Wovokia – fiction by Joe Emersberger

Jack Wilson, a reporter for the Scottish edition of the Daily Telegraph, uncovered opinion polls that found 60% of US citizens (40% of Canadians) did not know that Wovokia was an independent country or that the US and Canada had made traveling to Wovokia illegal. (Wovokia had previously been known as the Canadian province of British Columbia, and the US states of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and Arizona.) These polls were done fifteen years after Wovokia declared its independence. The polls also showed that most people who did know about Wovokia’s independence did not consider it a matter of great concern.

Jack was surprised that most US officials would say nothing to him about Wovokia – even off the record. However, one official dared to claim that Wovokia’s independence had been granted because a massive influx of ethnic minorities made the region ungovernable. The US, like a major corporation, had simply decided to downsize – to stop the drain on its resources. Jack was no economist but knew the natural and industrial wealth of Wovokia made this claim more laughable than any wild conspiracy theory.

The more Jack researched, the more he gasped at how successfully the government and media had buried the loss of huge swaths of territory, but Wovokians had also contributed to this success by keeping a low profile internationally. That had changed very recently. Wovokia was now clashing with the USA frequently at the UN. Hence the Daily Telegraph’s sudden interest.

First Impressions

There were no taxis waiting at the airport. Jack would have to experience Wovokian mass transit straightaway. Just as well. Jack was immediately mesmerized by the confounding mixture of high technology and primitivism that surrounded him. He made copious notes on everything he saw – the drab, colorless way people dressed; the crowded and eerily quiet mass transit system (magnetically propelled trains), buildings that seemed to be made of wood but upon closer inspection were some type of plastic. The city, still known as Vancouver, was buried under trees, as if camouflaged. Most of its inhabitants were packed into the city centre in low rise buildings. Cars, as Jack knew them, were nowhere to be seen. The few vehicles he saw were unpainted battery driven carts. Most roads had been narrowed into bicycle paths when not completely covered by grass and shrubs. He felt overwhelmed by the task of coherently describing to his readers everything he was seeing and immediately used his cell phone to ask his editor to publish more articles than the three he had been asked to do.

“Are there white people?” his boss asked.

“Oh yeah,” Jack replied. “Um, not very many it seems. There are some though.”

His editor said he would decide based on the first article Jack turned in if more should be written. Jack figured out from the stares he received that Wovokians did not use cell phones.

With great difficulty, Jack found his hotel. Wovokians seemed to hate signage as much as they hated cell phones. Once in his room, Jack threw his bag on the bed and immediately set to work on his first article. He began to feel faint. There was a knock at the door – or he thought there was – but he could not answer.

The Maid

In the morning he awoke to the pleasant site of a familiar young woman looking down on him. A doctor.

“Listen to your body,” she advised. “Rest when you need to rest.”

Jack was alarmed. How bad could this be that a doctor made a trip to his room? She reassured him that she did not go out of her way to see him. She was working there.

“This place can afford to keep a doctor on staff?” Jack asked incredulously.

“I’m here on a work assignment,” she explained. “I said hello to you in the hallway just after I had finished cleaning your room. You didn’t look well so I thought I’d check on you. You didn’t answer when I knocked. My name is Wynona.”

“You’re a maid?”

“There are no maids in Wovokia.” Wynona explained that nobody in Wovokia gets out of doing work that is considered undesirable – like scrubbing toilettes or making beds.

“So maids do surgery then?”

Not wanting to engage her overworked patient in discussion Wynona boiled things down for him.

“Basically, in Wovokia, the democratic process you may be familiar with extends to the economy. The workers are the managers. The managers are the workers. You can’t have meaningful democracy if some people are stuck doing things like cleaning toilettes all the time so that kind of work is shared by everyone.”

Jack did not wish to drop the matter there. Wynona promised to help him find out all he wanted to know about Wovokia if he promised, in return, to rest completely for the next two days.

“One day. I’m only here for four days.”

Wynona reluctantly agreed to one day.

Jack slept most of the day and awoke eager to learn all he could. The morning passed and he feared Wynona was not going to honour her part of the deal. Late in the afternoon he was about to set off on his own when Wynona finally showed. As he travelled with her by train he asked her all about Wovokian technology and urban planning. She responded with great patience and competence. He felt increasingly attracted to her but tried to set the feelings aside.

“What’s with the aversion to cell phones?”

“Technology is generally assumed guilty until proven innocent. Unless it is shown to be safe we avoid it unless there is a good reason to use it anyway – as happens in the medical field sometimes.”

“Doesn’t that make it harder to create jobs?”

“We work to produce useful things. We don’t produce things to give people work. We work twenty five hour weeks despite our best efforts to bring that down to twenty. There is plenty of useful work to be done. For example, thoroughly testing technology to see if it is safe, anticipating its long term impacts. In the past that work was avoided because it was seen as a nuisance, at best, or even subversive.”

They wandered about the city center on foot and eventually came to rest on a park bench.

“Look – all these questions you ask are good but if you want to understand Wovokia you really need to understand our religion.” 

“I thought Wovokians were rationalists.”

“Does religion frighten you? I know they have religious people in Scotland.”

“It’s just something I generally avoid discussing.”

“You’ve heard of historical materialism?”

“That Marxist theory of history.”

“Well, most of us are historical spiritualists. Historical spiritualism is all bound up with the story of Wovokian independence.

“Twenty years ago the non-Latino whites had been 60% of the population of the five US states (plus British Columbia) that became Wovokia. However, the percentage of whites suddenly dropped in only one year to 33% as millions of overwhelmingly non-white people appeared.

“The newcomers were not actually new. They were the Cherokees who died along the Trail of Tears during the 1830s; the Cheyenne massacred at Sand Creek in 1864; the Sioux massacred at Wounded Knee in 1890. They were 15 million indigenous people killed directly and indirectly – through malnutrition and disease – in the area that became the US and Canada after the arrival of Europeans.

“The newcomers were the people whom the prophet Wovoka and his followers had predicted would one day arrive, but they arrived much later than anticipated and included people whom Wovoka had never foreseen. They included millions of other victims of the US Empire – 4 million slaves – including a small percentage of white slaves, the millions of Vietnamese and others killed in the Vietnam War. They were Haitians, Chileans, and Salvadorans – basically people from all over Latin America but also hundreds of thousands of Indonesians and East Timorese. They were Iraqis and Palestinians. They were about 25 million people.”

“This country is named after this Wovoka person?” Jack tried to hide how dismayed he was that a woman like Wynona could believe all this nonsense.

“Wovoka was born in Nevada in 1856 and was a member of the Paiute tribe. He said that all the native people who had been killed by whites would one day reappear to take back their land. He preached non-violence and told his followers that they must live righteously for his prophecy to come true. They were also told to regularly perform the Ghost Dance – a variation on traditional dances that indigenous peoples had performed for centuries.

“The Ghost Dance movement spread very quickly beyond Wovoka’s tribe. Despite being non-violent, and heavily influenced by Christianity, the movement terrified US Indian Agents so much that it led to murder of Sitting Bull and to the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.

“Some whites had vaguely anticipated Wovoka’s prophesy.” Wynona told Jack that in 1867, after witnessing his government’s murderous exploits against the Cheyenne, John B. Sanborn told his bosses in Washington that he was witnessing “…a national crime most revolting, that must, sooner or later, bring down upon us or our posterity the judgement of Heaven.”

“Over a century and half (and countless national crimes) later, Heaven’s judgement finally arrived.” She smiled.

Jack nodded politely.

“The newcomers quickly came to be known as Ghosts after they returned among the living.”

“Are you a Ghost?” He braced himself for her reply.

“No, but I’m fairly certain my mother is one. Most did not see any need to go around announcing what they were.”

“They showed up and took everything over?”

“They took reparations. They had spent centuries in the Dream World coming up with a plan for doing so. They decided that they must not return to the Real World until satisfied that they were interacting among themselves as they thought all people should. Some Ghosts grew impatient with the task of bringing so many souls into agreement. The impatient ones returned to the Real World alone and attempted to incite revolutions, but they usually ended up back in the Dream World accepting that they had been wrong. A minority of very bitter Ghosts retuned to perpetrate acts of vengeance but these acts, especially the 9/11 bombings, were clearly evil and counterproductive – and these Ghosts did not make it back to the Dream World.”

