Escape Pod 645: The Revolution, Brought to You by Nike (Part 2)
The Revolution, Brought to You by Nike, Part 2
by Andrea Phillips
5. THE LAUNCH
Launch day came on a bright Tuesday, amid a flurry of reports that the executive office had pushed through a series of contracts requiring the president’s own hotel properties be the preferred vendor for all federal travel going forward. Another day, another straw that was somehow never the last one.
The first part of Corazon’s campaign was the manifesto. That would take about two weeks.
They seeded a few aspirational pieces of video right away, to model the kinds of things they were expecting from legitimate users. In one of them, a gay couple hugged on camera, and the shorter one said “I’m making a world where love is love is love.” In another, a child in a wheelchair looked at the camera with determination and said, “I don’t want to die.”
They also front-loaded the Beyoncé video, a beautiful declaration of strength and defiance. They had enough of those celebrity videos to release a new one every day for the duration of the campaign. It was going to be so amazing.
The press went wild. Beyoncé, treason, Nike, the Justice Department, hope, plus something small that people could do to feel useful? The clickbait farms didn’t even have to work at the story. It was a done deal from the start.
And then all Corazon and her team could do was wait, breaths held, to see what America had to tell them. The video submissions came in slowly at first; seven videos on the first day, all of them from friends of the team at the agency. The next day there were forty submitted. And then another fifty.
Corazon checked the numbers obsessively, monitoring impressions and submissions as if every good submission gave her another hour’s breath.
The dick pics started coming in on day four, far and away flooding out all of the legitimate submissions. And the hardcore porn. And the snuff films.
That last one shocked Corazon, though she realized later that it shouldn’t have. There was an industry joke about TTP—time to penis. Any time you created an opportunity for people to express themselves, it was a ticking time bomb until the endless phalluses. Photos, video, construction tools. People had made enormous penis monuments in Minecraft and in Glitch, Imzy and Facebook and Tumblr.
It was an ancient human obsession. She’d heard there were old Roman fortifications with penis graffiti on them, too.
Well, that’s why there was a moderation team in place for this stuff. Corazon made sure to ply them with a generous supply of coffee and noodles. They were more than earning their keep.
Her phone rang at 2 a.m., and god help her, Corazon answered it, bleary-eyes and croak-voiced as she was. “What’s going on?”
It was Hussein. “The server is down,” he said. He didn’t sound a lot more awake than she did.
“So fix it.” Corazon snapped. This wasn’t the sort of thing that should’ve required any effort on her part, and especially not at that hour. Sleep was a precious resource.
“No, I mean… we’ve been attacked. We’re not going to be able to bring it back up. Nobody knows what those fuckers did, but it killed the platform.”
Corazon took a deep breath. “Let’s go to Plan B.”
The next day, in ten cities across the United States, Nike unveiled kiosks for the campaign manned by street teams. Anyone could stop by and record their 15-second contribution to the final manifesto.
Another press release went out, purportedly an apology to the public for the technical problems they’d suffered. It didn’t make any accusations on the face of it, but Holiday pulled a few strings to make sure there was enough grist to start an unstoppably delicious rumor mill. Had the Feds taken out the campaign in retaliation or in fear? Russian hackers working against democracy? Who hated aspiration so much that they’d try to silence a shoe company of all things?
There were lines around the block to submit videos on the first day. The next day there were people camping two and three hours before the kiosks opened to get their chance to say something. Corazon made an executive decision and gave the street teams a budget to pass out gelato and energy drinks to the people who stood waiting in line to get the sensation that for once, their voice had mattered, and the world had heard them.
Corazon spent hours sorting through the best videos, the ones the moderators had surfaced for her, and then more hours working with the video editor to assemble them into something with a dynamic emotional flow.
It was a tall order. The montage needed to be inspiring, but the kind of inspiring with teeth. It needed to be a projection of strength, a declaration of the possibility of change. It needed to make people angry more than they were afraid.
And it worked. The beautiful curated pieces unfolded in an endless looping stream. It was an intense aesthetic experience, seeing all of those faces, hearing all of those voices talking about their hopes and fears, the things they wanted to change, the things they’d bleed to fight against. The videos played on a two-hundred-foot wraparound display in Times Square and on sister screens in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Miami, Austin.
