“In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice…, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.”Franklin D. Roosevelt
Half The Sky
“I am pleased to announce that, this afternoon, with generous donations from The Pennyworth Foundation and Wayne Enterprises, the Project ALICE initiative has the funding it needs to operate for the next three years. In that time, it is our great hope that we will either have proven our program’s worth sufficiently to Gotham that our esteemed councilmembers will consider subsidizing a portion of our operating costs, or more optimistically, that we will, by that time, have ended poverty in Gotham altogether.”
Harriet has such a natural talent for public speaking. Jeremy had, thus far, avoided any catastrophic interactions with Harriet. There were, of course, moments of awkwardness, but he could typically rely on “better to say nothing,” to keep him out of anything too sticky.
“In order to lead this effort effectively, Rose Botanichemical has assembled a small but focused team of advisors, chief among them, Mr. Jeremy Tetch, the architect of many of the plans that made President Roosevelt such a rousing success as state senator, and subsequently, governor of New York.”
Jeremy stepped forward from the line of board members and advisors, and nodded. Then he gave a smile that he desperately hoped was not too much of a caricature, and stepped back.
Shoulder to shoulder with some of the most important people in Gotham.
He glanced to his right: Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Lilian Rose, Lucius Fox, Oswald Cobblepot; a who’s who of regional movers and shakers. Each was introduced in succession, followed by Harriet (optimistically) pausing for applause that didn’t come (public council hearings were not well-attended, this one was no exception).
“I’d now like to offer opportunity for questions from members of the council,” Harriet motioned to the semicircular dais. Thirteen seats, one for each council member, seated in district order, except for the center seat, which was reserved for the body’s internally elected council speaker. An unlucky number, to be sure, but one that ensured that, barring abstentions, there would never be a tie on the council. The council persons from Districts 1, 3, and 11 were conspicuously absent.
Councilman Barnaby was the first to speak.
“Councilman Bob Barnaby, District 2, Public Safety Committee Chair. Miss Ainsley, the council has, in the past, tried raisin’ taxes in order to fund these ’crime prevention initiatives.’ Would you mind tellin’ the council why we should consider funding your program, when the people of Gotham have so many more opportunities than in most of our neighboring cities? The fact of the matter is, in a city as prosperous as Gotham, crime is a choice.”
Harriet squared the notes she had laid on the table in front of her, and cleared her throat.
“Isley,” she corrected the councilman. “It’s Harriet Isley. I’ll acknowledge that there are elements in our city which choose to engage in illegitimate, illegal, or extortive practices. But I would not accept the premise that, for the majority of people apprehended, that crime is a choice. In fact, just recently there were reports of a man, Harvey Dent who was clearly in the throes of a morphine fit, and the police arrested him and put him in jail. It was only the advocacy of a church kitchen which feeds and shelters the homeless that he was released to Arkham. This man is a veteran who fought in France, for whom our safety net did not work as intended. Were it left to the city, he would be dying in a cell. We want to prevent scenarios like this from occurring in the first place. Of course, some cases may be out of our depth, but there will be a dearth of people entering the natural and physical sciences over the next decade, and that is a need our program will help to fill.
“To speak to your second first question – we are asking the council to observe our progress, which we will report to you periodically, and then only provide funding if the project proves it’s value to Gotham. To wit: The difference is that we are telling you what we are doing, not asking you for permission.”
Jeremy looked down at his hands trying to hide his expression, which was somewhere between a smile and a wince.
Tally ho, Harriet! Give him the what for!
Councilman Barnaby audibly grumbled, scratching down some notes on a pad. “Thank you Ms. Isley,” and the councilwoman from District 8 raised her hand.
“Councilwoman Passage, District 7. Ms. Isley, first I’d like to thank you, and the members of your board for your time today. We on the council do love to see Gothamites taking initiative to improve their communities. Secondly, while I perhaps disagree on some things with Councilman Barnaby, I cannot help but wonder why people like my husband and I, who run a hardware store in my district, should take a chance on, for example, a negro with a criminal past? Subsidizing their wages is one thing, but tools are easy to fence, and many of the exact people you described before – addicts prone to abuse heroin and morphine – would rather make seven dollars today than fifteen dollars on payday.”
Jeremy shuddered, and leaned just backward enough to spy what Pennyworth and Fox were doing; the former giving kind of an incredulous chuckle and the latter straightening his tie.
“Gotham City has a vibrant population,” Harriet started, more enunciation in her words than before, “in no small part because of the opportunities that partners like Mr. Fox, Mr. Pennyworth, and Mr. Wayne’s parents provided for exactly the kind of person who so many refused to take a chance upon –“
“– Yes,” the councilwoman cut in, “but Wayne Enterprises isn’t manufacturing easily concealed, easily pawned items. And not only would hardware stores be at risk, but grocers, corner stores, any place with a small enough employee pool that these people would need to be cashiers could take advantage an–“
“–If I may finish, councilwoman. This is exactly why we’re providing job readiness training in fields where people won’t be primarily entrusted with handling easily-fungible goods. Manufacturing, science, engineering, municipal, these are places that have nothing to lose by giving somebody a chance. And mind you,” Harriet added, “these somebodies have been will have been trained to a minimum level of competence by some of the best and brightest in their fields.