As she spoke several people, including some children, gathered around to listen. Wynona did not seem to mind at all but Jack was quite annoyed. He felt that she was now preaching to her informal congregation rather than just talking to him.

“Although the Ghosts were an extremely diverse group, language was no barrier in the Dream World. Information of all types was far easier to acquire than it was for the most privileged in the Real World. The Ghosts shared a common abhorrence of the empire that had made them victims and that continued to swell their ranks. They concluded that God (or Allah or the Great Spirit) had condemned people who did not share their abhorrence to complete death. However, even with this level of agreement, and even with the advantages that the Dream World offered, they struggled to formulate a plan that all could accept.”

A blonde blue-eyed teenager chimed in:  “They organized into nested councils like the ones we use today to decide on laws or production plans for the next year.”

“Let her tell it,” barked an old man who had just stopped in front of them.

Wynona continued: “Initially the lowest level councils were populated according to where the Ghosts had lived in the Real World, but female Ghosts noticed that males were over represented as delegates. Many were concerned that famous Ghosts – like Sitting Bull, Martin Luther King Jr, and Salvador Allende – were treated with too much deference.

“The Ghosts had a near obsession with eliminating any trace of elitism. This was understandable. The evil they hoped to eradicate in the Real World was the idea that all lives were not precious, that some were expendable. If everyone mattered then everyone must be listened to. So they tinkered with their councils to address concerns. They created high level councils chosen by lot to ensure diversity.

“Once the general plan was developed they set about preparing more detailed elements that they would execute upon their return. Twenty years ago the vast majority finally felt ready to return.”

Talk Show Ghosts

“Twenty years ago, on what they still call Columbus Day in the US, Canadian and US residents who were still up watching TV suddenly saw their screens go blank. Those who had been listening to the radio heard nothing but silence.

“They logged onto news websites but almost all of them were down. They turned to newspapers but found nothing but blank. Authorities at all levels were bombarded by telephone calls as people demanded to know what was happening. ‘Just go about your lives,’ they told callers. ‘This is nothing but an incredibly sophisticated prank.’

“However, the authorities at the highest levels quickly learned that this was really a massive revolt. You see, in the region that became Wovokia, the dominant corporate media was not merely silenced, it was replaced.”  

“In Wovokia, the public tuned into programs that the Ghosts had prepared in the Dream Word. The first programs broadcast were mainly talk shows. The hosts of these programs wore long white shirts with colourful embroidery on the sleeves. These shows were long and interactive. The hosts (who came to be known as Talk Show Ghosts) did not dominate discussions. They took calls from viewers. The live audiences – all Ghosts at first – contributed information and opinion. Through these shows the Ghosts explained who they were and why they had appeared.”

“While in the Dream World, some Ghosts had demonstrated tremendous interest and aptitude for telling stories visually. Countless films depicting historical events, including very recent ones, from the point of view of Iraqi, Haitian, Vietnamese and many other types of Ghosts had been created. These films were now shown on the Ghost controlled media.

“Other Ghosts had produced novels, music and other art in the Dream World. Through the Ghost media these works were promoted and made available.”

Jack glanced shyly at the crowd growing around them. The sun had begun to fall. The sight of all those people listening to Wynona, all the trees and ivy covered buildings somehow added credibility to what she was saying. Jack was buying none of it, but began to see why it might be believed by these strange people.

“How did the Ghosts avoid arrest?” Jack asked. “None of this was legal obviously.”

“As you would expect, the authorities, and a large segment of the population, did not take all this lying down. Ghosts were arrested in large numbers. Vigilante groups and police assassinated Ghosts and sent them back into the Dream World. However, no one could figure out how to shut down the Ghost media. This was a grave problem for the Ghosts’ enemies because state violence in a capitalist ‘democracy’ is counterproductive if it is fully and immediately exposed. It created more Ghost allies and sympathizers. Also, most of the Ghosts were not extreme pacifists. They were willing to shoot back at those who shot at them; and people dispatched to the Dream World through violence promptly returned among the living to pick up where they left off.” 