The microsite was still down and Bubba’s team was struggling with a last-minute rebuild, so they moved the manifesto to YouTube and began a series of extensive leaks to Variety, AdAge, and the LA Times.
The president was, it turned out, deeply displeased by all of this. He tweeted extensively about Beyoncé’s weight and speculated on the quality of her marriage, insisted New Balance shoes were far superior, and claimed that every video uploaded had been professionally produced and starred only paid actors; no real people felt that way about him.
The controversy brought so much more attention to the campaign than it would otherwise have had that they beat their KPIs for phase one by a factor of twenty.
The conflict won the media cycle for a full three days, until a leak from the executive office said the president was planning on covering the White House with gold leaf, and a video surfaced showing that he’d propositioned a Saudi princess at an economic summit in Moscow.
It was a great start. But all of this was only the beginning; uniting people in excitement. Creating buzz. Buzz wasn’t always enough; Snakes on a Plane had buzz to a supernatural degree, but nobody had shown up. Feet on the street: that was the next phase. It was the biggest activation Corazon had ever envisioned. But would anybody come?
On Sunday Corazon went to church with her grandmother. As the service wound down, she stared up at the heady fresco of Christ on the cross, lifted on high by angels. It was supposed to be a reassuring image: a reminder that somebody else had suffered on her behalf so that she wouldn’t have to.
But the idea that people could only be freed through the suffering of a third party seemed stark and terrible now. Whose suffering would it take to solve this problem? And if it was Corazon’s own suffering, was she strong enough to endure it?
After a time, she felt the weight of her grandmother’s hand on her back. “Corazon, are you lost?” she asked, amused.
Corazon smiled—the real smile, not the practiced one—and stood up. “Just thinking.”
“There’s someone who wants to meet you,” her grandmother said. She took Corazon’s hand and led her to the parish hall.
“Not a blind date,” Corazon groaned. “What have I told you about setting me up?”
Her grandmother pushed her into a seat at a long table covered with a plastic cloth. “Not a date!”
The old man seated across from Corazon looked at her intently. “Is this your girl, Mila?” he asked.
“Yes.” Corazon’s grandmother glowed. “She is the one I told you about.”
Corazon looked between the two of them. “What is… ?”
The old man stuck out an age-spotted hand. His wrists under his cuffs were too thin, his skin translucent. “My name is Danilo,” he said.
“Corazon.” She shook the hand gently, unwilling to crush the bird-bones of Danilo’s hand. “Are you and my grandmother… friends?”
“Old enemies.” He smiled at her grandmother sadly. “She was a revolutionary, and God preserve me, I was on the losing side of it.”
Her grandmother settled into the seat between them, at the end of the table. “You were a coward,” she said fondly.
“I was wrong.” Danilo turned back to Corazon. “I want to warn you about what’s coming for you.”
Corazon looked at her hands. “I know,” she said. Now she switched the genuine smile for the practiced one.
This was the part she’d been keeping from her grandmother: “what’s coming” had started to come already. That very morning she’d opened her apartment door to find a decapitated pigeon lying in a puddle of its own viscera. It wasn’t clear if it was a gift from a generous cat or an ungenerous spirit, but Corazon had her own guess.
And that was only the latest incident. She’d been quoted in that initial launch day press release, and ever since then she’d been buried under a tsunami of death and rape threats on social media, calls to her office phone number, and hacking attempts. She’d lost control of her Pinterest account, not that that mattered so much, and her Metafilter account, which was a lot more upsetting. Two-factor had saved her from worse, so far.
“You don’t know.” Danilo looked around to be sure nobody in the parish hall was too interested in their conversation. He coughed into a withered hand. “They will kill you if they can,” he whispered. “Mila likes to talk forever about making people more angry than afraid. But don’t underestimate the people who are more afraid than angry. Their fear makes them irrational, and you cannot know what they will do.”
Her grandmother broke in. “Don’t try to frighten her,” she chided. “Corazon is too bold to be stopped by you.”
“I don’t mean to stop her.” Danilo coughed again. “Corazon, be strong. Keep fighting. The world needs you right now.”
“I’m not afraid,” Corazon said. She was lying, of course. But her grandmother didn’t need to know that.
