“You can’t be serious,” Emma said. “How is that going to help anything?”
“We’re standing in solidarity,” said Addy. “We’re standing silently with those who cannot speak. Now, are you with us or against us?”
“I’m not against you. I’m just… I mean what’s the point? You understand the Chinese government doesn’t care what a bunch of affluent, American high schoolers do, right? I’ll stand with you, but only if you admit that covering your mouth with duct tape does nothing to free Tibet.”
“I can not believe you would say something like that! You know what? I think you should leave.”
“Fine! Maybe I will. Maybe I’ll go do something to actually help the Tibetans! You just organized this to get out of your public speaking project!”
Addy gasped and tried to protest, but Emmy had already left the band room. She wasn’t sure what she expected when Addy had asked her to join the Civil Disobedience Club. She came out to support her friend, but every meeting seemed less and less about helping the world, and more about making a grand display that ultimately did nothing. Every “protest” Addy organized seemed to be an increasingly elaborate way to get out of some assignment under the guise of the First Amendment.
Last month, to raise awareness about human trafficking in Togo, everyone in the Civil Disobedience Club bound their hands for a week. Did this allow Addy to get out of the badminton unit in PE? Sure, but did anyone in Togo stop the sale of children? Not according to the Human Trafficking Watch Group. The month before that, in order to help child soldiers in Sierra Leone, she subjected the whole school to a horrible video of a child getting a Master Lock pushed through his lips so he physically couldn’t talk to journalists. It seemed counterintuitive to Emma that they sent such a clip to a group of journalists but maybe thoughts like that were why they had an army of children and she could hardly keep her babysitting service afloat. Everyone got out of class for the assembly Addy had organized to screen the video, but as far as Emma knew Joseph Kony was still at large.
She would show her. Emma would find some way to actually help Tibet. She didn’t know any Tibetan refugees, or Chinese people for that matter, but this wasn’t really about Tibet, this was about spite. Emma couldn’t point to Tibet on a map, but luckily, she had an internet connection and a grudge. When she got home from school that day, it wasn’t hard to find several humanitarian organizations for her cause. She finally settled upon an organization that seemed transparent enough. It had good ratings compared to others, and even a focus on Tibet. It seemed like this group could actually aid Tibetan refugees—unlike some activists she knew. She made a few simple posters and planned a fundraiser the next day. It seemed like everything was in place to really do some good, so Emma went to bed content.
The next day, she hung her posters all around school. “Free Tibet Bake Sale! Your donation could help save the Dalai Lama!” they read. Her phone began lighting up with interest from students willing to help, but in the flurry of texts, the only one she noticed was from Addy.
“You should feel ashamed,” the green bubble on her phone’s screen told her. She didn’t. In fact, she knew she would receive hatred. Charitable organizations are always subject to scorn. But you know what? She didn’t care. She didn’t give two hot shits about what Addy thought because she was now the face of change in the school. She may not free Tibet, but she would definitely embarrass Addy in front of everyone, and really, isn’t that what charity is all about?
When the final bell rang, Emma made her way down the hallway, catching not a few high fives from her friends. Her other hand dragged a purple, plastic chair in tow. Its feet emitted a little rubber snail-trail as it scraped across the ground. Upon completing her hero’s sojourn from the classroom, she positioned her chair by the front door. Her herculean task begun, she stood upon the chair and solicited as she never had before.
“Free Tibet!” she yelled. “Treats for treatises! Rhubarb for reform! Let Buddhists live in peace and sell your sweet raised yeast!” She had been thinking of catchy slogans all night and couldn’t settle upon just one.
“You there!” she called at an unsuspecting freshman. “Do you hate peace?”
The freshman looked hurt as she gazed up at her through her bangs. “No, of course not. I did mission work in Vietna–“
“Then why isn’t your name on my list?” Emma interrupted. “Why won’t you bake cookies for the Dalai Lama?”
The freshman shrugged. “Don’t Buddhists like, not eat or something?”
“Of course they do! You’re thinking of Muslims! But the cupcakes aren’t for the Buddhists. They’re to raise money in support of them! Buddhists have been saying it since Siddhartha was enlightened: they need more money! Now will you sell something at the bake sale, or do you support sweatshops?”
With trembling hands, the girl scratched her name and a promise of a dozen snickerdoodles onto the sheet. She pushed it back to Emma and mumbled something about being late for her bus before she vanished back into the crowd. Like a skilled fisherman, vociferations on her hook, she cast her cries into the sea of people, only to reel in endless promises of doughy delicacies. She was a siren, and her peers crashed into the rocks of baking duty when they heard her sweet song. No one could resist.
As the flow of students ebbed and the busses shuttled away, Emma sat in her plastic throne in a dreamy haze. She flipped through her clipboard, heavy with the signatures of eager revolutionaries. Her beady eyes preened over her excellent work. Even Veronica, a known bitch, promised she would bring some vegan treats. She kept reading and re-reading the signup sheet; its every intricate cursive name tickled her mind like a sacred incantation. Each new line inflated her with pride. Emma began to tabulate how much money this sale could actually make It wasn’t enough to free Tibet, but with any luck they could raise their GDP by 3%. She was right in the middle of converting dollars to Renminbi, when a shadow eclipsed her paper and pulled her back to reality.