“So all it took was a media takeover?”

“That was a huge part of it, but it went along with many other things. The Ghosts did not return to simply make demands and give people information in different forms. They returned with medical skills, legal skills even mechanical skills which they used to win people over – and generate funds. They made themselves useful in many ways. Thanks to the hideous state of the US health care system their medical skills in particular won them many supporters.”

“They charged for these services?”

“People were asked to contribute whatever they thought was fair.”

“So while all this was going on, most of Canada and the US had no mass media?”

“That only lasted a few weeks. Realizing that they had lost use of both the Big Stick and the Big Lie, Canada and the US entered into serious negotiations with the Ghosts. The Ghosts demanded an end to all repression against them. In return, the Ghosts promised not to expand their control of the media beyond Wovokia. They also made the US and Canada pay a massive amount of money in reparations. It was paid to the authorities in Wovokia at the time on the Ghosts’ condition that it be used for socially useful investment.”

“Like converting all the military and automotive factories into producing our mass transit system,” added the teenager.

“Well that was few years later,” said Wynona.

“Things unravelled quickly from there?” asked Jack.

“From the point of view of the capitalists, yes, you could say that. Owners and managers fled Wovokia. Workers took over abandoned businesses and the Ghost media brought them a great deal of attention and support.”

“Okay, but by what right did the Ghosts take over the media? Who elected them?” Jack thought he might be pushing his luck asking this given the Ghost-supportive crowd listening to the story, but he felt obliged to ask.

“It was a very peaceful way of taking reparations for what was done to them. People did call in to the talk shows to ask the Ghosts that very question. The Ghosts would ask in return by what right media tycoons had dominated public debate? By what right did unelected rich people get to dominate – for centuries – the decisions about what constituted legitimate news, history or art?”

“You could argue that the market gives people what they want.”

Chuckles rippled through the crowd – even among some of the children.

Wynona replied, “According to the market tens of millions of US citizens still don’t want health insurance.”

“Who is the head of your religion? Is it Wovoka?”

“No. Nobody knows if Wovoka is among us. He never revealed himself. Most of the famous Ghosts did not. There is no head of Historical Spiritualism. People meet to discuss it though, mainly to discuss their own historical findings.  We believe that the Creator is, though aloof, not indifferent to what happens to living things. The living and the dead are empowered to right the wrongs of the past but must struggle righteously to do so. We try to become as acquainted as possible with our own personal histories – not just the history of a particular group with which we identify. We try to remember our ancestors and to make our lives memorable – or at least not a burden – to future generations. If our ancestors lived destructively then it is our duty to try to repair the damage to the extent we can. Our motto is ‘remember others and make others happy to remember you’.”

“Why all this antagonism between Wovokia and the US recently?”

“Many of us are questioning whether we should continue to honour the deal we made with the US and Canada. To mention only one thing, the US continues to block progress on any sane measures to deal with global climate change. With our long coastlines, no matter what we do we will suffer because of that. Many of us feel that if, not just Wovokia, but the world is to survive, then we will have to move East.”

It was very dark. As they walked through the city streets Jack felt like he was in the middle of the woods. A few times Wynona took him by the hand to guide him.

On the train there was finally a reasonable amount of light. She taught him some words in Kwak’wala and beamed with pride as she told him that almost all Kwakwaka’wakw (like herself) were now fluent in their own language.

He told her about the rumours he had read that white people had disappeared from Wovokia.

“In a sense, the rumours are true. Whiteness is a fraudulent concept historically. Do you know that Wovokia has more people who are fluent in Gaelic than Ireland and Scotland combined?”

“Do you always draw such a crowd when you speak? Must be flattering.”

“Not really. Word got around that a foreigner named Jack Wilson was coming to observe us. Look up Wovoka on the internet and you’ll see why that would generate interest’.”

The Article

Jack worked through the night on his article. He called his boss the next day to see what he thought of it. His boss replied that something weird had shut down all news and newspapers in the US. He needed Jack to investigate.

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