6. THE REVOLUTION
When Corazon got to the agency Monday morning, the offices and wide-open workspaces were completely bare. The screens were all gone, the papers confiscated. Even the mood boards Gregoria has put together were gone and the whiteboards had all been erased.
The agency’s head of IT met Corazon at her desk. Martina was a sleek woman in her mid-40s, with just the right amount of natural makeup on, just the right three pieces of jewelry, heels that were solid and authoritative. She looked deeply unhappy.
“What’s going on?” Corazon asked her. But she had already guessed.
“I can’t tell you,” Martina said. “All I can tell you is that we’ve had to take your equipment and… well, it was confiscated.”
Corazon could read between the lines. The agency had received an NSA letter, or something like it. The federal government was investigating her. Her clock was ticking down even faster than she’d expected. Phase two hadn’t even launched yet—not until the next day.
“What do I do?” Corazon asked. “How are we supposed to get any work done?”
Martina puffed her cheeks. “We can order in some new equipment,” she said. “It’s not in the budget, but there might be something we can do with insurance. I’m already in talks with legal. But,” she crossed her arms, shifted to the other foot, “I’ve had to terminate your access to all of your accounts. For security reasons.”
Corazon’s heart skipped a beat, then another. “I see,” she said quietly. “Am I fired, or… ?”
“You’ll have to talk to Holiday about that,” said Martina. “I’m not HR.” She looked around, nervous, and lowered her voice. “I really respect what you’ve been doing here,” she said. “I’m really sorry.” And then she swiveled on her sensible heel and walked to the elevator.
Gregoria arrived in the same elevator as Bubba. They looked at Corazon and each other, nervously. “What’s going on?” Bubba asked. “Did they move us to another floor or something?”
Corazon handed him a twenty. “Do me a favor? Go get some doughnuts and a Box of Joe? I’ll fill you in as soon as I have any clue what to tell you.” She sighed. “Guess I’ve got to talk to Holiday.”
Holiday wasn’t in yet, so Corazon tried to wait on his sofa, staring out at the river. The Hudson was the same as it ever was, choppy and unromantic. But sitting still was impossible, so she paced his office instead, looking closely at all the detritus of his life and career.
Tucked away into a corner next to a copy of a Seth Godin book, she found a framed black and white photo she’d never noticed before. It was Holiday, long-haired and angry. He held a sign in his hands that said “Heil Nixon.”
“Good morning,” Holiday said from the doorway.
She jumped. “Good morning,” she said, and tried to put her game face on. The veneer of poise and friendliness was slippery today, and she wasn’t sure she’d wrestled it into place.
Holiday had two cups of coffee in his hands, and he handed one to her. “Sit, please.” He nodded at the sofa. “I guess you’ve already seen the, ah, operational problems we’ve run into.”
She nodded and sipped the coffee. Hazelnut latte. How had he known she liked hazelnut? “Am I fired?” she asked.
Holiday grimaced. “Leave of absence while we review your employment records.” He looked meaningfully at the corners of the room. What did he mean? Had the room been bugged?
She clutched her coffee tighter. “What about the campaign?” she asked. “There’s so much left to—”
Holiday spoke the next words very, very carefully, with immaculate diction. “We’ve been instructed to stop the campaign,” he said. “Do you have access to the resources you need to pull the plug?” He shook his head no, ever so slightly.
When she caught on, Corazon’s smile flickered on. The real one. “I don’t see how we could. The key art has already gone out, and with all of our records gone, we have no way to know who to contact to change anything. The wheels are already in motion.”
“That’s a terrible shame.” Holiday sat back, satisfied. “I suppose all we can do now is see what happens.”
Corazon hadn’t lied. Tuesday was the launch of phase two, and it began with a blitzkrieg of a media buy the likes of which had never been done before in the history of advertising. Buses, video pre-roll, billboards, magazine and TV ads. The message was inescapable: everywhere people were, there was Nike. “Had enough? Take it outside.”
And there were times and places for people to gather. But this is where Corazon hadn’t asked Nike for a signoff of her true plans. She’d privately told them they were better off not knowing, and they had trusted her. They only knew she was arranging “in-person activations.” They didn’t know where.
If she hadn’t been given a leave of absence, she might’ve been fired for this. Because those protests weren’t in the usual high-visibility, high-traffic places, either. Forget the National Mall. Corazon wasn’t interested in just putting on a show.
