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Ready for Chaos or Community?


Sharif Abdullah wrote this on-the-ground Y2K scenario exercise for a black newspaper. It makes it pretty clear what's what. I keep thinking it would be useful alongside some version of an ad I received from Meg Wheatley and James Hickman, from the February 7, 1999 Sunday South Africa Times (full page - 22 x 17) which features a giant picture of a very concerned-looking Nelson Mandela and a quote from him "Prepare yourself and three of your friends for what threatens to be the scourge of our achievements, the millennium bug." There is a short letter from Mandela below his picture, and four identical clip-out info sheets about Y2K, two on each side. The ad was placed by the government's Y2K office; unfortunately it says little about community preparedness or the social change implications of Y2K. But the image is undeniably compelling (are we talking leadership, or what!) and could serve to help wake up inner city black neighborhoods to this problem. Given Mandela's moral stature, it could work equally well for white neighborhoods, and neighborhoods of all classes. And so could Sharif's scenarios. I wonder what would happen if people from the congregations of black and white churches in a city met to dialogue about the issues raised by these two Y2K documents...



PS: If you want a copy of the ad, we can send it for $12 (it is expensive and a hassle to copy, plus it needs to be sent in a mailing tube, so please ask for it only if you plan to use it well to promote Y2K preparedness). Write to The Co-Intelligence Institute, PO Box 21203, Oakland, CA 94620-1203

by Sharif Abdullah

Do you think Y2K doesn't affect you because you don't own a computer? At some point you will realize that your life is surrounded by micro-chips, in phones, cars and street lights, any of which may fail because of Y2K. One survey said that the average American encounters seventy micro-chips every day -- before lunch. The following is a story that could happen because of Y2K.


First Scenario: "What's Going On?"

You wake up in the morning. You notice that your alarm clock did not go off. In fact the digital readout is blinking "12:00". You dress hurriedly, thinking you may have to stop after work at the supermarket for a new clock. In the bathroom, the water is only trickling out of the faucet.

On the way downstairs, you pick up the telephone to tell your co-workers that you will be late. There is no dial tone. Did you pay the bill? You go back down the hall to your son's room and check his phone line - his line is working! You make your work call from his room; no answer, not even a voicemail message.

You go out to your car and start it up. All of the red lights on the dash start flashing, and the on-board computer voice says, "Warning: your car is in need of servicing. Driving your car in this condition could cause major damage." As you pull out of the driveway, the message starts repeating.

When you get to the intersection, traffic is jammed because the lights are malfunctioning. Once through the intersection, you pull over to stop at the ATM for some cash. There is a long line at the cash machine, with many people getting angry. One yells, "The ATM is saying my account is closed!!"

There's an ATM at the supermarket; you'll stop there and get your clock, too. You crawl through five more blinking light intersections, then pull into the supermarket parking lot. As you approach, you see a long line -- no one can get into the supermarket because the computer-controlled security system locked everyone out.

It slowly dawns on you that you have a different kind of problem now: if they can't get the doors open, what are you going to do for food?

The above is considered a "moderate" Y2K scenario. Consider this "serious" Y2K scenario:

Scenario Two: Y2K Breakdown

You wake up in the morning. You notice that your alarm clock did not go off. It isn't working at all: the electricity is off. What woke you up was a series of explosions, coming from the direction of the industrial sector of the city. You find a battery-powered radio and turn it on for news, but all you get is static.

You try the telephone -- there is no dial tone on any line. You try the car -- it doesn't start.

You start walking downtown, trying to find out what's going on. You notice people running past you. One of them you recognize as a neighbor. "Food, man, there's no more food! I'm going down to the store to get what's left!"

You start to run also, carried along by the crowd. There is a steady stream of people in and out of the broken doors of the supermarket. People are emerging with shopping carts, baskets, wagons, bundles wrapped in coats and shirts. In the dark store, the sound of display cases breaking pierces an ominous silent shuffling. You walk past the sporting goods section, noticing that the guns and ammunition have been cleared out.

On your way out, you notice a gang of youths with baseball bats stopping an elderly woman with her full shopping cart. You turn away quickly; there's nothing one person can do. You have responsibility to get your bag of food to your family.

As you turn to your street, you notice six young men coming toward you. They are carrying shotguns, some with the price tags still attached. "Where you think you goin'? one asks softly.

Before you sink into despair, consider this third scenario:

Scenario Three: Y2K Breakthrough

You wake up in the morning, to the sound of your wind-up alarm clock. You junked the digital one months ago. You go to the bathroom, admiring the two holes drilled into the wall: one provides water from your rooftop cistern that collects rainwater, the other empties the bathtub water into the water tank that waters the vegetable garden.

You go downstairs. "Who's fixing breakfast today?" Your partner checks the schedule taped to the refrigerator door. "Ms. Thompson down the street." You hold your head in mock grief, "Damn! Lumpy oatmeal again!" Your partner retorts, "I like her lumpy oatmeal!" The 21 houses in your area have been organized to provide hot meals throughout the community, on rotation. The designated households are paid in community credits. The credits are worth more than money; the community credits get you what you really need: heat, energy, community services, etc. Your turn to cook comes next Thursday; you will be fixing lasagna.

On your way outside, you run into ten young men standing on the corner, hats pulled down and hoods pulled up to ward off the cold. They are waiting for their ride to work. They are self organized into teams, called "gangs", that cut firewood, bag coal, deliver food and services to the elderly, recycle newspapers and turn them into toilet paper, operate the hydrogen production station and the wind power generator. They used to be in violent street gangs, but got the Y2K message: "you don't work, you don't eat".

You walk over to them. "How's Ms. Thompson's oatmeal today?" They look at each other, then say, in unison, "Lumpy!". You leave them as they are laughing and exchanging high-fives.

On your way to Ms. Thompson's house, you notice Oscar coming toward you, highly agitated. "My phone won't work! Neither will the water! My car won't start! I'm going downtown and see if I can get some money from the ATM!"

You say with irritation, "Man, what is your problem? Didn't I tell you this would happen? You had a whole year to prepare, to become a part of this community and you did nothing. Now look at you. Instead of going downtown, why don't you go read that community preparation workbook I left with you half a year ago? Why don't you decide to be a part of this community?"

(this article was originally published in "The Portland Observer" on 17 February 99 and is reprinted with permission of the author.)