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Image by Donald Giannatti
The Cypher Revolution
When a radical Grandmother takes up cudgels against an insensitive and indifferent establishment

It began with tea and tears. Sophie sat at Gran’s kitchen table alternately sobbing and sniffling while Gran kept the tea coming.

‘'What am I going to do, Gran? How am I going to pay the rent and everything?'’

Gran was used to Sophie catastrophising and calmly said, ‘’So what exactly did the manager say?’’

Sophie’s voce was angrier and surer now. ‘’He said that with the new self-service checkout machines they didn’t need as many staff, so I wouldn’t be getting any more shifts until the next vacancy comes up. Bastard!’’

Gran thought ‘’Well, you could start by getting that useless husband of yours off the couch and out looking for a job’’ but said ‘’Let me think about it. We’ll find a way. Now, wash your face and go home to your family.’’

After Sophie left, Gran took a glass of wine out onto the back veranda and, as she gazed at her immaculate flower beds, she thought about what could be done.

Sophie’s mother was Gran’s eldest daughter, Alice. Alice claimed to have ‘found herself at last’ with a tarot-reading non-binary woman somewhere up near Byron Bay and had changed her name to Essence. Last heard of she was training to be a Reiki therapist, by correspondence. So, no point in asking her to help out. Sophie’s father was a mystery, even to Alice, courtesy of her teenage penchant for priapic wannabe rock musicians.

A plan began to take shape. In her university days, Kate (now universally known as Gran) had been a student radical, organising protest marches and boycotts and thinking about a career in politics with the Labor Party. A few months of factional infighting and rampant sexism lifted the scales from her eyes and she returned to concentrating on her studies in Law, with the hope of making a difference for disadvantaged clients. But she took Ken, a carpenter and union organiser, with her and by the time three kids had arrived her energy for saving the world had gone into hibernation and now only emerged when one of her tribe was threatened. Losing Ken to brain cancer when he was 40 had hardened her and made her all the more determined to protect her brood.

Far from a Luddite when it came to technology, she hit her email list, filled them in on Sophie’s story and arranged the first ‘meeting’ of what was to become ‘We Are One’. The ‘meeting’ was held where Sophie had worked at the local Cheap ‘n’ Fresh supermarket.

In fact, it consisted of two synchronised meetings. Members of the first group each collected a large trolley, filled it to overflowing with randomly selected items and presented at the traditional check-out queues. Simultaneously, another group did likewise but entered the self-service checkout corral. There they laboriously scanned each item, including large bags of apples, which they weighed and checked individually. It was not long before there was a logjam at the ‘Not OK Corral’, so legitimate customers headed for the now burgeoning queues at the two checkout desks that were open.

The manager leapt into action at one of the tills, while the deputy manager frantically rang on-call staff to see if they could come in, only to find Sophie and many of her friends were not answering or were ill.

When the checkouts were almost all open, Kate blew a whistle and the crews assembled for afternoon tea at the rival Colworths supermarket café, having left their laden trolleys unscanned and blocking the aisles. The staff at the café there had heard about what had happened down the street and laughed heartily, little knowing that it would be their turn very soon.

The next morning, Sophie’s bother, Luke, rang Kate and said excitedly ‘‘Gran, you’re a legend. You’re all over Arsebook and Twanker.’’

‘’Language, Luke. But that’s excellent. Now for Phase 2.’’

‘’What’s that?’’

‘’The ultimatum. And more fireworks. But I need your help. You’re a nerd. How do I set up a fake email account?’’

Luke laughed. ‘’You don’t, Gran. I do. I’ll call with the details later. Right after I get you a burner phone. This is so cool. I’ve been bored stupid.’’

Gran imagined Luke bored but never stupid. He was practically born with a screen in his hand and had a special technology gift, but he couldn’t stomach the idea of working for a company and freelance was a very episodic income.

The email to the manager of the local Cheap ‘n’Fresh was succinct. ‘’We Are One. Remove the self-serve checkouts immediately or we will send you broke.’’

The email to her local MP and the mainstream media was longer but short enough to allow her to drip feed then over coming weeks.

‘’The Government claims to want full employment but stands idly by as corporations shed jobs to machines. The Government then demonises the victims and rewards the greed of corporations, by punishing the unemployed and the under-employed for not applying for non-existent jobs. No more. We refuse to be cyphers. We will be counted, and we will counter. We Are One. And this is just the beginning.’’


Doug Jacquier has lived in many places across Australia, including regional and remote communities, and has travelled extensively overseas. His poems and stories have been published in Australia, the US, the UK and Canada. He blogs at Six Crooked Highways (

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