There was a swastika on my locker door.
It was stupid, really. I avoided using my locker after what happened in January. In the objective sense, this was relatively minor compared to everything else that the trio had done to me.
But for whatever reason, I couldn’t let this go. This was going to be where I draw the line.
Was it because allowing that on my locker was an implicit endorsement of their fucked up ideology?
For a brief moment, I thought that there was a line that the trio would never cross. Even after what happened in January, I thought that there would be something that would be beyond the pale even for them.
Then again, this might not have been them at all. Winslow’s reputation as a gang hotbed preceded it, so it was just as likely that some junior member of the Empire 88 had done it to mark Winslow as their territory.
In a fit of petty rage I grabbed a sharpie out of my backpack to scribble over the swastika.
That was when it hit me.
I didn’t need to just scribble over the empire graffiti, I needed to send a message, and I knew just what to draw to do that.
I took out a red sharpie marker and drew three parallel arrows pointed down and to the left, and then circled it.
Then I wrote above it the words “¡No Pasarán!”
“What’s that?” asked a girl next to me. She had short dark brown hair that barely graced her shoulders.
“It’s a symbol that the Social Democrats used to use in Weimar Germany to fight back against the Nazis, Monarchists, and Communists,” I said, pointing to an arrow in turn as I explained the symbology. “Later on, the three arrows got picked up as a more general anti-fascist symbol. The slogan, No Pasarán, comes from the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War who used it against Franco, and later saw use by British anti-fascists who were pushing back against Britain’s own nascent fascist movement.”
As the moment hung in the air I suddenly felt awkward, as if the old motormouth Taylor had momentarily risen from the dead.
“I mean, sorry to infodump on you like that,” I said. “I’m kind of a history nerd but not like regurgitation of technical minutiae about WW2 tanks like most history buffs but social movements and such... and I’m doing it again, sorry.”
“No, it’s fine,” the girl next to me said. “That’s cool actually.” And as I watched, she pulled out a sharpie of her own and drew the same three arrow symbol on her own locker.
“I’m Charlotte. By the way,” she said, smiling at me.
“Taylor,” I replied.
As we walked down the corridors of Winslow to our next class, or rather, I was walking to my next class and Charlotte decided to walk next to me for some reason, I started using my bugs to keep track of the trio. Luckily, none of them were near where we were.
So I was taken off guard when I got shoulder checked from behind, since Sophia wasn’t anywhere near where I was.
“Fuckin’ heebs,” muttered the guy who had nearly knocked me over. I was momentarily distracted by that utterance, since I didn’t realize that some random Empire skinhead knew my last name, before it hit me that “heeb” in this case was short for Hebrew, not Hebert. I wasn’t Jewish but I could see how they could come to that conclusion with my skin tone and hair.
“God damn Ferguson,” Charlotte uttered next to me.
“Huh?” I asked.
“Peter fucking Ferguson, he’s one of the main Empire 88 people here,” Charlotte replied.
“Can’t say that I’ve ever paid enough attention to the skinheads at Winslow to figure out their names,” I said. “Too busy dealing with Emma, and Sophia’s shit.”
“That’s… not really an option for me, since I’m Jewish,” said Charlotte. And just like that my problems with the trio seemed miniscule by comparison. I mean, yeah, things were bad, but at the end of the day it was only three people, not one of the largest gangs in the city that wanted me dead.
“That’s gotta be rough in this city,” I said, my sympathies sounding trite even to my ears.
“Oh yeah,” said Charlotte. “Being Jewish in a city where the largest group of parahumans are literally neo-Nazis isn’t exactly ideal. It doesn’t help that the police and PRT treat them with kid gloves half the time. Look at Hookwolf, he’s already been sentenced to the Birdcage and the PRT still gives him the pretense of a secret identity, unlike every other cape that’s bound for the birdcage.”
That… was a good point. As soon as Charlotte had pointed out that instance of the PRT treating the Empire lightly, it was like a dam bursting, and I remembered countless other examples. Like how they had rescinded the arrest warrants on Purity just because she started calling herself an ‘independent hero’ who conveniently looked the other way whenever her former Empire buddies were committing crimes; or look at Bastion, who was caught on camera shouting racial slurs, and how the PRT and Protectorate lined up to give excuses about how ‘he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,’ ‘he was having a bad day,’ ‘it was a heated moment,’ and that he was ‘taken out of context.’
I thought about the notebook I kept in my backpack, detailing my costume sketches and my plans to become a superhero. The Empire was the biggest threat to the city, and yet, it seemed like the Police and the PRT were content to just ignore them and let them build up their power base.
I could do better.
I would do better.
As I sat on the bus that would take me home from school, the rest of my day having been mercifully free of the trio’s antics, I thumbed through my hero notebook, mulling over the conversation I’d had with Charlotte.
