Quarantine ending again.

Our second quarantine is ended more early than we plan. Nobody uses the isolation rules anymore, there is no point to pretend we keep them. We have no time or energy to dig the graves now, and no plastic to carry the dead to them. We wrap them in sheets, but some have already too much decomposed. We bring the remains of our friends to the stinking meadow where we once lay in the sun to read and talk and kiss, and we throw them onto the bodies of our other friends, and we run from that place, coughing and puking, and wash in muddy water from the lake. I think when we finish cleaning the rooms, there will be little detergent left for washing ourselves. There will be more death – not just from the Flu, but other diseases.

Our immunity is weak because we have little food. Li is sick, and the medical team has much work to do. We all fear another raid, but those who refused the quarantine went outside and they say the army camp is worse than us. We outnumber them now. The vaccination did not work – many who had taken it died of the blood flu after the fighting. Now, we think, the soldiers have no more anti-virals, and they are all infected. There will be no backup for them, no new orders. There is no command, no government, no CCP outside the campus. The Party try to keep order in the meetings, but their authority is gone. So is the Quarantine Movement. We must start from the beginning, with nothing. I try to start a new forum app. It is developed by the student occupations in Greece. You can set a time to discuss a topic, and when the time limit is reached, the conversation is frozen, the five posts with the most “up” votes becomes a poll and everybody can vote on a decision. I post about this three times, and I think there is a fault on the forum, because my post is deleted after five minutes each time. Then the forum has a power cut. Then Party members start a thread to say the forum is not reliable, and we cannot use it for decisions.

Many do not want to stay. It is not a safe place now, there are gangs in the campus who steal from other students, and there are gangs outside who will kill us and take the campus if they do not die of flu first. Li says it is because we lose Zhen. Even though he could do nothing anymore, he was a symbol that kept us together. Jian says I should stand for the new leader, that I was always far enough from the committee to not be blamed for their mistakes, that everybody knows I do the hard work, I make sure what we need is done. He says people respect me. But what else will they say to him? I do not think I am special. Those of us who still meet in the democracy building, we are just one more gang, we stay together for protection and because we are familiar. We begin to speak of leaving the campus. It is not our place anymore. I will wait until Li is well before I decide what I will do – I want to stay with Jian and Li, whatever happens. I will miss my cat. I have not seen him for a week. I think he leaves the campus, too.

Falling Apart

In quarantine, we are forced to make our decisions through the forum, and at first I think this is helping a little to make us work together again. But many do not read the forum, or ignore the decisions. I am on watch yesterday, and see a student who is supposed to watch another gate throw a packet over the wall and climb in from outside. I stop him and ask why was he outside. I tell him he must start the clock again on his quarantine. For a moment he looks ashamed or afraid, like a child who is caught out of school, then he calls me “committee bitch” and walks away with the packet. I think I will go after him or call for help, but who can I call? Everybody on watch is too far away, nobody else can come out of their room. I cannot force him to give up the packet – it must be food – and if I try I will make contact and maybe catch the flu, because he has been outside. I decide it is easier to post about him to the forum, and expel him after quarantine. Does this make me the “committee bitch”? I do not want to force an authority, I only want us to all agree a rule and keep it, to keep us safe. If he does not agree, why does he not post on the forum to say so? This is our quarantine. If some people refuse to keep it, why do we bother?

I am angry about this, and feel helpless, but I know we have a bigger problem. The army may attack again at any time, and then we will have to fight again and risk dying again, and there is nobody but the committee to decide what to do, and we cannot argue with ourselves online. The Quarantine Movement lost a lot of face, and a lot of hope, when we lost Zhen. We made many decisions without him – we never had a leader among ourselves, only for the committee – but we use his authority to debate with the Party, because he has so much respect. Now, all our respect is lost, I feel like we are lost.

On the forum, some people suggest new elections, but nobody in the Quarantine Movement is nominated, only the Party. We do not want another Zhen. Li says, let them sacrifice one of their own to this stupid game of democracy, let us question and doubt and blame them until they lose their mind and jump from the BoYa tower. She was close with Zhen, but I don’t think she really means this. The Party, here, are also just students, we were all the Quarantine Movement in the beginning, not two different parties. We must try to remember this.

A message from the army

We hear from the army again, saying now we all take the vaccine, they will enter the campus to make their base here for Beijing operations. We respond that there is not enough vaccine for everybody, and we test a small group first, that we need more time, but they do not answer. We prepare to defend ourselves, with traps and weapons made from what we have – garden tools, laboratory chemicals, glass bottles and a little petrol from the cars that are parked here. Also, with cameras and live feeds to many Socnets around the world. Not long ago, the government praised us for our independence. All the world, all that is left, will now see how their soldiers take it from us.

We all had our army training before we begin university, but I was one of those who think this is an extra school exam for a subject that does not interest me, that I must pass but no need to be top of the class. Many of us think this way – we are the best in our school years, we know we will have a place at Peking University. When will we need this skill?

