The ‘Free Franklin! – Free City’ billboard whizzed by. Tom didn’t want to be late for the emancipation celebration. Franklin voted itself free of all laws from outside governments two years before and changed its name to Free Franklin. Each year since, the Council required all citizens of Free Franklin to gather at the concert gazebo, to hear a recitation of the Declaration of Freedom by a random citizen. It declared the citizens of Free Franklin to be united and equal; the same. The commemoration ended with fireworks. Nope. Tom didn’t want to miss the party.
He also didn’t want anyone to notice if he was late. There was so little news on the local TV station. Being late might be shocking enough to make the evening broadcast. No one watched the networks anymore. If the Council could have banned them, they would have. They didn’t allow outside newspapers. But, airwaves could not be controlled. They had cut cable the day after emancipation. The local station broadcasted only information that the Council thought relevant to the town. No one wanted to question it, either.
Tom parked on the street. He double-checked that he was in a ‘Citizens of Franklin’ slot and not a visitor slot. Visitors and their cars were supposed to register with the Visitor Acceptance Bureau. Their cars had to have a red ‘V’ on both side doors. All visitors were monitored by the Traffic and Visitor Enforcement branch of the Public Safety Office. Visitor cars would be towed to the city line, its occupants inside. Citizens didn’t know why they weren’t welcome. The TV reported that ‘Franklin was safer than ever without criminal undesirables roaming the streets’. It didn’t bother Tom.
He left his car unlocked, it was a town ordnance, in case the TVE wanted to make sure he didn’t have banned items, like magazines, tobacco or DVDs. He never did, and it didn’t offend him. He strolled to the square, waving and smiling at the Wilbers, his neighbors. They looked at him and then at each other. After a hesitation, they waved, smiled back and then entered a liquor store. He wondered why they seemed uncomfortable recognizing him on the street and why his ‘teetotal’ neighbors would shop in a liquor store. He shrugged and walked the last half block to the square.
The Mayor, head of the Council, stood to say a few words before the recitation of the Declaration of Freedom. He tapped the microphone, waited for the crowd to quiet and then nodded his head at the Leader of the Public Safety Office, Bond Hansen. Tom didn’t like Bond. They’d been rivals in High School and he was a bully. Well, he’d found his place in the PSO. No citizen ever argued with PSO agents. Jane Meadows, editor of the Franklin Press, had questioned some of the early Council decisions. Tom never found out why she left town. She just didn’t go to work the next day and her apartment was rented to someone else within the week.
Tom’s reminiscing stopped when the Mayor spoke. “Citizens of Free Franklin. Today marks our third Independence Day. We are united. We are equal. We are the same.” He paused while the applause and cheers rose; led by the Citizens for Free Spirit, another office of the PSO. Tom saw agents walking around the crowd. He supposed they were looking for visitors. He patted his pocket to ensure that he had his city-issued identification card. The Council said it guaranteed that only loyal citizens lived in Franklin.
They Mayor cleared his throat and spoke. “Your Council knows that undesirables still slip through our citizenship process and hide among us. The PSO is tireless, rooting out those not like us. Right now, they’re searching apartments and homes for evidence of this fraudulent abuse of our freedom.” His voice rose. “Rest assured. They will be discovered! We will be united. We will be equal. We will all be the same.” He stepped back, beaming at the thunderous applause. When the Citizens for Free Spirit quieted, he introduced the speaker. “I am proud to introduce Abigail Harris, daughter of Council member Noel Harris, to recite the Declaration.”
The young woman was still reading, when Tom felt men at his elbow. He turned and saw PSO agents at his side. One leaned in and spoke. “Please, come with us, Tom. Come quietly. We wouldn’t want to alarm the citizens.” There wasn’t much he could do. They had a tight grip on his elbows and they guided him out of the park.
“Tom. A citizen reported that your grandmother was Mexican. We’ve searched your house and found pictures of a woman. ‘Theresa Pilar’ is written on the back. Is this your grandmother?”
“Yes. But, she’s not Mexican. Her family has been in California since the Gold Rush.”
The agent’s head swiveled. “Doesn’t matter. No person may reside in Free Franklin who has foreign blood within six generations. California hasn’t been a state that long. Anyone from California, except validated Americans, is considered a Mexican.” He reached into Tom’s pocket and removed his ID card. “Your citizenship is fraudulent. You are expelled.” The agents’ grip increased, and they turned a corner onto the street.
A PSO tow truck was in front of his car. The other agent said, “Your suitcase is in the trunk. All other property and bank accounts are forfeit to the city. Stay out of Free Franklin. We don’t want your kind here.”
Tom was shoved into the passenger seat of his car. Before the door slammed shut, Tom saw a red ‘V” decal stuck on the door. Tom yelled through the glass of the closed window. “You can’t do this. I was born here! I’m a citizen!”
The front end of his car lifted from the ground, jerked, and moved forward.
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin