Saying goodbye

I will post this now, so that you do not have time to all ask me where I have been, what I have been doing, why I would not answer you.

A little after I last used this blog, the Party faction print a notice and put it all over the campus. They say the servers in the library have blown, that the Quarantine Movement volunteers did not take care of them. This is bullshit – I saw party members leave the library that night. They do this to destroy the forum, to take away our means to organise without them. I start to create another forum, on another server, and to make a poster with the URL. When I get back to my room, my workset and papers are gone, my paintings destroyed, my paints are thrown over the room, the walls. I take some clothes and supplies in my bag and leave the dorm building, and on my way out I find many posters that I have just put up are torn in pieces on the ground. Then I hear a shout, and a big group is running towards me. I recognise the Party woman from the meeting, who would not let me speak, and some others, but some I am sure are not from the campus. They have student clothes, but they wear army boots. I run, and there is a gunshot behind me, and I run again, and when I leave the campus they stop chasing me, just shout insults behind me.

When I am far away I check my handset. I do not know who left the warning on my blog, but I did not dare to use it again. I SkIMped only with those I could trust on the campus. I tried to help run the forum from outside, we even tried to take another building secretly, but there are not enough of us to hold it.

Then I see Jack’s post about me, and I remember how much I once cared for him, and realise how little I now care, and I shock myself. I am hard inside and out, now. I have given to others all I have to give. I decide I will leave the latest occupation, and go home, to my mother. I know it will take me a long time. Some vehicles still go between communities, but it is dangerous to give or accept a ride. Every time we think the flu is ended, there is another outbreak somewhere, because one person with anti-virals is still travelling. I steal a bicycle and I raid some food. I hide in empty buildings and try not to be seen. Sometimes I climb onto the back of a truck that goes south and hope I will not be discovered. Three days ago I reached home. I am in a quarantine hostel in the old prison, isolated from others. It is very comfortable, and with more food than I have since the first quarantine. My mother visits, and we talk through a glass window with a telephone. It is so strange, like a screen and a speaker, it could be the same as SkIMp, but the picture is so clear! We cry a lot and speak of everybody that is gone, and then we just sit to be quiet together on either side of the glass. We read, or I paint a picture of her knitting a scarf for me. Then it is not like SkIMp, it is like being together again.

There is much to do. There is no army now. Most died from the flu after there were no more anti-virals, the survivors joined or took over communities. The death is worst in the cities, but the flu also reached many rural areas, especially those near to cities where the army took supplies. All this news is from the forums and blogs – there is no word from government or official Newsnets for many weeks. Some places are controlled by a local party official, others are self-organising, as we were at first. Some farming communities begin to get food to the cities again – neighbourhoods organise trucks to bring in and distribute the food.

I hear news from the campus, because students who wanted me to be a leader still contact me. When the Party take full control they begin lectures again, with a faculty of surviving lecturers and graduate students, all loyal to them, of course. I cannot return there, but others organise against them. I have other things to do. I read medical websites and textbooks, and when my quarantine is over I will begin training at the hospital. Too many doctors have died. It is the best thing I can do.

I want to tell you, also, do not expect to hear more from me soon, and do not worry for me when I do not post to my blog. I think it is wrong for me to keep a blog at this time. It is a distraction, yes, but more than that – it is a way to deceive, and it is dangerous. It is not only Jack that makes me see this. I read again what I wrote of the first quarantine, and it is not a lie, we felt this way and we did these things, but if you read only my blog you might think we had the perfect organisation, real harmony, and it was not like this. The hidden political decisions, the splitting of the party and the quarantine movement – it was in the seed of the quarantine from the beginning, and we might have seen it if we did not paint the better picture for ourselves. We wanted so much to believe in our unity, I wanted to believe in it, and when we showed our quarantine to the world we made it as we wanted it to be, and hoped that this would make it true. We believed in what we created and did not look closely at what we did not want to see. This can happen without a blog or a forum, it happens to every revolution since the beginning of history, but we never learn because, like Jack, we make the comforting story for ourselves and we do not face the reality. I cannot say what that reality is – I am still looking inside and presenting a picture about myself, who is and is not the young woman you once knew, who I feel I must pretend to be on this blog although I no longer know her. On our blogs we lie about ourselves and about the world, to ourselves and to the world. I want to know myself as I am, and to see the world as it is; it is too dangerous for me to create it here. I want to say I love all of you and hope you can rebuild your worlds new, but in truth I do not think you are the same people I knew, and I have no space in my heart to think of your worlds. To say I love you is like trying to make a picture with the dry paint on a palette, a thin film of sentiment left after the real emotion is evaporated, it is not enough. It is the remains of something real, but it is not real. You see, how we make ourselves lie to ourselves and each other, because it is what the blog needs.

This is why I must say goodbye.

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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.

Back in quarantine

No time for a meme this month. Now, I am in a quarantine again, only it is not so organised as last time. We avoid close contact, but have to leave our rooms all the time, there are so few of us and so many extra duties – tending the vegetables, gathering the animals, keeping the watch and guarding the little food we still have.

We at least hold the campus. The soldiers fired warning shots and many of us ran, but more stayed and fought them. We thought they would not aim to kill us, but they no longer care about killing. They do not shoot a lot, but we now know this is only because they have few bullets. Many students and staff died beating them down from the walls with broom handles and petrol bombs. This distracted us from the few who came in without uniform, and took much of the food from our stores, and also destroyed the runs for the rabbits and guinea pigs. We caught some of these, but too late. We capture many weapons, and in the middle of the fighting, with people in panic and grief, the few soldiers we caught were shot. We did not want to do this, we wanted to be better than them.