“As for your business specifically, Councilwoman Passage, it is not our intention to put Project ALICE participants into jobs. We want to help them to find careers, and we will fill in the gaps in support for them along the way.”
“Councilman Burnett, District 8, Labor and Education Committee Chair. Ms. Isley, I want to thank you for the initiative of leading this program. Rose Botanichemical is probably not the first business that would come to mind to spearhead a program like this. Can you tell us more about why you’re taking on this work, and why Rose Botanichemical is the outfit to do it?”
“While studying abroad in the Middle East, there were many things I saw that were abhorrent…” Jeremy had heard the story many times, but he would listen to it for as long as Harriet kept the passion and vigor with which she told it: A recounting of her time in Egypt and Persia, and how, even when the laws were oppressive, they took care of the poor, homeless, and vulnerable, serving meals and providing (meager) housing.
The councilman smiled, enraptured by the telling of the tale, which concluded with a followup question from the same:
“Thank you, Ms. Isley. Truly. How many people do you expect to reasonably serve in your first, second, and third years?” Harriet returned the smile to the councilman, then looked over her shoulder at Jeremy, nodding subtly.
We’ve gone over this question exactly. Wondrous!
“Well, Councilman Burnett, in New York, Mr. Tetch was able to serve a slightly more diverse population. With support from the state senate and some federal dollars, they were able to train, counsel, and place one hundred residents over the course of the first eighteen months. Subsequently, they averaged another five to six hundred persons per year. We expect our outcomes to be more modest, owing to both a need for private funding and that Gotham is significantly smaller than President Roosevelt’s senate district. All of that said, we would like to serve six hundred people during this pilot period – one hundred in the first year, two hundred in the second, and three hundred in the third.”
The Project ALICE portion of the hearing lasted an additional thirty or so minutes, and Jeremy did his best to avoid fidgeting while he stood alongside Gotham’s elite. When it finally concluded, Harriet took Jeremy to meet the council member for the 8th district.
Jeremy spoke about his work with Roosevelt, nervously about some of the details, but with enthusiasm about the victories.
“And why didn’t you go on to work in his administration in Washington?” Burnett asked, and Jeremy, without warning, made a bizarre face, and reached for a hat that was not on his balding head.
“– Mr. Tetch should really be going,” Harriet had given him an egress, which he gladly took, bowing slightly as he pattered toward the door to the council chambers. “But I’d rather enjoy finding ways for us to plug your district in to this project…”
Jeremy almost collided with Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox when he pushed through the great wooden double doors.
“Jeremy,” Mr. Wayne’s voice boomed. It even sounded rich – not unlike a decadent dessert, “Lucius and I would like a word, if you have a minute or two.”
Jeremy pulled his patchy porkpie hat off of the hat rack and followed cautiously behind Mr. Wayne and Mr. Fox. Scenarios whipped through his brain, each more horrible than the last.
You’re being released, now that they’ve had your input and your assistance setting up the programs, illustrating the benchmarks, they don’t need you anymore. Or have they found Pockets sleeping in the warehouse, or worse, my apartment.
“Mr. Tetch,” Mr. Fox’s voice was calming, not decadent. Like a supportive, loving father, encouraging his son’s new venture. “I wanted to say that I may have misjudged your character.”
Mr. Fox looked down, then back at Jeremy, who struggled to make eye contact, even though Mr. Fox’s gaze had a peculiar way of following his.
“As someone with a past that I’m not altogether proud of, someone who has been unfairly judged more than my fair share, I thought it was important to express my apologies,” Fox continued, “Not only do you deserve the second chance you’ve been given, but you have demonstrated the values that Thomas and Martha instilled in Wayne Enterprises all those years ago. You are an exemplar of our mission, and I am embarrassed to have so utterly mishandled your past. I hope that you can forgive me.”
Jeremy was at a loss for words, but before he could even think of what to say, his right hand left the brim of his fraying old hat, and shook Mr. Fox’s.
Thank him you git.
“Thank you, Mr. Fox. I suppose it all worked out in the end just the same.”
“I suppose it did, Jeremy. I suppose it did,” Fox smiled, and walked away, leaving Jeremy alone with Bruce, who put an uninvited and gigantic arm around his shoulder.
“Jeremy,” Mr. Wayne’s velvety baritone spilled forth like melted chocolate, “Could I take you for lunch? My treat.”
Jeremy (hoping it was done politely) shrugged Mr. Wayne’s arm from his shoulders, opening his mouth to answer, but instead, his stomach growled.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Mr. Wayne smiled. “I have some questions for you.”
A short update this week. On account of NaNoWrimo and my wedding anniversary. A more in depth update coming next week!