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|Cries for Change|
27 August 2012
Kuei sat happily in the comfort of his royal carriage as he was being brought back into the walls of the glorious capital city of the Earth Kingdom, Ba Sing Se. The Great War with the Fire Nation had finally been resolved, and he was able to resume his Kingly duties. It was a moment of immense pride for him, anxious to return upon his throne and govern the victorious Kingdom. The man assumed that his subjects also took great joy in the news of his homecoming, and when he peered through his carriage's window to see an Earth Kingdom flag flying over a Lower Ring household, he took it as a welcome back sign for the hero he considered himself to be. Of course, he was completely oblivious to the truth. The King did not even fathom the possibility of the flag being there to celebrate a father's return home after twenty years of fighting to defend his country's borders. As someone who lived sheltered from the war all his life, Kuei could never even begin to imagine the emotions felt by his people. They were proud in their nation, not in their government, but Kuei failed to realize that. It is for this reason that he was shocked by the greeting he received as he rode further into the poorest section of his city. Both men and women, covered in rags and dirt, stood along the sides of the road chanting and waving their fists. "Down with Kuei!" they beckoned, which sincerely astonished the poor King. Completely caught off-guard, he looked away from the window to block the terrible site, but he couldn't escape the commanding chant that repeated all the way through the neighborhood. I led this nation to victory, he thought. What could I have possibly done to make these people so angry?
The journey through the Middle Ring was quieter, dead silent, actually. However, the protest there was even more of an eye-opener. Again, people lined the streets, but this time, nobody uttered a sound. Instead, they held signs. Kuei read them expecting to see messages of hate or possibly death threats, but all the signs contained were names- the names of the people's lost loved ones. This demonstration made Kuei's stomach twist, and it didn't help that the people stretched all the way through the ring. The King saw countless names in the next few minutes, and for the first time, it dawned on him how many fathers, sons, brothers, and even mothers, daughters, and sisters perished under his watch. It wasn't his fault though- at least, that's what he convinced himself. What could he have done differently to save those people?
Kuei prepared for the worst in the Upper Ring, but to his relief, there didn't appear to be any kind of protest or rally. Most of the people in the affluent area were simply carrying out their every-day business, some even bowing when the carriage rolled by them. Pondering the odd situation, the King recalled that wealthy subjects could afford to pay their way out of the military draft, and therefore, they weren't as affected by the cost of war. Regardless, he was thrilled to be able to relax on the last leg of his trip through the city. For the next ten minutes, he tried to forget about the people he saw earlier, but the steps of the two ostrich-horses pulling the carriage stopped, and Kuei's ride halted. He sighed as he realized he had finally made it home to his grand palace. The red bricks and golden roof was something he missed dearly on his wanders through the Kingdom- wanders where he apparently learned nothing. Kuei was living proof that some people are simply born with a nearly incurable disease, ignorance.
His Majesty was assisted out of his carriage by a man in green armor with a leaf on his helmet. Kuei, in an attempt to appear strong, did not thank him. Though, the man probably didn't care about the King's under-appreciation of that small gesture as much as his ten years of service. A few more guards escorted their King up the long, marble palace stairs. Once inside, he asked to be left alone on his short stroll through the ornate corridors to his grandiose throne room, where he was surprised to see a man already inside, sitting with his back to him on the floor, tea cup in hand.
"General How?" inquired Kuei.
The leader of the Council of Five spun his head and smiled, going from a sit to a bow. "Your Highness, it is an honor to once again be graced by your presence."
"At least someone in this city is happy to see me," the king muttered.
How sighed as he rose to his feet. "Sir, the military had to move in on one of the protests in the Lower Ring that grew particularly violent. Nobody was killed, but dozens were detained and arrested. They'll be charged with disrupting the peace."
"Disrupting the peace?" Kuei tried to mask his anger with a laugh. "For violence against the King?"
How paused before he responded. "Sir, technically nobody attacked you personally. We can't just-"
"I think I'll tell you what you can and can't do! Does anybody remember who's in charge around here? Last time I checked, I made the laws for this city!"
"Sir, nobody is questioning your-"
"I'm sick and tired of letting others make a mockery of my authority! For too long, my grip has been so loose. I've been weak, but I'm ready to come back stronger!"
"That is wise of you, Your Highness. I only ask that you make sure not to confuse oppression with strength."
"Oppression? I'll tell you what oppression is! Oppression is raising someone in a web of lies their whole life and laughing when they don't even realize what a helpless little fly they are! And it wasn't just Long Feng. You knew about the war! Why didn't you say anything to me?"
How never anticipated on receiving that question. His mind raced to think of something to retort.
