¡Dios mío! What a circus that was. Let me explain what happened.
They knew that the audience for the panel discussion would be too big for Gaia House, so they had it at the local university, SIU. The edge of campus is just across the street from Gaia House anyway, so it wasn’t very far away. When I got to the ballroom where the panel discussion was scheduled, they were busy removing the partition walls that were dividing the room because they needed to add more seating!
Nobody had any idea just how big this would be. It felt like the entire town was there. There must have been about seven hundred people. It seemed like a concert, not a panel discussion. It really took some effort to walk past them all and go on stage.
Most of the people who came were just ordinary audience members. They were very talkative, had a lot of questions, and so on, but they were mostly just audience members. But then there were all of the other factions.
There was a group of about a dozen people who I can only assume were Homeland Security. They had black body armor, helmets, assault rifles, all of it. They never said who they were, but nobody else would have been allowed on campus with that kind of gear. Not even Bastion. They stood at the edges and just watched quietly, weapons at the ready, while a man and a woman in suits and holsters were circulating and recording some video and audio.
Then there was the Green Front section. People talk about them like it’s one group, but it’s actually about a dozen groups. A lot of people consider them to be terrorists, but they just seemed like ordinary people to me. There were a few dozen of them who were obvious and probably dozens more who just blended in with the crowd. The obvious ones were mostly young, although a few were middle-aged or elderly. They all tended to cluster together, and the young ones tended to wear green and black. Outside of the ballroom, they were rowdy and talkative, telling people all about climate change and the evils of fossil fuels and how we need a revolution today. But inside the ballroom, they were much more quiet, like they didn’t want to get arrested or shot. They seem hot-headed at times, but they know how these things work.
People debate whether the Green Front are really terrorists. It’s complicated. Who counts as Green Front? Where’s the line between protest and insurrection? The government considers them terrorists but usually doesn’t arrest them unless they’re currently committing a crime. Sometimes they round up the organizers on conspiracy charges simply for supporting Green Front. But usually the government is more subtle than that. Instead, they observe, infiltrate, disrupt, cause chaos. They arrest people a few at a time, often in the middle of the night, often for unrelated charges. Maybe you didn’t pay your parking tickets, or maybe you pirated movies, or maybe you have a late library book. They’ll get you for that. I mean honestly, one time it really was for late library fees, although admittedly that woman owed a few hundred dollars. I guess she went underground and never returned her books.
Green Front can get away with being seen in public because there are so many of them. For a while, the government just arrested people who talked like they do. But now it’s too many for the government to throw them all in prison, although they try. Honestly, it’s even more people if you count everyone who votes for the new political parties — Green Party, Climate Party, and some of the smaller ones. If you count them as Green Front, that’s at least a quarter of the population right there, maybe more. A few of them are even in the government now. Most people nowadays know we need to stop using fossil fuels, even if it takes some of the militant tactics like blocking roads, occupying land, damaging property, and so on. So they might all count as Green Front too.
Me, I try not to be political or militant like that. I don’t want to go to prison. I just want to vote and leave it at that. But not these people. They keep pushing. The politicians don’t like it, but they have to listen.
Anyway, speaking of listening, they eventually started the panel discussion. There was a climatologist, an economist, an engineer, a social scientist, the Green Front woman, and me, the refugee from Miami. I was most interested in the climatologist and engineer, but the crowd had the most questions for me and the Green Front woman.
Especially me. I talked for about fifteen minutes and the crowd was very engaged. They were always either listening in absolute silence or making a lot of noise when I said something intense. I’ve never spoken in front of that many people before, so it was exciting and scary and kind of amazing. Then at the end, they had the most questions for me. What was it really like in Miami? Did I think it would ever recover? Is it time for a revolution? That was a hard one. I told them I’m not political, but they just laughed. It’s getting harder and harder these days to stay out of trouble.
There were a few crazy moments in there. Campus security had to remove several people who interrupted the panel. One was this crazy person who believed global warming was all a conspiracy. He got really angry, wouldn’t stop talking, and actually tried to rush the stage. I don’t know which one of us he wanted to strangle first, but the audience held him back. Then campus police took him away.
And then there were the militias — anti-green and pro-green. I didn’t really notice the pro-green militia at first because they were quiet and blended in a bit with the (other?) Green Front people. But then about halfway through the panel discussion, about a dozen men in full camo stormed into the room with rifles in hand and started barking about the Second Amendment and how they had every right to participate in this forum without surrendering their weapons. They had been protesting outside, but I guess they got impatience and decided to push the boundaries and see if they could get away with going inside.
That was such a scary situation. As soon as the anti-green militia burst in the room, about a dozen pro-green militia men and women all stood up in unison and drew their concealed weapons. They were also in camo but they all had green armbands and a few other markings. The Homeland Security people in body armor raised their weapons too and made the anti-green militia stop near the doors. The one Homeland Security woman in a suit calmly but firmly explained to both militias that the law allowed them to carry weapons in public, but not on university property without express written permission.
It was intense for a while. The anti-green leader ranted and raved. He was so hostile. I don’t know how he managed to avoid getting shot. A woman from the pro-green militia said they would leave if the others left. Eventually, the anti-green leader stormed out. After that, almost everybody with a weapon (other than Homeland Security) left the room. A few people from each faction passed their weapons to their friends and stayed inside for the question and answer period.
Amazingly, there was no actual violence. I thought that there would at least be a fistfight, but there was nothing, unless of course you count the crazy climate denier being firmly lead out of the room by campus police.
The panel lasted almost two hours and the questions lasted just as long. The general consensus among panelists and audience alike seemed to be that Miami is now permanently underwater, that other areas need to plan for similar fates, and that we all need to stop using fossil fuels immediately. At first people were hesitant to come out and say it because there was Homeland Security there, and people recording, and saying such things basically implies that you’re Green Front. But people got up their courage, and no one got arrested, and the questions lead to several new ideas for how to respond to the situation. So all in all, it was a good night.
Thank God it’s all over though. When it all ended, Alejandra could tell I was done talking for the night. She just took me home, made me a mojito, and set me down in front of the computer to write. She knows me so well. Now that I’ve finally got it all written down, though, it’s time for some sleep. There’s a lot of work to do and I want to be ready for it.