Public Comment

‘1984’ Comes to DAPAC

By Doug Buckwald
Tuesday November 06, 2007

Winston Smith was sitting in his cubicle in the Ministry of Truth. It was his job to collect all of the information about the problems with high-rise buildings and high-density development and place it in the tube to be sent down the Memory Hole so that it would be forgotten forever. It had been a busy day; many records had been changed to prove that high-rise “Smart Growth” worked perfectly everywhere it had been tried. He was exhausted.  

Winston slowly pulled a cigarette out of his crumpled packet of party-approved cigarettes. The cheap, acrid smoke filled his lungs. It was unpleasant, but at least it wasn’t as bad as the diesel bus pollution that filled the concrete canyons along the streets down below and never seemed to dissipate. Besides that, the cigarette smoke warmed him up a bit—which mattered because heating expenses were now so high that they could no longer afford to heat the upper 27 stories of his building.  

Behind him, the poster on the wall listed the three slogans of the Party: 

“3- to 5-story buildings in quiet neighborhoods promote troublesome social intercourse. 

“ ‘Vibrant’ doesn’t just mean noisy; it also means enthusiastic young people committing playful acts of vandalism while intoxicated. 

“We have nothing to fear but fear of change itself.” 

Sighing heavily, Winston pushed away the stack of papers that would await him tomorrow morning. He glanced out the small window beside his desk and saw nothing but rows and rows of identical windows staring back at him set in drab gray concrete edifices. Whenever he saw this view, he recalled the party’s latest jingle that was broadcast repeatedly throughout the day: “Drab gray takes the blues away.” Indeed. The blue of the sky, first of all, thought Winston. Luckily, he caught himself before he frowned; an expression of discontentment would have attracted the attention of the patrols. 

Winston got up slowly on his arthritic leg and began to walk the half-mile to nearest elevator. As he rode down 47 stories to the street below, he thought about how fortunate he was to work in one of the smaller buildings in the city center. On the way out, he passed by the one parking space left in the whole downtown. It was reserved for the parking enforcement supervisor. 

Once on the street, he paused to admire the water feature that had been selected for downtown: The Juliet Lamont environmentally sustainable day-lighted drinking fountain—with two levels: one for kids, one for adults. UC advocate Dorothy Walker had argued strenuously for only the higher level—but fortunately DAPAC members had been able to work out an acceptable compromise.  

Winston stopped to take a drink, because he still had to walk another mile to reach his small cottage nestled beside an oak grove on the eastern edge of town. He was surprised that the oak grove had been saved—and he marveled that some causes were perhaps just too powerful even for Big Brother. Maybe there was hope after all. 

After dodging several speeding bicyclists along the way who careened straight at him on the sidewalk, Winston arrived at his front door. He slipped inside and stepped into the corner of his living room that was just out of range of the telescreen that the authorities used to observe all of his activities. He pulled a small book out of the cabinet drawer and set it down on the table. It was his brand new diary, just purchased on the black market. He took out his pen and opened the first page, and before he realized it he had filled half a page with the following words: 








Well, he had done it now: By questioning the value of huge high-rise buildings, he had committed Height-crime. The Thought Police would be after him for sure. 

Winston was so shaken that he decided to go out for a walk. As he was heading down the sidewalk, he recognized a young woman walking towards him. He had seen her frequently on the streets downtown, usually craning her neck to try to catch a small glimpse of sky or a green leaf somewhere. In fact, Winston had heard people say that she knew all of the spots downtown where one could sit in actual sunshine for a whole 10 minutes!  

Just as the woman passed him, she stumbled and dropped a single orange out of her bag—which Winston knew must have come from the black market. So, Winston thought with exhilaration, she, too, was willing to risk violating the party’s rules! The woman looked up at him with an expression that was more like fear than pain, and he asked her if she was all right. She said, “It’s nothing, I just hurt my knee a bit. Thanks.” They both understood that they could show no emotion without risking interrogation by the Thought Police. He reached out his hand to help her up, and as he did so he felt her place a small piece of paper in his palm. And with that, she walked off in the direction she had been heading, as though the encounter had really meant nothing.  

His heart beating rapidly, Winston carefully placed the note in his pocket and walked back to his cottage. He again retreated to the corner of his living room out of sight of the telescreen, and took out the note and read it. He was so stunned by its contents that he read it once again more slowly. It said in large, almost child-like handwriting, “I love you…and SENSIBLE five-story downtown building height limits.” 

The Thought Police arrested both of them the next morning.  


Doug Buckwald is a Berkeley civic activist. He recommends that people read George Orwell’s classic work, 1984, for further insight into our current governmental practices.