"Don't worry about it now," Kuei continued. "From now on, I want a bi-daily briefing on absolutely everything that concerns the military, and my new decree is to lock up anyone who decides to speak out against the strongest ruler this country has ever seen."
The General didn't know what to say. Kuei had lost his mind! Finally, the man took a deep breath. "Sir, I think you need to relax and let this go. The world is trying to recover from the greatest divide it has ever seen, and an oppressive rule over the people of our own nation is going to put a burden on that recovery. I think that if you are unable to put your personal anger aside in order to lead effectively, you should consider... stepping down."
Kuei shook his head slowly in utter disbelief. "I assure you that I will rule effectively." He spoke very softly, and his voice trembled. "The policy that will lead my people to a better future must be one shaped on tight rules to unify us under one iron fist. These rules must be enforced, or there can be no unity. Without unity, there can be no proper civilization."
How gave a short chuckle. "I was afraid that when you came back, I'd be working for our Kingdom's very own Ozai, and I was right... I'm leaving my post on the Council of Five. Good luck to you, Your Highness." After a short bow, the former General took off his official headpiece, put it in the stunned Kuei's palm, and exited the room.
The next day at noon, How and his beautiful wife Huma were enjoying their first public lunch in years. At first, the couple feared that they'd be on the receiving end of awkward stares and have to deal with both hateful protesters and annoying fans, but not many people seemed to really know who How was. Those who did showed a surprised look when they saw the former general and simply nodded to acknowledge him.
"Look at you," smirked Huma, beaming at her husband while she picked at her salad. "Now you're just one of the regular folk." How laughed back. Being a couple since they were teenagers, the two couldn't be more in love. "I remember when you were drafted into the military," Huma started, "I never thought I'd see you again. And I almost never did see you again even when you got back."
How looked perplexed. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, you know," Huma smiled. "You got so caught up in your work back here. You remember the nights when you'd sleep in the War Room? Sometimes Taru asked me if you weren't coming back."
"Huma, you know how important my job was," How defended himself. "And I couldn't be more proud of Taru. What are we going to do for his ninth birthday?" He was desperate to change the subject.
"You cut us off, How." Her voice was icier when she said this, but she snapped out of it. "But that's all behind us now. No more Mr. Busy Man." She smiled once more.
How nodded, wondering to himself if that was really true. Then, something caught his attention. A crowd of people walked by the small cafe they were eating at, carrying signs. One person even held a puppet form of King Kuei. "I'll be right back," he announced as he excused himself and walked outside. He followed the crowd a good bit down the road before they gathered with an even larger crowed around a stage. The only thing on the stage was a podium bearing the Earth Kingdom symbol. It took a while for the masses to settle down, but once they had, a man made his way to the podium. "Ladies and gentlemen!" he bellowed. "Introducing the woman who has experienced first-hand the damage and pain caused by the corruption of our current government. A woman who became a domestic hero during our war. An idol to all of us out there who yearn to break free of the oppressive grip of Kuei, just as she broke free of hers! Please welcome, Joo Dee!"
How had heard her name a lot recently, but never actually saw her in person. As a woman with long black hair pranced onto the stage, she smiled from ear-to-ear and waved vigorously, then blowing a big kiss to the crowd. She made he way to the podium and waited for the audience to quiet itself before she began.
"We. Are. Witnesses!" Her first words captivated everyone in the vicinity, even How. "We are witnesses that can attest to how having a clueless ruler try lead us results in pain and suffering."
"That's right!" agreed one member of the crowd.
"We've been scarred by obeying someone who never experienced what the real world was like."
"Our King was raised completely out-of-touch with the people. He didn't even know when we were at war!"
"So many of us died under his failed so-called leadership, and it's time he's replaced!"
The resounding "Yeah!" after that line almost shattered How's eardrums.
"But we shouldn't replace him with another King. No, we need one us working at the palace. We need one of the people chosen by the people!"
The crowd erupted in a deafening roar as How gasped. He had never even considered the idea of electing someone to govern his nation. It was implausible, unfathomable in every which way to have the largest of the four nations come together and select one person to be their leader. It was clear, however, that the people around him didn't see anything unbelievable about the idea, and they only hushed when Joo Dee prepared to speak again.
"We need someone-"
"We need you!" This outburst was met by cheers all around.
The woman laughed and shook her head. "Hmmm, well maybe we should just hold the election right now and get it over with!" Her joke only drew even more hurrahs. It was like she cast a spell over the crowd, and everything she said was magically translated into the greatest thing they had ever heard. It was the silliest sight How could imagine, so he left, scoffing at the ridiculousness of the whole concept. It was illogical, impractical, and nothing more than a bizarre dream. He actually started laughing on the way back to the restaurant, not even bothering to tell his wife about an idea so insignificant.
