Winds of Change is the third novel in the Dandelion Trilogy by Rivera Sun. It’s a wild tale of resistance and resilience, people-powered democracy movements and the race for climate justice.
Turning Up The Heat – From Winds of Change
This is an excerpt from Winds of Change, the third novel in the Dandelion Trilogy.
Heat flattened the city. Asphalt gleamed, shiny and malevolent. Concrete endured in washed-out weariness. Anything green wilted and crisped at the edges in the inferno of the record-breaking summer temperatures. Heat waves curled off the concrete, steel, tar, glass, and brick. As he navigated traffic, Charlie battled the sense of doom pressing down on his perspiring brow. These scorchers plastered the country earlier and longer each year. It was the inevitable effect of corporatists lying about climate change, refusing to act, stalling all attempts to transition away from fossil fuels and factory farms and the carbon emitters that turned up the planet’s heat like a gas oven.
Boston evoked images of rowers on the Charles River, minutemen mobilizing against redcoats, Harvard crimson and masses of college students, a harbor port and a tangled sea of serpentine roads and highways. When Tansy told them they’d find Elisha Adams at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon, their minds leapt to the small, historic steeple-and-column brick building that was now a museum. Instead, they pulled up in the parking structure of a hulking concrete monster that seemed to be auditioning for the Star Wars franchise.
“Wasn’t expecting that,” Charlie confessed.
Instead of evoking a sense of revolutionary times, the beige top-heavy building carried itself with an air of Big Brother and the weight of bureaucracy. It was a place where revolutions died under mounds of paperwork. With a sense of foreboding, they checked-in with the clerk, passed through the metal detectors, and strode through the dimly lit, low-ceilinged corridors until they reached the city council chambers. The semi-circle of councilors’ chairs was flanked on either side by citizen seating. It was oddly reminiscent of bleachers at a high school basketball court. The meeting was well underway so they slid in quietly.
In the center, bearing up under the scowls of the officials, a young Black teen in a fuchsia T-shirt and blue jeans testified to the city council members. She held her chin high, arguing with precision and passion. Beside her, a girl with jet-black hair and chicory-toned skin clutched a stack of documents. Charlie squinted, but couldn’t read the titles on the folders. Next to her, a pale Goth of a teen with a shocking blue-dyed, half-shaved haircut whispered to the others. The trio huddled shoulder-to-shoulder as they addressed the impassive faces of the council.
“Running that gas pipeline – an explosion waiting to happen – through our neighborhood is environmental racism,” the Black teen argued. “Our area already has the worst rates of asthma and lung disease from the city incinerator, the industrial park, and the smog patterns. Now, you want to put in a leaky pipeline to a natural gas export terminal that will do nothing but kill us and the planet? Uh-uh. I don’t think so.”
“Ms. Adams, your time is up.”
“Fine. Meera, you’re up next.”
She handed the mic off to the petite East Indian girl as the mayor tried to interrupt. Elisha ignored him, brown eyes fierce. She had petitioned for months to put this issue on the city agenda. She’d called them directly. She and her friends had organized sit-ins at the councilors’ offices only to be told the same line over and over: it was a done deal and they should have spoken up sooner.
Elisha didn’t buy it. Wrong was wrong. Slavery wasn’t acceptable just because the enslaved hadn’t filed a petition on time. It wasn’t right to steal the Indigenous Peoples’ lands because they didn’t send in enough public comments in opposition. Just because a group of money-grubbing corporatists had shoved this deal through didn’t mean her community was going to roll over and die.
“Last weekend,” Meera told the irate mayor in a quiet but clear voice, “a bunch of us blockaded the pipeline’s construction route in two places. One was uptown in an affluent neighborhood. The other was on our block. Both groups were arrested, but if you look at these photos . . . “
She nudged the third youth to hold up poster-sized prints and swivel to make sure everyone saw the images. In one, a pair of white-haired, white-skinned grandmothers were being politely escorted into a police van. In the other, Elisha was pouring milk into the eyes of her tear-gassed twelve-year-old cousin. In the next photo, Meera’s Puerto Rican neighbor was face down on the asphalt, bleeding as police hogtied him. In the third, a crowd of protesters threw their hands over their ears in agony as the police used eardrum-splitting sound cannons to force them to disperse.
“We’re here today not just because this gas export project is deadly to all of humanity, not just because it is extracted from under the feet of outraged communities in Western Massachusetts, not just because this pipeline was rejected in a wealthier area and dumped on the poor; not just because the increased toxins in the air are yet another act of environmental racism, not just because the city police violently cracked down on lower income and people of color residents for doing the exact same thing as white and affluent residents uptown, and not just because the whole approval of this plan was sneaky and underhanded,” Meera paused for breath. “I’m here because the entire system of so-called democracy has completely failed ninety-nine percent of your constituents in the short term, and all of us in the long term.”
If they built this terminal, it would be terminal for people and planet.
“You are out of line, Ms. Sundaran, and your time is up. Please sit down, the three of you,” the mayor ordered.
“No,” Elisha refused.
None of them moved. Meera passed the mic to the third youth.
