Day of Change

Lawrence Holofcener

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Throughout the morning of July 3, 1976, four hundred and seventy-four delegates to the 3rd Continental Congress—prospective councilors of the new American Society—alighted from buses and ascended a dozen wooden steps onto a flat mown field under a deep blue sky and before the enormous sparkling steel and glass dome.  A chorus of mixed voices sang old American songs to welcome them.

Most had arrived the previous day at Newark airport and the Hilton had pampered them.  When the nation’s cheap highway motels were overrun by the angry rabble, the prestigious, larger hotels became armed and gated.  General May had arranged with the entire Hilton chain to guarantee its security in exchange for use by the military and the new American Society.

The delegate mix was roughly a third female, delighting Anne and Richard.  And 474 was a fair amount, even Anne had to agree.  Overheard were remarks from those exiting the buses.  Say, is it true that there are people living here already?  Richard’s son Jake casually replied, “That’s correct, sir, at last count over one hundred forty families.”  The same ex-congressman:  Wull, where are they, I don’t see any . . .?  Jake pointed his finger at the man’s shoes.  “Right below.” 

For such a robust figure, the man jumped nimbly, retorting, “Mind your manners, boy”.                              From Richard’s older son, David, leading a line through the open doors, “If you’ll just follow the sergeant, he’ll take you down.” 

Down?  You can’t mean people are living under the ground?

Laughter erupted from the military in the stands as the man tip-toed into the dome.  Indeed, July third was spent touring the suites, the kitchens and the gardens, the solar array and the enormous wind generator.  All were escorted by smartly uniformed to white gloves corpsmen who were involved in construction from day one, including Jake and David of Amwell, dressed in white shirts and shorts.  Each hastily decorated suite was admiringly or grudgingly pronounced habitable.  Everything inside and out, even the faux windows, drew outright praise to faint approval.  The boys, comparing notes later, doubted if some of the delegates were being honest in their reactions, having witnessed the exchange of frowns of ridicule.

Organized by sittings, the delegates were escorted up the grand staircase to the first of several extraordinary dining experiences that the beaming chefs maintained were typical commune fare.  They were attentively waited upon by members of the Amwell Commune who’d chosen dining-room staff as their service and tutored by staff from the chef’s former restaurant.  Anne considered it somewhat over the top.  “All that’s missing is a fly-by and a marching band!”

But Richard thought it appropriate considering the mountain they were to be made to climb tomorrow.  Police departments from Newark and Jersey City had offered to oversee security, which would, of course, mean bursting in with guns, batons, walkie-talkies and riot gear, and were politely thanked and rejected. 

“See?  Soldiers in parade dress need no weapons to inspire confidence and security,” Richard murmured as they waved off the last bus just after five.  She shook her head at yet another of her partner’s inspired public relations stunts.  She kept forgetting he’d had a career in advertising.

Even Clark was coming to accept that uniforms alone, even pressed fatigues and shined boots worn by tall, head-shaven MPs, was enough to encourage the mobs looting the cities to surrender not just their weapons but themselves.  Some had admitted wearily they were sick and tired of living on the street, hoarding and trading unwanted appliances and jewelry for desperately wanted canned foods.   At least in an Army prison they’d be fed and sleep under clean sheets. 

Surprised at their surrender, Clark reluctantly had to admit that security for the villages and larger towns below ground (itself a deterrent) needn’t be armed.  Too tempting to steal guns, Richard pointed out. 

“All right, mebbe for small compounds but not for national security.”  Clark adhered to Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘walk softly but carry a big stick’ policy.   He had, after all, to assure the Pentagon the nation would not be left unprotected.  As well was the unknown future of millions of navy, air and ground force personnel, not to mention a stockpile of war machinery and weaponry such as the world had never known.  With pressure from other generals, he was not about to deep six it all for some new, uncertain world order. 

It wasn’t just his own country that worried him but that outside, somewhat hostile world, desperate to know what we were up to.   Despite repeated assurances to his foreign armed service counterparts, there was the old mistrust between them, a few nations assuming that the United States had undergone a coup d’etat.  Not everything he shared with Richard.  The boy already was overloaded with the myriad details in organizing entirely fresh, never before tried systems of living and governing. 

So often Penny, even Anne, suggested putting off trying to accomplish it with this ‘congress’ idea, and using his new gravitas declare Richard President ex-tempore.  Much of the services would back Clark and therefore Richard, Penny assured them.   But no, Richard argued that they’d begun as a representative government and they would remain nothing less. 

Often, countries that installed military commanders or former corrupt leaders on a temporary basis found it difficulty to remove them.  Anne and Penny shared shrugs and sighs.  This humble man had, with his poetic ideas and fumbling steps was slowly becoming another George Washington.  Richard preferred Thomas Paine.  Like him, he wasn’t the least ambitious for political office, preferring to stay behind like most women who advise and suggest, edit and restrain the males jockeying for positions of power.

Well breakfasted in the hotels, the delegates were now seated on comfortable chairs borrowed from Newark hotel ballrooms under a thankfully cloudless sky.  Behind them a huge crowd in the stands sat patiently.  Earlier, buses had arrived and the bleachers slowly filled with the press, the media, and mayors from country towns across the state.  The majority were commune members, the Engineers, and many who’d been on the march, especially the framers of the Prime Directive.  Each had a numbered invitation and was carefully screened and seated by the dressed soldiers. 

No weapons were worn but they were on high alert for any disturbance.  Colonel Walker’s warnings sat on the mind of General May, now smiling and resplendent in his parade uniform with an array of breast salad.   As the visitors were seated they were treated to spirituals by the same choir and warm-ups by entertainers who had opted for steady work in the commune. 



Now all was quiet as Richard and Anne of Amwell came through the doors of the dome, along with Clark and Penny, also in class A uniform, and whose hands were gripped in excited anticipation.  They took seats in the crescent with the invited celebrities who were to speak.

“Have you seen Don—Colonel Walker?” Penny whispered.

 “No, why?”

“He should be here.  He was in at the very beginning and –“

“Isn’t he over there with his men?”

Penny was shaking her head.  “No one’s seen him at all today.  Oh, dear.”


“I hope it’s not his wife.  She’s a recovering alcoholic.  She’s always having him paged.   I’ll check with his squad,” and she was up, heading toward the stands.

Richard and Anne walked slowly through the seated crowd, Anne nodding and greeting people she’d known and interviewed.  Both held thick folders with their notes.  Anne stepped up to stand before an old oak schoolmaster’s desk—their rostrum—and read something which Richard had hastily scribbled. 

“On July 4, 1976, a large body of women and men

From various walks of life

Sat together in a field near a huge glass dome

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