“I know what you’re doing,” the shadow’s mucous voice said. Emma looked up only to see Jessica’s almost-straight bangs. It was hard to make eye contact with someone who insisted on cutting their own hair, especially when it was done so poorly. Her hairline looked like the Dow Jones.
“You think your grades are more important than thousands of peaceful Buddhist monks,” the owner of the coarse, crusty bangs continued.
“You heard me. Look, you can be a total spaz and do your little bake sale, but we all know it’s just so your COMM grade doesn’t tank.”
Emma gritted her teeth. “My COMM grade is fine.” She spit each word out one at a time hoping they would hit her like poison darts.
Jessica was unconvinced. “If you really wanted to help the people of Tibet, you wouldn’t be giving them money. Buddhists hate that. You’re nothing but a slacktivist.”
“Either sign up to donate or get the hell away from my table.”
“Wouldn’t you like that?” She slapped the clipboard out of Emma’s hands. This is probably how Nelson Mandela felt.
With the receipt for her first UNICEF donation in hand, Emma bounded to the band room. Day one of the bake sale was an unrivaled success and before kicking off day two, she wanted to pay Addy a little visit. She burst through the double doors and scanned the room. She saw an archipelago of bobs dyed pink and purple, one of which belonged to Addy, who at present, was gingerly affixing tape to the mouth of a freshman. Upon Emma’s invasion, each empurpled head snapped to the source of the bedlam, every mouth taped shut.
“Well,” Emma said, “isn’t this interesting.” She strode between two cowering sophomores to wave her receipt a little too close to Addy’s eyes. “While you were in here screwing around with your duct tape and self-righteousness, I was out saving Tibet.” She began to pace around the room with great mirth. Her every bounce radiated vainglorious fervor. “What’s the matter? At a loss for words?”
Addy glared at her and mumbled something through her self-adhered gag.
“What was that?” Emma ripped the tape from Addy’s lips.
“I said, Tibet still isn’t free. You haven’t accomplished anything.”
“I raised almost three-thousand dollars for them yesterday! What have you done? Sat quietly? That didn’t free them either.”
“How is your money going to help?”
“Money can buy… I don’t know! It’s something measurable! I gave them something! You aren’t doing anything. The only difference between today, and any other day, is fewer people will learn to hate you because the duct tape seals the bullshit in.”
With eyes wet but refusing to cry Addy furrowed her brow and rose from her seat. Her now imposing figure craned over Emma’s. For a second, she thought Addy would hit her, but no such luck. She would have to be a martyr some other time. Unexpectedly stoic, Addy simply said, “Why don’t you just leave? We have work to do, and we don’t need you distracting us with your laziness and greed.”
Emma tried to protest, but before she could, she was met with an ambush of Addy’s goons. What seemed like a hundred freshmen with varicolored short hair came seemingly from the shadows to push her out of the room in a great gust of human motion. Forced into the locker lined halls, the door slammed in front of her after the last of Addy’s henchmen slithered silently back to their chambers. Screw them, Emma thought.
When she returned to the school’s entrance, Emma was greeted by her aids who had just finished setting up the tables for the morning’s “Buddhist Breakfast Bread Bazaar”. Students drifted through the rows of tables, digging in their pockets for nickels to buy breakfast pastries. From a distant table, there was a minor commotion. A junior was upset with the quality of the bread she had just purchased. It didn’t really matter; the bake sale already had her money. At the dessert table Emma watched as a gaggle of sophomores searched their purses and backpacks for anything even vaguely pecuniary. They tried to offer up watches and rings for cookies, but Emma’s staff were well trained. They knew to deny these vultures. People like these girls only wanted treats. They weren’t thinking about the greater task at hand. She wagered that these girls didn’t even know this was a charitable bake sale and just wanted sugary bread! As long as their money was green Emma would take it, but these girls were trying to barter with hair ties and Starbucks gift cards. It’s a shame they care so little for the Tibetans.
“Hey.” Emma turned around. The shrill, popping voice belonged to the girl from yesterday. “Tibet still isn’t free.”
Emma smirked, “Obviously they aren’t free-“
“So, you’re admitting that this is all for nothing?”
“No, this isn’t all for nothing. They aren’t going to be free overnight. We’re helping, but we can’t free Tibet on our own, it’s–“
“What? This bake sale won’t free Tibet? So, you’re basically stealing from these people? Hey!” she yelled, drawing the attention of the nearby shoppers. “This girl is stealing from you!”
“Shut up, I am not. Why don’t you leave my bake sale? You clearly don’t want to give to Tibet, so why don’t you just go?”
The girl glared at her, and did, eventually leave, flicking Emma off as she did so.
