I’m sitting on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. We’ve made an impromptu stage here. There are thousands of people looking at me. Beside me, the speakers are supposed to be speaking for five minutes each. Most of them don’t.
I go up to one of the organizers to get on the speaker’s list. “Can I sign up?” I ask. He hesitates. “There are a lot of people on the list.” He’s trying to look away. Maybe it’s because I look like a robot. I wonder if robots aren’t allowed on the speaker’s list.
Thousands of People
We’re in the street now. I’m carrying a wide turquoise banner that says, “Decolonize Vancouver!” This message didn’t pass the consensus process that the organizers insisted on, but the impromptu banner was painted by many hands at the Occupy Vancouver festivities.
Lots of people are taking my picture. Behind their cameras they are smiling. Have they never seen a robot before?
I’m now at the front of the parade. There is an officer in front of us with a big camera, snapping our pictures. He makes no effort to hide what he is doing. A lot of people around me are feeling very uncomfortable. I imagine a number of officers going through the pictures later on in the office, looking through the sea of faces, including one robot’s.
I walk past the Kids’ Zone. It’s a dirt patch in the shadow of the Vancouver Art Gallery. There are a handful of kids there. If I were a kid I wouldn’t want to be there.
A parent comes up to me with his kid on his shoulders and says, “Are you a robot or an alien?” I shrug. “He loves your costume,” the parent says. They probably couldn’t see that I was smiling under the robot suit.
Other kids with adults are looking at me. They’re fascinated. They take photos. Kids seem to appreciate the fact that a big robot is walking around beyond the zone made for them.
Fear of the Alien
Even robots need to eat. Transformers ate energon cubes. My friend and I figure that the Vancouver Art Gallery cafeteria is as good a place as any.
In the doorway of the gallery there are two security guards. When I approach them they’re grinning. Maybe it’s because I’m a robot.
“Is the cafeteria open?” my friend asks.
“Yes,” one guard says. “Wait. You’ll need to take off your costume.”
“Oh,” I say. “Can I do it in the restroom?”
“There’s a coat check,” the other guard says.
“Sure,” I say, stepping through the doorway.
“Wait. You’ll need to take off your mask,” the first guard says.
I suddenly notice there is a security camera mounted in the ceiling pointed at the door. It looks like a big globe camera with two smaller appendage cameras.
I hesitate. “Sure, I can do it at the coat check.”
The second guard is quiet now. The first guard says, “No, you’ll need to take off your mask now.”
I’m hungry. My friend is hungry. The camera looks blankly.
I think about the organizer who refused to add me to the speaker’s list. I think about the guard who smiled at first but then refused to let me into the gallery.
They both had the same look on their faces. Was it fear? Was it because my face was covered? I heard that the decision was made to not cover faces at the event. Who made that decision? It wasn’t made at the General Assembly, which the organizers claimed was where decisions were collectively made.
I think about how uncomfortable people felt when they realized they were walking toward an officer taking pictures of their faces. If they were robots, they wouldn't need to feel so uncomfortable. I think about those who will never join these festivities because they are in precarious positions and feel rightfully queasy about ending up in a police database. I think about how many kids appreciated the fact that the presence of a robot beyond the Kids’ Zone meant that they could go anywhere as well.
I remembered sitting onstage and seeing thousands of faces before me. Many of them were smiling. Maybe seeing a robot meant they could feel safe having fun.