She wanted to shut it all down.
Her targets were the White House, the president’s hotel locations, his retail partners, government buildings. If she had her way, nobody would get in or out.
If anybody showed up, anyway. That wasn’t an easy bet. Early on there had been massive protests, glorious ones. But between riot police, the continued onslaught on democratic ideals, and simple fatigue, those protests had gradually died down.
Only one way to find out. She went to the grounds where the New York event would start four hours early. She already had her event badge, and she had a bad feeling that if she went home again, someone might be waiting there for her.
She held her breath, and she waited.
The first wave of protesters came on time, almost bashful. They were mostly older than Corazon had expected. Middle-aged people, soft in the middle, tired from working a long day. The street team handed them signs and coached them in chants.
The signs were beautiful, the logo subtle; Gregoria had been right, it turned out, and making them pop more would have just been crass.
There were a few hundred people, and then a few thousand. Corazon’s fingers itched to get information on how protests were going elsewhere, but without access to her agency email she couldn’t coordinate anything.
When the second wave of protesters came around 8 p.m., the street team passed out coffee, hot cocoa, and cookies. These were younger and hipper, more diverse, louder. They brought some of their own signs and they made up their own chants.
When the third wave came at midnight, the street team had run out of supplies, but by then the protest had taken on a life of its own. Streamers burst through the air. The fireworks popped. Kaepernick came onto a makeshift stage to lead the crowd in a rousing rendition of the national anthem.
Somebody pulled down a stop sign; Corazon watched it float away down the street like a crowd surfer. The giddy feeling of togetherness made her feel drunk and powerful, like anything could happen. Like maybe this would work.
She didn’t go home that night.
Neither did anyone else.
Dawn came. Noon came. The protests continued. Clusters of people peeled away to eat, to sleep for a few hours, to change clothes. But the gravity of the event grew steadily, and more people arrived than left.
By the time twenty-four hours had gone by, there wasn’t a single person in the world who hadn’t been exposed to Nike branding through the news media. And just about everyone had voluntarily engaged with either the branded content itself, or earned media talking about it.
In Washington, D.C., protesters began to sing in front of the Capitol Building. The roar was clearly audible even from the White House itself. The president went on a Twitter rampage from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., complaining about the inconsiderate amount of noise being made, the ungrateful waste of public resources, how the protesters were nothing but a bunch of self-centered criminals and rapists.
His Florida residence was rendered inaccessible, thanks to protesters crowding the airport runway. The president fled to New York instead, but didn’t find respite there, either. The protests went on the next night, and the next. Nike stock fell precipitously, and then, curiously, it began to rise.
The crowd took on the convivial tenor of a blackout or other minor disaster; people standing close together shared water and snacks, and cleared the way for others to make it to the bathroom. A protective cordon formed around a blind woman at an intersection to keep her from being knocked around by careless strangers. The chants and songs continued until people grew hoarse.
According to social media, the same thing was happening elsewhere. The streets were choked so hotel guests and shoppers couldn’t get through. The affected businesses were brought to their knees and kept there. And the protests grew so large that Corazon’s careful targeting became irrelevant. Whole cities were brought low. Businesses declared themselves closed because no employees had shown up.
The president signed an executive order that all gatherings of more than five people were sedition. The crowd took up chants about freedom of assembly. Somebody’s magnificent hand-painted bill of rights from a protest in Indiana got eighty thousand shares in two hours.
On the fourth day, the tanks rolled up to the edge of the crowd in New York, slim and lethal. A young black man with a megaphone climbed up onto a turret to address the crowd. “You are ordered to disperse.” His voice bounced off the buildings and echoed away. “This assembly is in violation of federal law.”
Corazon’s social feed had turned into madness: there were helicopters and fighter jets circling. The photos were blurry, the messages short and frightened. It was the Army; the National Guard; it was private mercenaries.
Corazon pushed her way to the front and flashed her event badge to cross the police barrier.
She stood as tall as her five feet even permitted, dressed head to toe in this year’s hottest Nike athleisure, and addressed the National Guard officer directly. No matter what happened here, this was a brilliant photo opp.
