Several people rose to their feet. Two of them started to speak at once, then they each tried to defer to the other, and laughingly sorted it out. The young woman who won the nonverbal negotiation turned towards the podium. "I'm Jan Littlefield, and I think Reese's plan is as hurtful as he is. I make my living from tips, so I already have to wear a uniform. That may make it easier for customers to recognize the servers, but it also makes us seem like servants or even dumb robots. It's demeaning enough to be forced to wear orange jumpsuits if you're in prison yourself. But to expect us to expose ourselves to the ridicule heaped on real prisoners is unforgivable. I say we reject the idea outright."
Klee thanked her, then pointed at the balding man who had deferred to her.
"I drive truck, myself," he said nervously, "so what I wear is irrelevant. Oh, right. I'm Anthony Hsu. Anyway, I agree with Jan here for the most part, but there was something else that disturbs me about this scheme. From what I know about Mr. Reese, he always has some secret other reason for doing things. I doubt this is any different, so I've been wondering what else might come of suddenly exposing the public to the sight of people in prison garb. And it struck me that it would make them more used to the idea of prisons, like maybe to get them ready to be regimented in some way. I don't know. Martial law or something. It's just a gut thing, really. Thank you."
The man's comment must have struck a nerve, because a hushed commotion flooded the room. Klee covered the mike with his hand and waited for someone else to rise.
A white-haired man holding a blackberry stood and waited for the chatter to subside. "I'm Terry Guilfoil, and I had the misfortune to have spent some time in prison when I was a young firebrand. Those of you who know me have probably heard about the protest that went sour. The jury reluctantly found us guilty only because of how they were charged by the judge, and thanked us afterwards for having had the guts to speak out as we did."
He looked around before continuing. "The prison system could have been used to re-engage people in a healthy social network, but instead it became a way to cull them. In some states, convicted felons permanently lose their right to vote. They lose their say in choosing leaders and passing referenda. Combine that with the social taboos about discussing such things, and you have an invisible caste of so-called undesirables."
"But now, the Supreme Court has exposed corporations like this one to the same trap. Seeing Freemont-Wayfarer's ass in the wringer has already had an effect on a lot of other companies. It's what the threat of incarceration was supposed to be all about in the first place: a disincentive. But that's not going to continue unless we make certain that corporate citizens being held in the correctional system do not disappear behind that same taboo."
"I say we accept the proposal, but take control of the situation ourselves. That we use this opportunity to talk to people -- the people who eat at the restaurants, and the ones who stay at the inns -- about what they can do to make this situation work for the common good, and not just to punish the ones who misused their power."
Klee raised the mike. "Would you remain standing, please? I think we should explore your suggestion further. What would people like Jan say to their customers, then?"
He nodded. "Well, for starters, they can talk about what their own company did to them. There's bound to be curiosity. People will be asking questions, and we shouldn't be shy about answering them. Once the subject has been raised, Jan could ask whether the customer knows about things that their own employer might be doing illegally. It opens the conversation. And more than that, it establishes personal contact, makes is absolutely clear that the waitstaff are people. I think it'll bring people into the restaurants. Anyone who interacts with the public in the course of their job can do the same thing. Hotel housekeeping, for instance. Not too many people chat with them. This can change that. It will also raise people's opinion of themselves. And that's essential to revitalizing the social network in this country."
After that, the discussion exploded with ideas. Even people who were initially opposed to the idea began to see how it could be turned to their advantage. The give and take went on for almost an hour, then one of the members called for a show of hands. Klee estimated the yeas and nays, and spoke into the hubbub.
"It's settled then. We're going to take this paper tiger and tie its leash around Reese's neck. I can't wait for the next board meeting. In the meantime, feel free to conspire among yourselves. This is one act of civil disobedience that will be fully sanctioned by the court. Let's hear it for the First Amendment! Oh, and one last request: don't mention this to the astro-turfers outside. Let them find out the way their masters know best: illegally."
(This is part 4 of a series that began with "Logical Conclusion/Full Circle")
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