"What's going on out there?" asked Huma, a bit upset that her husband at ditched her.
"Just a bunch of crazy people parading around like fools."
How woke up the next morning to see his wife transfixed on an article. She didn't notice him get up and out of the bed, and her face gave How the impression that she had never read something more interesting in her lifetime.
"Dear, may I ask what you're reading about?"
"This Ba Sing Se Times reporter, Tanowa, published this piece about a protest in the city that's been going on since yesterday afternoon. Apparently, demonstrators didn't even go home at night to sleep."
How immediately thought of the rally he had attended the day before, but it was impossible. No way had that evolved into something of this scale.
"Tanowa also says," continued Huma, "that there are several influential people among them. One of them is that Joo Dee lady."
"What? That can't be!"
Huma was startled. "What, How? What's wrong?"
"Joo Dee was at the protest I saw yesterday. There couldn't have been more than a hundred people there. How many people does the article say are part of the protest?"
"An approximate two thousand people are in attendance," Huma quoted. The number was unbelievable. "That can't be right," insisted How. "It just can't be."
"There's a picture included. Take a look."
How snatched the paper and gazed upon the image, flabbergasted at what he saw. The streets of the Middle Ring were flooded with people. One protester held a sign that read "We came unarmed... this time." The former general needed to sit down. "This is unreal," he muttered.
Huma continued her reading. "It says the protesters are advocating to dispose of the monarchy and replace it with an elected Republic. I'm not so sure I disagree with that. What do you think?"
"What does it matter what I think? This could never possibly happen!"
"I say we go down there and check it out! Remember, we're part of the people now."
After twenty minutes of bickering, How reluctantly agreed to join the protestors, him and his wife disguised as peasants. By the time they arrived, some of the mob was pushing back on the city guards trying to maintain order. At first, it was just a few people being aggressive, but that quickly escalated into the entire crowd engaging in violence, attacking the guards and rushing through the city. How and Huma, afraid of being trampled, rushed with them. It was incredible, the way unorganized, untrained people were able to best the King's own military purely by using the power of determination and adrenaline. The mob made it all the way to the palace gates, where a chant was soon formed. "Down with the King! Up with the people!" they shouted repeatedly. With people banging against the fence and demanding to be let in, the protest raged on for a whole hour before everyone turned their attention to the sky and pointed. Flying overhead was a sky bison, and How knew of only one in existence- the Avatar's. As the beast started to land, people cleared an area and the noise pacified, everyone anxious to hear what Avatar Aang had to say.
Surely enough, the fully-realized Avatar stood and immediately began to speak. "Everyone, please listen!" he begged. "I know that you are angry, and I understand and feel your pain, but we have to work together here. You people are right, Kuei has failed you as a leader, and that's why I am ordering that the Earth Kingdom make a choice. You can choose to keep this government or replace during an election I'm holding four months from today."
Hearing this sparked wild applause, but Aang put up his hand to silence the crowd. "The choice will be between keeping the Monarch as leader of the Earth Kingdom or establishing a President as leader of the Earth Nation. Candidates hoping to hold the office of President will file with me to form a political party and a clear platform that the people can use to make their decision. The candidates of the same party will face each other in a primary election to decide that party's nominee, and each nominee will then select a running mate. The nominees and their running mates will then compete in a general election along with King Kuei. Does that sound fair to you?"
The answer was an overwhelming "YES"
How and Huma, dumbstruck and speechless, took that moment as an opportunity to leave and go back to their house, neither of them saying a word on the way home. When the walked in the door, their young son, Taru, got up and asked them where they went.
Huma smiled at her child and whispered "It's time to go to sleep, okay?" Taru nodded and hugged his mother before running off to his room. Huma then turned to How. "I think we should get some sleep too," she laughed. "What a day! What a day..." When she noticed that her husband wasn't responding, she became concerned. "Honey, what's wrong?"
How simply looked at his wife straight in the eye and spoke clearly. "I think I'm going to run for President."
- The way the Middle Ring protesters held up signs with deceased people's names is similar to the way people protest the School of the America's, an academy that trains El Salvadorian soldiers located in the U.S. state of Georgia.
- Huma is named for Huma Abedin, a top aid to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
- The newspaper was named The Ba Sing Se Times as a tribute to our Wiki's own newsletter.
- A sign saying "We came unarmed... this time." was actually seen at a TEA Party rally in the United States.
For the collective works of the author, go here.