“Enough!” Mr. Davis yelled.
“Okay, quiet,” Principal Cotter chimed in. But Mr. Davis was already long past that.
“Shut up! All of you! Shut up!” he shouted. Then he turned on Jimmy. “How dare you?” he spat out. “How dare you come into my class and talk like that?”
“I dare because my country allows me to,” Jimmy replied.
Principal Cotter was on his feet now.
“Everybody quiet here,” he said. “Let’s focus on the lesson and not turn this into politics, okay? This is a history class, not a rally.”
But why else do we learn history? I wanted to ask.
Mr. Davis still seethed.
“Teach,” Principal Cotter told him.
He went back to troop movements and the Madisons fleeing the White House. I don’t think I’d ever paid more attention to him; the edge was keeping me awake.
In the hallway after class, I took Jimmy’s hand and said, “Nice shirt.”
“Tell that to Kansas,” he replied.
Most teachers didn’t want students checking screens in class, so we had to keep up with the news between periods and at lunch. As the threat in Kansas became more and more real, an angry sadness settled in my gut. Jesse and his crew became bolder in their assurance. Mandy and Janna tried to make us optimistic, and Gus refused to believe that the election would be thrown.
Then, after lunch, something wrong happened. Jimmy and I were at my locker, switching books. One of his fingers was in one of my belt loops, just casually there. We were talking about going to headquarters that night when we heard it, that one word:
It was Satch who’d said it, with Jesse and this other guy Rand next to him.
“What?” Jimmy said, letting his finger fall from my jeans, turning to face the insult. “What did you say?”
“You heard me,” Satch said, like he was proud of it.
I was totally thrown. That word had never been shot at me before, especially not in school by someone I knew. It was so Decent. But at the same time it felt like hate, and it felt personal.
I would’ve stayed paralyzed. But not Jimmy. He was immediately staring Satch down.
“What’re you saying, Satch?” he said. “Don’t hold back now.”
I looked at Jesse, and I have to admit that even he looked a little surprised. But he wasn’t going to let his friend down.
“Get off, Jimmy,” he said.
“No, I want to see if Satch is done. Because I can think of an n-word he can use to describe part of me, and an m-word for the Irish part, and, I dunno, I’m sure he can think of a word for my French grandparents. And maybe just lump the Catalan part with all the other s-p-i-c-s, right? Is that okay, Satch? Is that where you want to go?”
He was right in Satch’s face, only a few inches between them. Satch shoved him away. Jimmy shoved back.
There were other people in the hall now. Watching. Letting it play out.
“Just take your fag President wannabe and get the hell out of here,” Satch said. Then he went to shove Jimmy again, and a number of things happened at once:
Jimmy knocked Satch’s arm before Satch could knock Jimmy.
Jesse and I both jumped in to stop it.
Satch spun back, striking out.
Jesse and I almost collided. To avoid Jesse, I moved a little to the right—
—and got hit right in the face by Satch’s elbow.
So I ended up being the one knocked over, my eye bruised. Jesse and Rand pulled Satch back. Jimmy bent down to see if I was okay.
It all happened so fast. All unleashed by a single hateful word.
“Are you okay?” Jimmy asked. I nodded…even though I was holding my eye.
“Never been better,” I said.
“Yeah, it hurts.”
I didn’t want to go to the nurse’s office. (I could hear her: “You?!? In a fight?!?”) So Jimmy got a bag of ice from the cafeteria and we sat out back for sixth period.
“This is getting crazy,” I said.
He didn’t disagree.
Word spread over all the open news channels that Stein was going to make a big announcement in a press conference at eight o’clock.
We all waited in nervous anticipation at headquarters that night. My eye—not quite a black eye, but still a little purple—was the object of a lot of scrutiny and concern. I didn’t like the attention and would have been able to shrug it off if Jimmy hadn’t been beside me the whole time, watching over me and telling people what had happened. I knew he felt bad, and had told him more than once that it wasn’t his fault. I couldn’t even give Satch full blame for the blow, since I can’t imagine he’d meant to hit me. Still, I resented the chain of events that had led to the collision, and the fact that Satch hadn’t said sorry after.
Virgil shook his head when he saw it, and Flora insisted on running upstairs for some ointment. Sara was nowhere to be seen, which might explain why Mira and Keisha appeared inseparable again. I wondered how genuine that was, and hated myself for thinking that way.
Finally, it was eight o’clock. We all quieted down and watched the screen. As flashbulbs went off and reporters scrambled for position, Stein walked up to the podium at his national headquarters and began to speak.
“My fellow citizens of America, the time has come for us to do something about Kansas. A small group of politically motivated people are trying to disenfranchise, manipulate, and lie their way to winning this election. Although it is being done in the name of fairness, it is truly being done out of greed and self-interest. We cannot let it happen. This afternoon, I received independent verification for something I already believed to be true: My campaign has won the majority of votes in the state of Kansas. This cannot be denied, and the fact that it is being denied must be viewed as a call to action.
“I’ll be honest with you: This is not something I say lightly. It would be easy for me to remain silent, to leave the fate of this nation in the hands of two teams of lawyers. But that isn’t what this country is about, and it isn’t what I’m about. You deserve the truth, and we all must fight for it if we must.