We discuss tactics and do a training exercise here each morning. We think they will not try to shoot us, but when they come into the campus they may bring the disease with them, and this is worse than guns. All our hard work, and all our grief, it was for nothing if we only get the disease from the soldiers now. The Party say we should have allowed them in at the start, so we can negotiate a way to avoid close contact. Now, we must keep them out, or I think we will lose all unity and everything we have fought for.

Zhen blames himself. He will not say so, but Li sees it, and she tells me. I worry for him, and for all of us. A short time ago, we felt strong enough to hold the campus, we had a victory and could do anything. Now we feel helpless, and everybody looks to Zhen to be strong and know what we must do, like he is a different kind of person, just because we vote him for the leader. Everybody waits for what the committee will say, and the committee waits for what Zhen will say – but he goes to his room near the beginning of the committee meeting, saying not to disturb him. Li tells me, he just needs time. I hope there is enough time for him, and for all of us.

Debating about vaccinating

The news reaches us that a vaccine is developed. Li is worried that this will not be effective – it is too soon, she says, even if they have a sealed laboratory of a thousand experts working since the first confirmed case, it is a miracle if they can develop an effective vaccine in this time. It is not yet tested. We have a communication from WHO asking if we will volunteer to try the vaccine. We are a perfect control group – we are mostly young, the group with highest risk, and we have a successful quarantine so they know we do not have the virus already. But to test it, we will need to be exposed to the virus, and if it fails, then we will need to begin quarantine again and lose more people.
There is also another danger. If we have the vaccine, the remaining government will say there is now no need for us to keep out the army, and we must give up the occupation, lose all our hard work and have the same emergency rules as the rest of Beijing. Still, the idea of a vaccine makes us want to hope that it will work, that the Blood Flu will finally be over. If this is true, the army will not need to stay in the campus for long. They will be rebuilding, not keeping control. This is what our Party members say.
In the meeting today, I do not sit with Li and the committee on the platform as usual, but with Jian and some other first year students. At first they do not talk much to me, but I tell them I do not know how I will vote on the vaccine, and they begin to discuss what they believe. They mostly do not believe a vaccine can work yet, but some feel a duty to try it. We watch the two factions, the Party and the Quarantine Movement, each waiting for the other to make a proposal so they can oppose it. I can see that Zhen fears to call for a vote, because the party will say he is too weak to decide himself. He thinks he must make a decision and defend it, though he believes in us voting for ourselves, and I know he will give in because he is tired, very tired from not sleeping and from carrying the weight of all our hopes, and being called weak by any whose hopes he cannot carry. We debate and debate and know our decision will be irrelevant, he will decide. Why do Jian and I sit here and listen? We could go away and enjoy our time together. We have worked so hard.
The vaccine is already given to the army – but they take the anti-virals, so nobody knows if they already have the virus or if the vaccine will work for them. I believe we should wait, find out if the army have a bad effect from the vaccine before we break a safe quarantine, and I put up my hand to say so. Li tries to call me to speak, but there are too many hands, and a party member behind me answers when Li points to me. She speaks for more than five minutes, repeating many things to keep the floor, uses the applause of the Party to silence a challenge, speaking loudly so that nobody can interrupt, and by the time she allows a challenge I cannot remember what I want to say and everybody is cheering because we are heroes of the quarantine and we will have the new vaccine.
After the meeting, I ask Jian and his friends to come with me to the Democracy Building to speak with Zhen and Li and the rest of the committee, but they want to go to the lake. They ask me to go with them, and I want to. The meeting rooms are hot with people, and make my eyes close; I wish I can sit by the lake in the sun with them and talk about music and art and ourselves, and not go to talk more about a bad decision that is already made and how to make sure we do not look bad to the Quarantine Movement because Zhen gave in to the Party again. But I must go and support Li as she explains, again, why this is so dangerous, why this vaccine will not work.
After the meeting, the Committee decides we will ask for volunteers for a group of 200 to have the vaccine. They will stay in a separated area near the entrance to campus for two weeks, go outside the campus every day, and see if they have the virus. Li asks what if nobody will volunteer, they say they will find volunteers easily. She asks if any of them will volunteer. Nobody from the committee raises their hand, not the party who pushed for this, not Zhen who made the final decision. I stand up and I tell them it is wrong to ask other students to take risks we will not take ourselves, that if nobody from the committee wants to volunteer, we should refuse to test the vaccine in the campus. The party members then begin to shout, say I try to turn over a decision made in a general assembly, I do not understand how the process works, I am just an assistant, not a party member or elected to the committee, I should not be in this meeting. So I leave. I don’t know if I will go back.

Building for the future

Whenever we get used to our lives now, there is a new threat to us. The government want to make student campuses into a base for the army. They offer us money, food and electricity in return for this, but we provide these things ourselves now. Our first crops are ready to eat, and science students breed their laboratory animals for some meat – rabbits and others that eat grass are easy for us to keep. The cat is very pleased about this because I can feed him some small piece of rabbit or guinea pig, but I hope he will stay away from the rodent runs. Somebody on the forum says they have seen cats on the campus – I did not say I have been feeding him, as many would see this as a waste, and maybe think the cat is dangerous or can spread disease. I say cats should be allowed to live on campus because they kill the rats and mice, and these spread disease and will eat our food stores.

