by Ann Abbott
I hate allegories. I'm going to write one, though. Dedicated to everyone who thinks it's all about obeying authority...
You own a campus bar. (Substitute almost any small business; I just happen to be sitting on campus right now.) You become successful. You provide something that students enjoy, and you reap good financial rewards for what you have created. You're proud. You create jobs. You give back to the community. You and your family have a very comfortable lifestyle.
Suddenly, the cops start spending a lot of time at your bar. They come in. They don't necessarily do anything, but they come in. Uniformed. They also sit in their cars outside your bar. Watching. Just watching. But sitting there. They stand outside the door. On the sidewalk. They talk to each other. If there's just one, he even interacts with people on the sidewalk. Just saying hi. How's it going? Uniformed. Friendly. There.
It gives you the heebie jeebies. It gives your clients the heebie jeebies. Crowds at the bar start to thin.
Then the cops start handing out tickets. Students cross the street to your bar, cops ticket them for jaywalking. A group of girls stand outside waiting for their friend to arrive before they go in, the cop gives them a ticket for loitering. Your bar is non-smoking (it's the law), and kids drop their cigarettes on the sidewalk before entering. Littering. Tickets. It keeps happening.
You notice that the cops don't do this to any of the other bars on campus.
You try to talk to the cops. They end up yelling in your face and backing you into the wall. Well, that escalated quickly.
Whoa! What did you do? All you wanted to do was talk.
You go to the city council to complain. They tell you that cops are there to enforce the laws. Jaywalking is against the law. Loitering is against the law. You don't want tickets? Don't break the law. And you should be thankful for the work they do: they risk their lives every day for your safety. To keep your nice home in your nice neighborhood safe.
Now every evening they come into your bar and check ids. You've become hyper vigilant, but sometimes there's a kid who slips in with a fake id. The kid gets ticketed. Your bar gets fined. You're losing money. And you're losing more clients.
You talk to the mayor. You tell him that you know that other campus bars have underage students in there drinking. Why are the cops picking on you?
The mayor tells you that if you didn't break the law, you wouldn't have any problems. Besides, the cops just rounded up underage drinkers in all the other campus bars last weekend and levied hefty fines to the bars. Everyone is held to the same standards in this town!
But you know the routine. You used to live by the routine. You used to profit by the routine. The bar owners take a calculated risk by letting in a few students whose ids kind of look fake. They take a calculated risk to let in a few too many people and go over capacity. If they get caught, they'll pay the fine. (You're right, officer. This is our mistake. Happy to pay the fine.) They can pay the fine. They're making plenty of money the other nights when the cops don't come. The weeks when the cops don't come. Maybe months go by and cops don't show up.
But now you don't have any calculated risks to take. They are on you all the time. For everything. Everything is a risk. There's nothing to calculate.
But they're not on the other bars like that. Just once in a while.
The other bar owners, the ones who take their lumps from the cops and city from time to time, tell you that your business model must be wrong. They even offer to help you come up with a new strategic plan. For a percentage. When you tell them that your business plan is just fine--it's just like theirs!--they tell you you're defensive. One of them tells you that he's successful because he knows how to get the best deals out of the distributors and up his margins; you need to drive a harder bargain. Another one tells you that you're losing money because you have no training system. Another: you're out of touch with today's college students. All of them tell you (and each other) that your business is failing because of something you are doing wrong.
When you tell them, no, you obviously know how to run a successful business, it's just that the cops are treating you differently, they tell you that the law is the law. What are police officers supposed to do? Not enforce the law? You want less trouble from the cops? Stop breaking the law! Maybe you need a civics course.
Your business has flatlined. You can't afford the same lifestyle for your family. The city offers you free attendance in a small business success program they offer. Hopefully it can help you learn how to better run a business. Your old colleagues tell you about a money management seminar that might help you better understand how to handle your personal finances. You downsized your home; you must have made poor money choices.
What's the ending? I don't have an ending. I think we know how this goes. You end up angry. Bitter. Incredulous when people tell you that you are to blame for your business' demise. Angry when they tell you to fix problems that are not the real problem. Frustrated that they deny you were treated differently. Confident that if this happened to them they wouldn't stand for it. Distrustful of law enforcement. Outraged at the system. Jaded to the very idea of law and order. Ready to scream the next time someone tells you that all you need to do is obey.