I realized that I was stalling at this point. I’d finished weaving together the spider silk for my costume’s bodysuit earlier this week and the armored plates were already done. As I looked out the window on the bus, I saw that there was an arts and crafts store in one of the strip malls we were coming up to, so I pulled on the stop cord for the next intersection.
As I browsed the aises looking at fabric dye and paint for the chitin armor plating, my first instinct was to go for dark colors like Alexandria so that I could blend into a swarm of bugs. I almost went for it, but then I changed my mind. I kept the paints and the dyes I had, but I also added some iridescent paint. My hope was that I could add a layer of iridescent blue over the grey of the chitin shells to give the armored segments a more colorful look that would make me look like less of an Alexandria rip-off.
I paid for the costume supplies and quickly stuffed them into my backpack and walked over to the sporting goods store in the same strip mall. Here, I picked up a set of goggles for my costume, I had initially gravitated towards the yellow tinted lenses, but then a set of blue-tinted swim goggles jumped out at me. The blue lenses would be less visible at night, especially under those yellow sodium vapor lamps that Brockton Bay used for street lighting. It wouldn’t do to give myself away because the yellow lenses of my mask reflected the street lighting perfectly.
Unfortunately, the blue goggles I liked were a bit pricier than I would have liked, so I put the chalk dust I was about to buy back on the shelves.
I put everything I needed into my basket and used the last of the cash I had with me to check out of the store. I stuffed my new goggles into my backpack, and made my way back to the bus stop. By now I’ve spent enough time at this strip mall that the next bus should be due to arrive soon.
A walk that lasted a few minutes until I suddenly got drenched with a cold liquid.
It says something about me that this barely even phased me.
“Oh my god, I am so sorry!” said somebody behind me. I turned around to look at my mystery splasher. A tall african-american guy in jeans and a t-shirt was holding the lid of a water bottle.
“It’s okay.” I said.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was putting the lid back on my water bottle when it slipped out of hands and splashed you.”
I almost laughed at the sheer irony. I had gotten so used to the trio’s pranks on me that I had forgotten that genuine accidents could still happen.
“Still, I feel really awful about splashing you like that.” he said. “Can I make it up to you with a cup of coffee at that coffee shop over there?’
“Well I’m not much of a coffee drinker.” I replied. “But I wouldn’t say no to a cup of tea.”
“Tea it is.” He said. “My name is Terry, by the way.”
“Taylor.” I replied.
We walked into the cafe and Terry went to order the drinks while I grabbed one of the tables.
While I was sitting there waiting, I pulled out a blank sheet of notebook paper and started sketching, drawing different variations of the three arrows emblem, trying to find the fastest and easiest way to draw them on a surface.
In addition, I started sketching out the antifa flag emblem, an image of a black flag superimposed over a red one inside a circle. As I started sketching, I realized that this one was too complex to be able to be tagged over swastika graffiti easily. I’d have to use my spiders to make a flag out of silk and paint the symbol on there myself.
“What’s that you’re drawing?” Terry asked me, setting our drinks down on the table.
So for the second time today, I began explaining the origins and symbolism of the three arrows emblem.
“Have you thought about doing a stencil?” Terry suggested. “Get a sheet of cardboard and cut out the shapes you want, just spray over it with spraypaint.”
I thought about it. It was a good idea. It was cheap, and it could be painted on quickly.
“I like that idea.” I said.
The first thing I noted when I walked into Winslow that day was that almost all of the swastikas that had littered the walls, and lockers had been covered over with the three arrows.
“Uh, Charlotte, what’s with the arrows?” I asked.
“Someone saw it and asked me what the arrows meant so I told them, then it started taking on a life of its own.” Charlotte explained.
Looking around the halls, I could see that the junior members of the Empire 88 looked visibly uncomfortable, as if they no longer had free reign of the place.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sophia taking a photo of one of the arrow drawings and texting it to somebody. My heart almost skipped a beat at that. Had she figured out that I had started this trend and was running to Blackwell to get me in trouble?
Instead she just walked past me without a second glance. Weird, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
The Empire 88 had thrived on the idea that everybody else was too polite to tell them to fuck off, allowing them to spread their message unimpeded. Most people in Brockton Bay weren’t Nazis or even Nazi sympathizers. But the Empire had used that basic decorum that all points of view were equally valid and should be given a fair hearing in the marketplace of ideas to spread their hateful message, a message that kept those they targeted from speaking up out of fear of retaliation. Karl Popper had called it the paradox of tolerance, if a society extends unlimited tolerance to those who are intolerant, it will be seized by them and be made intolerant.
“Hell yeah!” shouted somebody in the hallway.
My face flushed red as I realized that I had said that whole spiel about the paradox of tolerance out loud. I looked around and there were a ton of people staring at me.
Oh my god I had started a movement.