We wait for as long as we can, but today, we send our answer to the army – we say no, we will keep control on the campus. Soldiers may join us, but they must give up their weapons when they come in, and we will search them for anti-virals and put them each in a quarantine room for 28 days. We wait for their answer, and prepare for what they may do next, but their numbers are small now – many have died in the uprisings in Southern and Eastern provinces. Zhen spoke in favour of refusing the army at a general meeting, and we voted with him. The party members resent that he wins the election and refuses to join the party. They start to say it is weakness that Zhen cannot make a big decision without a vote, that he is not confident in his opinion without the students behind him and will not act like a leader when it is what we need. They begin now to campaign for allowing the army to take over the campus, and say we will have a better organisation this way. Most do not listen to them – we never have any problems with organisation so far – everybody does their jobs well, or tells us if they cannot so we can find somebody else. I say “we”, like I am one of the leaders, and I think many see me this way. I am not in an elected position like Zhen and Li, but I am always with them and do so many organising tasks, and they talk to me about their decisions and respect what I say. They say I must stand in the next election, and I feel more confident now, but still I don’t think I want to do this. I almost want to be back in the quarantine, when all the decisions happen on the forum and everybody is just trying to make the campus work, not to win against another person.

I do not worry about the Party. They fall in many provinces, and they do little now for the people in Beijing. Food growing and delivery is run by local people as much as the army, and is more efficient and a better quality. There is a will to resist, and in the past weeks many speak of 1989. Normally, we cannot commemorate our past resistance, but there is nobody to suppress student protest this year, and so we honour our parents’ resistance and celebrate our own, with hope for the future.

Thinking about hope for the future, there is another quiz from the person who did the disaster meme. Which Utopia are you Building? My answer:

Anarchist Communism in a scarcity environment, e.g. Annares in The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

Anarchist Communism in a scarcity environment, e.g. Annares in The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

You know that society will never be perfect, but you also know that it can be a lot better than it is now. You can’t eliminate human fallibility, but you can put processes and fail-safes in place so that a society can weather a reasonable amount of petty-mindedness, self-indulgence and indolence, without resorting to the hierarchies that make vices or privileges of them. Most importantly, you recognise that the revolution is never over, and a utopia is not a stagnant society but one that’s free to change and develop its ideals, its processes and its technology towards ever greater freedom for all.

See the story behind this quiz at http://badinfluences.org.uk

Take the quiz: Which Utopia are you building?

Celebrating Youth Day

Today we have a small and strange Youth Day celebration – no parades, but much singing and there were deliveries of food to the occupation, some official, some not. There is a lot of pride and gratitude in what the Quarantine Movement have achieved. Young soldiers and emergency volunteers are also celebrated on public newsnets, and this makes us angry, though I do not think our new leaders will say anything. Zhen wants to criticise them, but he has to think of the party members – he needs their support, to keep us working together.

We are in a difficult place. Students have been talking to soldiers, from a distance, since the end of the quarantine. They are mostly young people like us, and we have the same worries about our families and our future. We know that communications with their commanders are less often and less reliable the last few weeks, and their supplies are not always so reliable, too. They still bring food when it arrives, and when it is low we sometimes give some back to them if we have enough, but we always refuse them to come into the occupation because we know that they have taken the anti-viral drugs. Now we are worried about running low on food for ourselves, and our relation with the soldiers here becomes less friendly. They say we must feed them, because they keep infected people out of our quarantine. We did not ask them to do this, we are always prepared to defend ourselves, but of course if we tell them to stop, they will come in and we will have to have another full quarantine. Requests and favours become threats and demands. We have a safe place and power from our sun, water and bicycle generators, but they have guns and bullets. It is a terrible thing to hope, but I hope they will run out of anti-virals before we run out of food.

Food is very much on my mind now, and I cannot help thinking of food all the time. This meme for the month is also for Elaine, always calling people by food names. Tell me, what food are you like, and why. Not “what food do you like to eat” but what is the food that is most like you. Elaine always calls me “Sugarsnap” or “Beansprout” because she thinks of me and she thinks young, sweet and Chinese. I do not see myself this way. I have discovered, since the quarantine, that I am a mango – yes, there is sweetness in me, but I have a thick skin and hard at the core. I am tougher than I knew. I think, when this is over, when we meet again, I will be a very different person than you knew in Vietnam.

Low on many things.

I only write a short update today, because there is now little electricity from the mains and I must save the battery of my workset. Worse, water supply is also cut off for days. There are rotas now to collect and chemically sterilise water for each block. This is another difficult duty for us, on top of many others – the water collectors must get up at 5 am and each make five trips, carrying 40 litres each time on a bicycle trailer from the lake.

Today, there is a dust storm, so I make the journey each time with a scarf wrapped over my face and dirt in my eyes. These storms are not so bad for the last few years, but we think the “Great Green Wall” must not be tended to this year. I don’t ever remember storms this bad inside a city, though many say it was worse at one time.

Much food is growing, but not yet ready to eat, and supplies get low. I still have my cat visitor, but no longer enough food to spare for him. Still he comes, just to spend time with me. Then he disappears for many days. I wish I could know where he goes to.