Thank You No Thank You by Chris Klassen

The people voted and assigned power to the Universal Equality Party.  At nine o’clock, the polling stations closed, and at nine o’clock plus one the results began to flood in to the media, who then flooded them out to the public.  At nine o’clock plus fifteen it was already a reportable majority and then a massive majority.  The incumbents were out, humbled by the numbers and newly unemployed.

“We have heard you loud and clear,” the new Leader bellowed in the acceptance speech.  “You are frustrated by the years of elitism, of riches held in the fewest of hands while you toil to stay afloat.  Well, we are going to change that, like we promised consistently throughout our campaign.  No more inequality!  We’re the Universal Equality Party for a reason, and we’re on your side!”  

The people watching on their TVs and tablets and phones nodded optimistically.  That’s why we voted, they said self-approvingly.

At the end of the first month, it didn’t appear that anything much had changed.  And in fact, nothing at all had changed.  When the people looked around, they saw that groceries were still too expensive and amusements like restaurant dinners and theatrical performances and concerts were still too expensive.  The restaurants and theatres and concerts are still packed full, they said to each other, tightening belts and wondering about empty fridges.  They’re full with people not like us, just like before. And today’s news reported that a corporate CEO paid $15 million dollars for a cottage in the mountains and a hedge fund manager won a poker tournament with a $500,000 entry fee.  This is no different than when the other party ruled, they said.

“We hear you,” the new Leader exclaimed in month two. “We’ve read your angry letters and listened to your messages.  You’re right to be angry. We understand. Big change is coming, but it’s going to take time. We’ve only been in power a few weeks and so we ask for your patience. But in the meantime, the Party has taken a first step in the right direction. You can trust us!  We have been working for you. Trust us!” The people wondered what that meant. “Yes, the first step is for a change in general attitude. That’s the start. If we can change our attitude and shift it away from elitism and entitlement, we will achieve what we want—what you, the people, demand—which is total universal equality for all!” Whose attitude has to change, the people asked themselves. Our attitude? The billionaire CEOs’ attitude? The billionaire aristocrats’ attitude? Attitude won’t pay for groceries, the people said. But maybe the Party knows what it’s doing.

“The Universal Equality Party knows what it’s doing,” began the massive messaging campaign that infiltrated inboxes and social media networks. “And so, our first step, highly recommended by our experts, is to address how we communicate because how we communicate directly influences attitude. Many of our day-to-day words encourage inequality. They cultivate a poisonous us-versus-them mentality. This must change. This is why, effective immediately, we are banning the words ‘Thank You’ from public discourse.” The people paused in their reading of the message for a skeptical moment and took a breath. Really? “When we say ‘Thank You,'” it continued, “it is because we have received something—a gift, a compliment, a favor.  But that’s not equality! That implies a benefit to one person only or one group only! And that’s elitism and leads to entitlement and arrogance. The words ‘Thank You’ therefore encourage an unequal state that festers like an infection.  If we remove ‘Thank You’ from our vocabulary, we open the door for equality for all. The mandate you gave us, in electing us with a record-breaking majority, for which we are and will be eternally grateful, is to impose equality. We are doing just that.”

This doesn’t seem quite right, the people thought. It’s not quite what we had in mind. An interesting philosophical discussion, perhaps, but did we elect you for theoretical debate? We’d prefer shared wealth and income parity. You know, so we’re not so hungry.

Others reacted in a not-as-polite manner. What kind of ridiculousness is this, they exclaimed angrily.  You’re banning two simple words, and that’s the answer to our problems? We’re still hungry and broke! How is this a good plan? And how is it even enforceable? If we say “Thank You” in a public forum, what can you possibly do? It’s absurd!

How it was to be enforced, “encouraged,” as the Universal Equality Party preferred to say, became apparent a few days later, on payday for civil service employees, when four junior clerks and three middle-managers were horrified to see that their income for the two-week period had been reduced by half. They questioned human resources.

“You were overheard saying ‘Thank You,'” HR said flatly. “We received a memo from the Party obliging us to reduce anyone’s pay by fifty percent if they are overheard saying ‘Thank You.’ Someone informed on you. There’s nothing we can do.”

But how does this encourage equality? they asked. We just said it out of habit! All this does is make us poorer! We’re in worse shape than ever!

“It’s the rule for everyone,” HR said. “Athletes and stock brokers and janitors, public sector or private sector, anyone can be docked fifty percent of their pay. That’s how the Party claims it’s equal.”

It’s not equal, they argued in futility, it’s madness. “Don’t say ‘Thank You,’ then,” HR advised emotionlessly.