“I ask my opponent to concede this election and abide by the independent commission led by former Governor Hopkins, which states clearly and unequivocally that the election results in Kansas are correct as initially reported. Any attempt by the current governor to invalidate these results should be stopped immediately. This is not an election that can be tampered with or questioned. The people have spoken, and now they must be heard. To do otherwise is against everything this country is about. America cannot and will not abide dishonesty, untruths, or the cynical manipulation of the voting process. Our values are much, much stronger than that.”
At a separate news conference, the former governor—a member of the opposition party—verified that his commission had monitored the voting in Kansas, had checked the results, and was satisfied beyond doubt that Stein’s margin of victory was accurate.
Then more troubling news began to come in: A Kansas election official told a reporter that she had been asked to erase some votes from the electronic polling machine in her district. Another person, a college student, volunteered that his name had been on the current governor’s “double-voting” list, proclaimed that he had not filled out an absentee ballot for his home state, and said that if one was discovered, it would be a forgery sent in by someone other than him as a way of disqualifying his vote. The opposition party, he said, could easily obtain green-state students’ home addresses to pull such a stunt.
The opposition candidate held his own press conference, refusing to concede, saying that God wanted him to see this thing through to the end, through any channels and means necessary.
Finally, around eleven o’clock our time, Stein stepped in front of the cameras again.
“I can see which way the wind is being blown in Kansas. And the only way to stop it is to blow back harder. We must let the truth fill our lungs, our purpose fill our hearts and make us strong.
“This is what I say:
“I am going to Kansas.
“And this is what I ask:
“I want you, the American people, the ones who elected me as your next President, to come to Kansas, too. I want you there beside me to prevent an injustice from occurring. I want our opponents to see the faces of all the people they are trying to deceive. I want them to know they will not get away with it.
“Come to Kansas.
“I know this is asking a lot. I know it has never before been asked in these circumstances. But in times of trial, as we have done so often in the past, we must come together as a community. We must be our best selves. We must do what’s right.
“You have made your voice heard by voting for me. Do not let your voice be taken away.
“Come to Kansas.”
“Let’s go!” Gus called out.
Sara came running into the room, explaining that she’d been on the phone with someone at national headquarters who said that there was going to be a rally in front of the Kansas statehouse on Sunday afternoon.
“That gives us two and a half days to get there,” another college volunteer, Joe, said.
“How long-distance a drive can it be?” Gus asked. “No more than a day and a half, la.”
“I don’t think we can all fit in your Eco,” Jimmy pointed out.
“No hindrance,” Gus said. “I’m sure I can borrow the church van.”
“No need for that,” Virgil said. “Flora’s son, Clive, has a bus.”
There didn’t seem any doubt that we’d soon be on our way. Virgil wanted us all to go to school on Friday, but we’d head off right after.
“Finally we can do something,” Jimmy said, and I guess that summed up a large part of what we were all feeling.
If Stein needed us, we would go.
“Come to Kansas,” his voice kept saying on the news. They couldn’t stop showing it.
“Maybe we can share a room,” Jimmy joked with me before we had to go home. This time we kissed good-bye lightly, with less concern.
The opposition candidate clearly hadn’t anticipated Stein’s speech. At first, all he said was, “Don’t come to Kansas.” It took another day for him to ask his supporters to come to Kansas, too.
“This isn’t going to be a vacation,” Virgil warned us. “Don’t think it’s going to be easy.”
On the way home, I listened to some of the commentators commentating. One of them harkened back to the Civil War.
“It’s Bleeding Kansas all over again,” he said.
I didn’t know what he meant. Luckily the host didn’t know, either, so the commentator explained, “Kansas was founded by abolitionists who wanted to prevent slavery from spreading from Missouri. They put their lives on the line for it, and when Missouri invaded to stop the Kansas opposition, it became Bleeding Kansas.
“The same passions,” he went on to say, “exist here.”
It was after midnight when I walked in my front door. I knew my parents would probably still be up, but I wasn’t expecting them to be waiting in the den for me to come home.
“Where’ve you been, Duncan?” my father asked.
“At Stein headquarters, with Jimmy and the others,” I answered. “You knew that.”
“It’s a school night.”
I didn’t sound sorry, and he knew it. I started to climb the stairs, but then he said, “Come back down here.” I did, and when he told me to sit down, I did that, too.
My parents had never really been cool parents, but they hadn’t been uncool, either. They were just there, and I loved them, and they loved me, and we didn’t really understand one another at all. I think it had always been clear to them that I was g*y, and that hadn’t been much of a problem. When I’d first started dating Jimmy, I’d hesitated a little before bringing him home—not because I was afraid of how they’d react, but more because I liked the idea of keeping my world with him separate from my world with them. When I’d become involved with the Stein campaign, they’d been supportive without being encouraging; as Jews, they were convinced a Jewish candidate would never win, and my father never really bought into the possibility of the Great Community the same way that I did. I was pretty sure my mom had voted for Stein, but she didn’t want to make a big deal about it.
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