Scratch that: this wasn’t a photo opp. This was bigger; this was history. She tried to tune out the cameras leveled at her to focus on the moment at hand. At that young man with the megaphone, who looked just as frightened and alone as she had felt before she’d started to act. The name stitched to his jacket said WASHINGTON.
She recited the First Amendment, slow, loud and clear. By the time she got a few words in, the idea had spread and the whole crowd recited along with her. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Young Mr. Washington with the megaphone looked shaken. “I’m afraid you’ll have to—”
“Did you swear to uphold the Constitution?” she asked him.
He lowered the megaphone. “Yes,” he said.
“Then it’s your job to protect us,” she said. “Are you gonna do it, or what?” Her phone was going insane in her pocket, buzzing like a kicked hive of wasps.
Washington raised the megaphone again and turned it on his company. “Stand down,” he told them. “Stand down. The people are speaking. They have a right to be here, and we swore an oath.”
In the end, one hundred million people participated in protests in the United States alone. They took place in every state in the union, in every city, in every township. Some were organized by Nike, but once emboldened, once they’d seen they were not alone in a willingness to fight, the public took measures into their own hands.
Three weeks, five days, and nineteen hours after Nike dropped that first video starring Beyoncé, the president went on live television. He was sweating and gray-skinned; he looked like he hadn’t slept even a moment since the campaign had begun. Maybe not even since the election.
“I’ll get to the point,” he said. “I resign. It’s what you want so it’s what you get, right? You people don’t deserve me anyway. I’m the best president, the smartest president, but you aren’t good enough for me. You don’t deserve me anyway. I quit.”
Corazon’s heart surged. Finally he’d said something true and honest: the people didn’t deserve him. They deserved something much, much better.
As a parting shot he flipped the bird on a national broadcast. “Fuck Nike,” he said. “Bunch of assholes who sell ugly shoes made by toddlers in Singapore.”
7. THE POST-MORTEM
At last Corazon collapsed into her grandmother’s arms, the adrenaline of a week finally gone and leaving her more than halfway to hallucinating. Her grandmother guided her to the guest bedroom and helped her out of her jacket. She stroked Corazon’s hair gently in the cool and dark. “Sleep. You deserve it.”
“I will.” Corazon lay down, rested her head on her grandmother’s knee, and closed her eyes. Her voice grew faint and burred. “What happened after the Revolution, lola?”
Her grandmother’s hand stilled. “It was ugly for a while. There were more protests, fights. People were kidnapped. But even that was better than it had been before. We were free.”
“But things got bad again, didn’t they? So you emigrated here?” She was all but asleep now.
Her grandmother sighed and eased out from under her. “The fight is never really over, apó. You have to keep at it. The bad men never go away, they only wait until you let your guard down.”
Corazon was completely asleep by the time her grandmother clicked the bedroom door shut.
The vice-president was sworn in the next day with very little pomp. The national zeitgeist took on the spear of “never again.” There was even talk of a new constitutional convention, surprisingly from the right as much as from the left. It had been a good run, but now everyone understood that there were flaws in the system.
Corazon woke up to find her personal email had exploded while she was occupied with making history. She’d already received invitations to give case studies and presentations around the globe. She was invited to give a TED talk, invited to join think tanks she’d never even heard of before.
There was an email from Holiday, too. It was brisk and impersonal, but she knew better than to take that to heart. Upon review of her work, it said, the Agency had decided that she should be entitled to as much vacation as she needed right now. But her job was waiting for her when she got back.
Oh, and Nike had asked for her, specifically, to be the new creative lead on their global strategy going forward.
They were going to sell so many shoes.
About the Author
Andrea Phillips is a game designer and author. Currently she co-writes the serials Bookburners and ReMade. On her own she’s written the novel Revision, pirate serial The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart, and the novelette The Revolution, Brought to You By Nike.
You can find Andrea on Twitter at @andrhia. I mean, if you like that sort of thing.
About the Narrator
Julia Rios (they/them) is a queer, Latinx writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator whose fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in Latin American Literature Today, Lightspeed, and Goblin Fruit, among other places. Their editing work has won multiple awards including the Hugo Award. Julia is a co-host of This is Why We’re Like This, a podcast about the movies we watch in childhood that shape our lives, for better or for worse. They’ve narrated stories for Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. They’re @omgjulia on Twitter.