Children were not immune to the new policy, either. Arriving home from school with letters from their teachers and red “Thank You” badges pinned to their shirts, they sobbed to their parents that all their A’s and B’s had been changed to C’s. We said “Thank You,” they explained. We were just being polite like you taught us. Now we have to wear this badge every day for a month, and we can’t get our grades back to where they were no matter what. The parents read the letters, printed on official Party stationary. What the children were saying was true. 

“It’s going well so far,” Party members and leadership boasted to themselves. “We’re really starting to make a difference. And in such a short time! Yes, this is the right path indeed.”

This must stop, the people said to each other. Cutting pay and shaming children can’t be the answer.

The first rumblings of agitation began soon after the employees didn’t get their pay and the children didn’t get their grades. Visible in the early-morning light of a new work week, on the sides of three downtown bank buildings and the stock exchange and the headquarters of the Universal Equality Party itself, someone, or some-few, had spray-painted “Thank You” in huge red letters. And also “Thank You” in black above the revolving-door entrances of the corporate grocery giants. Later in the day, three different Party members found unaddressed envelopes on the floors of their private offices, each containing odorless white powder. The powder was sent to a lab for testing. The Party members were sent to the hospital, also for testing.

“This is not a wise path,” the Party Leader condescended to the people. “Not a wise path at all.” In response to the veiled threat, flash mobs chanting, “Thank You” rampaged through malls and train stations. The Party, escalating the tension again with a response of their own, ordered the military to patrol the streets and shoot rubber bullets over the heads of agitators and then shoot a bit lower if necessary. “We are treating everyone on the street equally,” the Leader explained.  “This is the mandate you gave us.”  And going even further to demonstrate their powers and intent, they randomly victimized more companies and decreed that the salaries of all employees were to be cut in half and they selected more schools and had all students’ grades cut down, too. Whether anyone had said “Thank You” or not, it didn’t matter.  It was for show.

Anger in the people grew exponentially. The Party, watching the increasing unrest, decided another mass messaging campaign, if done correctly, could soothe the masses. With proper words, they believed, they could sway the people, calm them and make them understand that change takes time and can sometimes be uncomfortable. “Once they accept our theory about ‘Thank You,’ all will be well,” the Leader explained to his subordinates, who agreed wholeheartedly.  But sending the message was a moot point. The Party’s entire computer network was frozen, hacked by digital activists. “Thank You” scrolled across every screen in defiance.

On the following weekend, under a bright sun, fifty thousand marchers or maybe even more stomped towards and around the government buildings chanting and yelling with fists in the air, waving banners and flags. The crowd represented the entire social spectrum. Trade unionists linked arms with business leaders and corporate raiders who linked arms with students and punks and anarchists and even children. The extreme fringe activists burned effigies of the Party Leader and set off fireworks and overturned garbage cans. The pacifists sang and recited protest poetry and were drowned out by the rest of the crowd. The military and police surrounded it all but did not react, surprisingly to the people, who were not aware that the Party had instructed the security forces to avoid violence no matter what.

Through the window of Party headquarters, the Leader and the executive team watched. “It’s just two little words,” they said. “All this mess for two little words.”

From below, on the lawn and in the streets, the protests continued. All this mess for two little words.

“We had options,” the Leader began, interrupting regular TV programming and radio waves and all manner of digital devices on the following evening after Party technicians had successfully unlocked their network. “We could have cracked down further.  We could have instructed the security services to stop the protests using any and all methods. We could have made arrests and cracked heads. But we didn’t. We have heard your voice. We respect that you opposed our policy and so we are re-tooling our direction. Effective immediately, the ‘Thank You’ ban is lifted.” The people gasped in unexpected surprise. The Party listened to us, they rejoiced.  It’s an astonishing moment.

The Leader continued. “Furthermore, work payments that were cut in half will be refunded and children’s school grades will go back to pre-protest levels. Our work will continue, don’t be mistaken.  Our goal is equality, like we’ve said all along. But we listened to you, and we will find new methods and strategies to succeed. The Universal Equality Party is responsible to the people first!” The face of the Leader grinned then vanished from the screens.

The people were shocked in a most joyous way. We have made an actual difference, they said, we are victorious and powerful like never before.  

The Leader and Party executives sat in their leather chairs around the large boardroom table, smug and smiling, victorious and powerful and in control like never before. Nothing had changed but perception.

Chris Klassen lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. After graduating from the University of Toronto and living for a year in France and England, he returned home and worked the majority of his career in print media. He is now living a semi-retired life. His stories have been published in Short Circuit, Unlikely Stories, Across the Margin, Fleas on the Dog, Vagabond City, Dark Winter, Literally Stories, Ghost City Review and The Raven Review.