instead of the few hundred activists the coalition had expected to show up for the occupation, two hundred thousand people now occupied the Meatpacking District, protest signs hanging from the Highline and a virtual banner wrapped around the Whitney’s façade. A massive assembly took place in the street below and those assembled were, possibly, a collective future POTUS.
For the first few hours the occupation fell into the expected political divisions. Most of the two hundred thousand people formed into issue-blocs and busied themselves installing their banners and then chatting with their friends on the Ultra AP overlays. The NYPD encircled the occupation but the mayor decided not to deploy the crowd-neutralizer bee-bots. AI lawyers were running models on all the possible implications of the Art Party’s unexpected win.
All of a sudden everyone’s screens flickered and went black. A message in Commodore PET font appeared: “Hello World. Welcome to the Art Party occupation, please proceed with us.” Then three buttons appeared on the screen: “talk,” “listen,” and “vote.” The “listen” button began to pulse and a message appeared: “Do you accept this request?” People accepted.
A muscular trans man in his mid-thirties stepped into the center of the assembly and began delivering a report-back.
“Comrades, hello! I would love to bask in this moment, but there’s urgent information to report. We have reliable intel that the museum trustees are no longer up in the museum tower. They have boarded helicopters and are on their way, we think, to one of the seasteads. They have not ceded control of the party, but we are now sharing the news that their winning candidate has defected. I repeat, their winning candidate has defected! The candidate supports our movement and is here with us now, in hiding with the security working group. We will hear from them at tomorrow’s morning assembly about proposals to ensure the candidate’s safety.
“This means that we are can claim victory. We are the People’s Art Party. There will be much to do in the coming days. If you haven’t brought your gear with you, don’t worry, we’ll figure something out. Pinch yourselves, this is real…”
The speaker’s name was Survival. His voice trailed off, as if his final word “real” was very far away. At that moment, a swarm of news drones buzzed in from overhead, shining bright LED beams down at the crowd. Survival melted back into the mass of people, and everyone got a message on their Ultras to unzip the occupation pouches the organizers had distributed and take out the gold-foil fullbodysuits that would shield them from facial recognition and other data-scans. Survival couldn’t be distinguished from the sea of glimmering gold bodies now. Soon his voice came on over the encrypted Ultras.
“As you can see, we have developed a few initial protocols. We’ll have breakout-group training to go over them after this assembly. And here comes some process stuff: we realize that you are probably wondering who I am, who we are, and how decisions will be made today and going forward. I am Survival, a member of the Mark Lombardi Society. We are the original developers of the Demos voting software that has been used nationally for the last eight years. Since selling it, we’ve been working on the beta version of Demos-Rev. You can each input qualitative votes in real time, and there’s plenty of AI to automatically form working groups for hashing out proposals. Right now we’re on a temporary override, so the first order of business is to lead you through a security deep-grounding reset if you choose to proceed on Demos-Rev. Please press talk to voice your concerns and we’ll connect you into concern groups for a quick debate before voting.”
While Survival was speaking into his Ultra, the winning candidate was standing almost directly below him in one of the museum’s massive basement art storage vaults. “There’s no getting around it, we’re going to have to let the nation know you’re with us within the next few hours,” said Maria Paz, the leader of the security team. “The backlash is already spreading and if it gets strong enough they’ll come in and crush us. This is gonna be a little tricky. First, we can’t do it like those old Tora Bora videotapes of Osama Bin Laden proving he was alive. That would just scare people off. And second, there’s no media company that would give us a platform. We could run it on FacePrime global news, but its presorted so the only people who’d see it would be the occupiers up in the plaza and a few of their friends. We’ve got to somehow get out the message that the winning candidate is with the occupation. We’ve got to get the people on our side.”
“You’re making a lot of sense.” The candidate sat down on a bronze Louise Bourgeois spider to think.
“Okay, I think I got this,” the candidate said after a few minutes. “How much do you guys understand the art market?”
The activists shrugged. Half of them were artists but none had come across an actual collector before.
“Well, here’s what I’m thinking,” said the candidate. “My genetic self-portrait just went public to the voters, as you no doubt noticed. It seems to have won us the election, and now its held by over three hundred million shareholders. The portrait was encrypted into the blockchain and the only way it can be reopened is through legal genetic disputes. If we can locate the people who were forced to auction off their genes for my implant and have them log a challenge to the portrait, the artwork would be automatically opened up to a public debate-sequence. This could be our mass-communication conduit. We just have to find the genetic donors and convince them to break their gag orders.”
“That’s gonna be real easy,” said a prison reform activist named Earl. “We’ll just walk around the streets of New York calling out amino acid sequences until someone responds.”
“Its not necessarily impossible, if a rumor I heard is true,” replied the candidate.
“What rumor?” the group responded, nearly in unison.
“The one about the prison underneath the museum,” responded the candidate. “I’ve heard trustees make little sarcastic cracks about it and I could never tell if they were joking. When the Met Gala was interrupted by the anti-fracking group, I heard a chair of the board whisper that the activists would be put on the blacklist and sent to the Whitney basement. And apparently its true that there’s a series of vaults down here surrounding the switching station of the Spectrum Pipeline that runs through the museum foundations. Its supposed to be right under the Highline terminus, which would put it right there.”
The candidate pointed to a huge Jean-Michel Basquiat/Andy Warhol collaboration leaning against the wall. They slid it to the side, revealing a giant stainless-steel rectangle with no handle and a digital screen in the center. “Someone go up to the plaza and get Survival. He should have no problem cracking this code,” said Maria Paz.
Then they heard a high-pitched buzzing sound far away.
“See, I told you they would,” said Earl to Maria Paz. “I told you they would send boring bots from the Eighth Avenue subway to puncture the Spectrum Pipeline and blow our whole occupation sky high. Just like the Weather Underground explosion. They’ll blame us, and the Winning Party of America will use it as an excuse to declare martial law.”
“That’s why you’re my lieutenant,” said Maria Paz. “Thanks to you, we switched off the pipeline this morning from New Jersey. Let’s get that vault door open!”
Image by the author.