Emma paid her no mind, and continued to survey her kingdom, belauding herself. She noticed a great crowd forming toward the end of the hallway. She was excited; they must have lots of money. She approached the crowd, hands raised in the warm gesture of good will, and said, “Ladies, I assure you there are enough cookies and cakes for everyone! Thanks for making this bake sale such a success!” Her excitement welled until she noticed that girl, the one with the bad bangs, standing in the crowd.
“There she is!” someone in the crowd said. One of her aids rushed to Emma’s side.
“They are not happy,” she whispered frantically to Emma.
“What? Why? I told them change doesn’t just happen overnight!”
“It’s not that. Well… Okay that doesn’t help. But what charity did you donate to again?”
“UNICEF. Why does that matter?” The crowd began to encircle her. A ring of angry faces undulated in her field of view.
“You’re a criminal!” someone shouted.
“I want my money back!” said someone else.
“Jessica, what the hell is going on?” Emma asked her aid again.
“Well… okay so, apparently UNICEF was bought out by someone a few years ago… an African warlord… so… in a way… well, Emma, some people think… some people feel like you donated everyone’s money to fund child soldiers.”
“What?” Emma roared.
“I told you it was bad!” Jessica ran off, leaving Emma alone to face the mob.
“Ladies, ladies!” Emma began. “I assure you this is some sort of mistake. Your money is going to the poor people of Tibet and their weary government. What more could you ask for?”
“You’re a liar!” said a voice in the mob.
“You knew this would happen!”
“You gave to Joseph Kony on purpose!”
“Everyone knows UNICEF is evil!”
The angry jeers wouldn’t stop. The crowd engulfed her like heavy smog and swarmed through the tables. Emma’s aids were nowhere to be found. The receipt for her donation was ripped from her hand by a furious peer and torn to pieces for reasons unknown. Tables were ransacked. Nausiaphonic mastication filled the air as breads vanished from the tables and formerly pristine plastic wrapping floated to the tile and landed in weeps and sighs. In the commotion, tables were scraped across the floor and flipped over completely. One table, atop which sat a metal box that housed the Tibetan tithes, was pushed over in a contest between two girls to grab the only box of snickerdoodles that sat exquisitely packaged, nestled beneath the table. When the triumphant victor claimed her pilfered prize, she rose too quickly and crashed her head into wood above her. The cashbox, as well as everything else on the table’s surface careened down the hall. The box unhinged and released a shower of coins that skittered away—more pelf for the animals invading the bake sale.
Amidst the madness, Emma sat under a table hugging her knees. Why was she being punished for doing something good? She thought she was making a difference! Maybe not a big one, but a bigger one than whatever being quiet all day would solve. And was it really her fault that African warlords somehow infiltrated UNICEF? It’s not like she wanted to fund child soldiers. It wasn’t her intention to do that at least, doesn’t that count for anything? All she wanted was a nice, quiet, bake sale and she couldn’t even have that without child soldiers ruining it for her.
While Emma was sulking in the ruins of her eleemosynary emporium, she saw a man enter the school. He wasn’t tall, but he was imposing nonetheless, and he looked oddly familiar. Maybe he was somebody’s father. Surrounding him was an entourage of security guards, all with striking Asian features. They were murmuring in a hushed language, that Emma didn’t recognize, but incorrectly guessed was “Chinese.” They were walking to the school’s head office, but suddenly froze. Addy and the rest of the Civil Disobedience Club stood in a triumphant row, linking arms as the peculiar group of men stared in confusion. The group of men tried to get around their impromptu picket line, but to no avail. One of the men inspected the inscription on Addy’s duct tape. It read “Free Tibet”. He whispered something to the important looking fellow in the middle. The stout man grunted.
“Move out of the way,” he coughed out. “We get in a lot of trouble if we don’t sign in.”
His security guards nodded in agreement.
“Mhhmf MHHMF!” Addy repeated. She gesticulated wildly at the tape that shrouded her mouth and bore her plea.
One of the important looking men’s guards whispered once more to leader and he smacked his forehead. A look of genuine remorse broke across his face. He yelled what sounded like only vowels at a tall, slender individual with wispy hair.
“I had no idea you kids wanted peace in Tibet so badly!” the man, evidently a translator, told them. “If I had known the pain we were causing, we would have never occupied it.” Emma thought that maybe the sarcasm was lost in translation until the man added, “As the standing Honorable Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, I hereby declare Tibet’s freedom!”
Addy ripped the duct tape off of her mouth. “Yes! I knew we could do it guys!” The whole Civil Disobedience Club erupted into celebration. They danced and cheered and high fived. The Honorable Chairman wept. It would be confirmed later on the news, and again by the Dalai Lama’s Twitter account that China had indeed ceased all violent relations with Tibet. They were officially a sovereign nation with talks of joining the UN. The occupation was finally over. Emma sat down, surrounded by unsold pastries, reminders of the unused dollars given to UNICEF. Addy had actually changed something.
Somehow, Addy had managed to enact change of real value. Emma wanted to cry until she remembered — at least the bake sale got her out of math class.