Even during the fighting, the Party leaders keep asking the Quarantine Movement committee members: where is Zhen? Where is our leader? After the fighting, when the army retreat from the walls and we begin to list the loss and damage, we find the answer. He is in the committee meeting room in the Democracy Building, hanging from the light fitting by his neck, leaving a note saying only: “I am sorry, I must resign.”

We have fought up close with the army, so our worst fear now is that many will be infected. We go in teams of three to minimise contact amongst ourselves, and bring the dead to the burial place, by the Jing Yuan memorial. We have no time to dig more graves. We pile up the bodies, including Zhen, and throw on the remaining petrol, but the fire does not take well and there is nothing we can do except leave them, and abandon the meadow and the Yuan buildings.

We gather the little food that remains from a few hidden personal stores of those who died or ran away. There is not really enough to feed us for another quarantine, but we have no choice. We do not even decide if those in the inoculation experiment need to join the quarantine or not. They each decide for themselves. This is wrong and frightening, how we cannot make a decision anymore that everybody will follow. How can a quarantine work if everybody makes a different rule? But we must try.

The final warning

Today we have a final notice from the army – if we do not open the doors by 7:00am tomorrow and let them in, they will force a way into the campus. I do not even forward the message to the forum, where the Party will see it, but go straight to Li, and we go together to Zhen. He listens while we read the message. He looks at us, like he did not understand, and I read it again. Zhen says nothing. He stares in front of him. He begins to tell Li to call a meeting for breakfast – we think, this is good, he begins to make a plan. Then he asks how much is in the store for lunch, do we need to harvest more root vegetables? Li almost throws the tea at him, but we make him drink it instead.
“This is very kind of you girls,” he says, smiling. “I know you are very busy. How is the power system, Mei? Is there enough electricity for the forum? I should start reading the forum again. I have more time now.”
I ask Li, “How long has he been like this?”
She tells me maybe two weeks. They hide it – take him to the meetings with rehearsed lines to say, and then somebody takes him away and they continue without him. They cannot let the party see he has become so bad – we will be finished.
I tell Li we will be finished anyway tomorrow if we do not do something. But what? Get people ready to fight? Open the gate and get people locked into their rooms? Call the committee for a meeting?
“Call everybody,” I say. I put a message out on the forum and we get some people calling through every building where people live or work – Emergency General Meeting in the auditorium. For a moment, I feel almost happy, because this is how it was in the beginning, when we felt strong and we could do anything, when anybody can call a general meeting and nobody will say: “By what authority?”
Of course, The Party and even some of the Quarantine Movement in the committee are angry we did not go to them first.
“There isn’t time,” I say. “We need to get ready, now, all of us. Never mind the procedure.”
“Where is Zhen?” somebody asks, but I shrug my shoulders and say, “I am just an assistant, how do I know?”
Li chairs the meeting. She tells everybody that Zhen prepares a plan for the fight, but meantime we must decide who will be guarding each entry, prepare the barricades and traps and distribute the weapons we have, and the face masks and gloves – I had nearly forgotten how uncomfortable they are. We will be ready tomorrow morning. I will use a camera for a live feed and Li leads the medical group. Jian will join her. We only fight if they get past the gate and the barricade. I try to sleep a little before the morning, but I do not think I will. I will tell you what happens when I can.

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.

Recipes for disaster

I cannot think of a good meme for this month. I think only about food, and trying to make sure we have enough to eat, because little comes from outside anymore. So I will do my meme about this. Tell me your recipe for disaster: What are you eating and how do you cook it? Perhaps we can help each other with some ideas.

I will give my answer, but first I must tell you something about me. I am an art student, you all know, but you do not know I could be a medical student. I am very good at biology and other sciences in school, but I do not like to dissect the animals, so I choose to study art. This is because one day in school we have to dissect a rat. We are three girls and one rat, and nobody wants to put in the scalpel. When I am tired with arguing, I say “I will do it.” I get ready, and a boy behind me pushes my arm, so the scalpel slips in the gut of the rat and there is rat shit and bad smells coming out, so we jump back and we are screaming, and he is laughing, and that is biology class – boys laughing, girls squealing and waving hands in front of our faces, and covering our mouth to look around and see which boy is laughing at us the most.

I always love animals, and my cat loves me too, because he brings to me a present – a big present – adult rat, almost 30cm! Now, I feed you, he says. We have very little protein now in our food, with only noodles, rice and some little beans in the store, and sometimes a stew with the lab animals and vegetables we farm, but not much to go around. I am very hungry. The rat smells bad, but looks healthy (except dead). I know it can have many bad diseases and fleas. I wear a mask and gloves to pick it up, and I put plastic on top of the table, and get a sharp knife. If you see me, you will think I am a vet doing a surgery. I think of the dissecting lesson at school, and when the knife touches the skin I am squealing a little. Then I get a feeling, like I am two people, and one is squealing and the other is standing next to her and says: “What is the matter with you? You organise a quarantine. You sit all night with a dead girl in the next room. You bury a hundred people. This is just a dead rat.”

This is when I know I can do this. I am not scared, and I am not squeamish. Truly, I never was. At school, I am squealing because the other girls are squealing. But I am not that girl. Maybe the others are not that girl, too. That girl is not real, and now my life is too real, I cannot pretend to be that girl.

So I am skinning and gutting and washing and cooking my rat with a little cabbage in a little water on the tiny stove in my room, because I cannot go to the big kitchen with private food. I know others do this sometimes, but even though I no longer go to the meetings, I am seen with the committee and must be an example. I put a little in a bowl for the cat, and then I eat everything to the bones. It is not the best, but when you are hungry, everything tastes good. The cat does not agree; he looks at me to say, “I expect better from you.”
“You are right,” I say. “I should be a medical student.”

Maybe if we are still here next year, if lectures begin again, I will transfer.

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?