Hong Kong’s summer of protest continues. As the situation has turned more violent around us, one hears hesitations about the protestors and their modi operandi, as well as outright opposition.
A few common complaints, and some thoughts to consider:
1. The movement is fractured.
Well, yes, to some extent. Cooperation could be better, and execution could be more polished. It may have been very convenient to have one sole charismatic leader that was the mouthpiece and director.
But, let’s remember this isn’t a well-oiled political machine, and it isn’t about convenience or even about appearance. The value of movements do not sink because of how raw, diverse, or leaderless they may be. The value of two million people on the streets, and thousands showing up weekend after weekend risking their safety, is that there is sincerity of intent and courage to express discontent, to demand a better future.
2. Who knows what they even want any more. After all, Carrie Lam said the extradition bill is dead. Isn’t that success?
The five demands have been circulating for the past few weeks and are surprisingly consistent in their messaging.
Discontent with the looming threat to Hong Kong’s way of life, to the freedoms and rights that Hong Kong’s neighbours do not have, and awareness of their lack of political power, are some of the key factors that have made people upset about the extradition bill in the first place.
Recalcitrance over telling the public that the bill is withdrawn, instead of purposely using “delay” and “dead” language, has not helped. Purposeful obfuscation over why the public was concerned about the bill, has also provoked additional outrage.
If it’s just about semantics, the government should use the language the public needs to hear in efforts to de-escalate. A “delay” or “death” is something of a success, yes, and that would not have happened if not for the protesters.
3. This will hurt Hong Kong’s economy.
Hong Kong is hurt most by the erosion of rights and freedoms, and the threat of that happening. Strikes hurt, but the one that has occurred (on August 5) happened because the true reasons for what hurts Hong Kong are being blanketed over.
The city’s reputation does not thrive on pictures of police hurting the public. Tourists are more likely to be put off by pepper spray in their hotel lobbies than by peaceful protest. Businesses are more likely to be put off by disturbances to Hong Kong’s marketplace, judicial independence, and threats to various rights and freedoms that their talent cares about.
4. This whole thing is about the economy anyway. Affordable homes and better jobs will quell the dissatisfied masses.
Affordable homes and better jobs will certainly make life easier. But it’s not just about that. People have concerns about their rights and freedoms. Those are legitimate and tremendous concerns.
5. We cannot condone violence, and the kids are going out of control. Can’t they come up with a better way?
Reader, I hate that we are all dealing with violence in our city. It is frightening and destabilising. The large mass of protesters tried peaceful means extensively. They were tear-gassed (in ways that signify an intent to use it as ammunition, not for dispersal) and shot with rubber bullets. Stray passersby have choked on pepper spray, journalists have been abused, and menacing gangs of stick-wielding thugs have materialised to beat protesters down in some neighbourhoods.
Who is responsible for that violence and can the authorities not control that and try to de-escalate matters civilly?
Many protesters and other residents in Hong Kong are now angry, and want to know what is being done about the violence against them. Government press conferences consistently berate the protesters and accuse them of violence, but give a free pass to, nay, praise the armed and organised tear-gas shooters who are “just doing their jobs”.
So, some of the protesters give it back. It is uncomfortable and frightening, but most of it is a reaction. Trying to peacefully protest has only resulted in violence against them. Should they grin through the gas and bear the bullets? Should they not expect accountability of their own police force that they should gain help from, not be at odds with? Should they go home and give up their fight for their future?
I will venture that the majority of protesters want nothing to do with violence at all, much like you and me. It would be remiss to skip noting that there will probably be fringe elements of unnecessary violence in any large group. Some nasty sorts get a kick out of it, and some snap. This goes for all groups, not just the protesters.
Let us look more closely at where the violence is coming from, what could be classified as a reaction to it, and who we should expect more restraint from. Peace and harmony will not come from the police or other armed forces simply forcing protesters to go home and making people scared of protesting. It may occur when true concessions are made, and when people are properly included in decisions that impact their futures.