“For the record, I’m Frankie Mirelli. My family runs Mirelli’s Bakery in the North End,” the teen said, scratching the back of their skinny jeans with their sneaker. They’d been born Frances Mirelli, but they hadn’t gone by that name since kindergarten. In middle school, they’d declared themselves non-binary – a fact that Frankie’s Italian-American father still refused to acknowledge, even though their grandmother had explained gender neutral pronouns in two languages to him.
What do I care if Frankie’s a boy or a girl or something special? Nonna had declared. What’s so hard about they/them pronouns? They’re my grandkid, no matter what.
Frankie adored Nonna. But they’d been crashing at Elisha’s after the last shouting match with their dad – which was how they knew how bad the air was in that part of town.
“It stinks,” Frankie told the officials. “And you won’t do nothing about it. You won’t talk about the pipeline or the export terminal. You won’t hold hearings. You won’t listen to us when we call. You won’t put it on the agenda.”
“We don’t have time for everything,” the mayor cut in.
“You have time!” Elisha shot back.
On the docket of today’s council meeting were budget items that paid for scooters for Ivy League college students, city funds for yet another public-private development partnership for constructing high-end condos, and a stimulus program for large rock concerts in the privately-owned sports stadium. Today, millions of dollars would be approved for the already rich and privileged.
Elisha and her friends had had enough.
“We’re not giving up the floor until you give up on this pipeline,” Elisha shouted.
“Yeah,” Frankie added, speaking into the mic. “We’re shutting you down until you shut it down!”
The mayor cleared his throat impatiently. The teens had long surpassed their three-minute public comment allocation.
“You are violating others’ right to be heard,” the mayor tried to say.
The room flinched at Elisha cussing. The teen scowled back. She and her friends had asked this city council a hundred times to hold metropolis-wide discussions on climate adaptation plans. That would be honoring people’s right to be heard. Elisha knew that the officials tracked how many times she, Meera, and Frankie had sent texts and emails about this. The city clerk could pull up their dossier in thirty seconds flat. The police officer assigned to the city council meetings was fidgeting, just waiting for the signal to throw them out . . . again. Last time, they’d been warned that they’d be arrested if they continued to disrupt the proceedings.
“We are in a global emergency,” Meera spoke up again, earnest and impassioned. “Instead of building an export terminal, you should be listening to the people. They have solutions. They have plans and ideas. They should be empowered to be part of the process – no, scratch that, they should be at the heart of this process.”
“I’m sorry, your time is up – “
“Maybe your time is up, Mr. Mayor,” she rebutted. “You’ve had years to deal with these issues and all you’ve done is make the crisis worse. We don’t have another decade to do nothing. We need change now.”
Zadie’s grin split her face at the teens’ boldness. Tansy had grumblingly described Elisha Adams as a rabble-rousing, young troublemaker, but Zadie took that wording as a form of praise. She knew their lawyer had a soft spot for instigators. When pressed, Tansy had pursed her lips and said Elisha got into more trouble than anyone she knew – barring Charlie and Zadie, of course – and had gained local notoriety for both activism and pranks of a historical nature.
“Like a Boston Commons pop-up store and impromptu makers market, for example,” Tansy told them, “or a memorial service for Crispus Attucks, the Black man who was the first – and often forgotten – casualty of the Revolutionary War. She even held a Thanksgiving Day smallpox die-in at Plymouth. I’ve been her lawyer since she was twelve and decided to steal a horse to crash the Fourth of July Paul Revere Race dressed up as Sybil Luddington, the teenage girl who really rallied the minutemen.”
But Elisha’s stunts didn’t stop at historical antics. She had been organizing for social justice since middle school, and today’s challenge to City Hall was just one of a long series.
“Your time is up, councilors,” she said. “It’s time to cancel the pipeline project. It’s time to stop that export terminal. It’s time for people-power to replace your foot-dragging and inaction.”
She spun to the bleacher seats, appealing to the scattered citizens.
“Who will stand with us?” Elisha Adams demanded, swiveling to look around for supporters.
Someone coughed. Another squirmed. A few people hastily looked away as the girl’s gaze sought their solidarity. The long moment stretched painfully as citizens wrestled with their consciences. They still held out hope that the political process would work, that the councilors would rally to the crisis, that they didn’t need to take drastic action.
Zadie pursed her lips, scowling. This, right here, was the very phenomenon she and Charlie had led an insurrection to prevent: citizens’ concerns ignored, corporate officials dragging their feet on important issues, people cut out of the political process. She rose before Charlie could reach out and stop her. She strode down the bleacher steps to the center aisle. Astonished gasps and murmurs leapt up as people recognized her. She heard her name whispered from one person to the next.
Zadie drew close to Elisha Adams, Frankie Mirelli, and Meera Sundaran. She stilled.
Who will stand with us? the teens had asked.
“I will,” Zadie Byrd Gray answered.
She tossed a grin at the astonished teens. The mayor signaled to the police officer. He charged forward and the room erupted into chaos.
Originally published Nov. 28, 2020 at Riversun.com
Author/Actress Rivera Sun syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and the sequels, The Roots of Resistance, Winds of Change, and Rise and Resist – Essays on Love, Courage, Politics and Resistance and other books, including a study guide to making change with nonviolent action. Website: https://www.riverasun.com.
From the archives: