As we enter the 6th month of protests, I’m tired of seeing nothing change or anyone from the government and protests creating or suggesting any substantial solutions. So this is my attempt at making sense of the situation while trying to find a way of how we can reach the end goal.
What bothered me recently…
We saw on November 11th, a police officer perhaps conducted one of the most disproportionate uses of force in the last 5 months of protests. In a video, it can be seen that a police officer shot three shots at two different protesters that resulted in them being seriously injured. It is true that one of the protesters tried to grab the officers gun, but it is also true that it was clearly not a proportional use of force. If we draw on past events there were situations in which officers were at a far greater level of danger, yet no shots were fired needless to say three.
Violence did not just happen on the side of the police
What happened on 11th of November was very personal for me, a man was lit on fire in the district I live in. The man had burns all over his body, there is video clearly showing him being doused in flammable liquids and set on fire by a man dressed in black.
Today (15th November), a 70 year old was killed by a brick that was dropped on his head by a man dressed in black. Investigation is still on-going to understand the whole situation.
Festival Walk, a mall outside the High School I attended for 14 years was subject to vandalism and arson, leaving the entire mall unrecognisable. Every year, a Christmas Tree several stories tall is erected in the middle of the mall. The tree is not owned by a mainland Chinese company, it is not related to the HK police, it isn’t a symbol for freedoms being oppressed, so why was it subject to arson? What it does appear to be is part of a disturbing trend of indiscriminate violence and destruction.
Where are we now?
Crane Brinton’s outlined “4 Stages of a Revolution” which remain a good foundational model that reflects revolutions in the modern age.
- Preliminary Stage
- A combination of social and political tensions
- Incumbent government has several inefficiencies
- Sparked by an “initial conflict”
2. Rule of the Moderates
- Huge protests begin in demand for change
- Moderates take charge and lead initial protests
- Mobs progressively confuse things they need with things they want
- Individual advocates join to form a unified collective in message
- Leads to greed for “revenge” over “justice”
3. Crisis Stage (Reigns of Terror and Virtue)
- Radicals take control of the narrative over the more educated structured moderates that began the movement
- Radicals take action quicker (smaller in numbers, can push towards a goal with no regard for any human disposition)
- Ability to ignore contradictions between their rhetoric and action due to a fanatical devotion to the cause
- Forced conformity (often through terror, fear and oppression) as they spread ideologies to the masses
4. Recovery Stage
- The radicals are taken down and removed from the movement
- Repression of Radicals
- Revolutionary Fever dies down
- Reconciliation made by key groups
- Life returns to normal for citizens
- Re-establishment of Status-Quo/Creating a new Status-Quo
We are clearly in the 3rd stage now, but a lot still has to happen before we reach the final stage.
But why can’t the moderates maintain control of the movement? Would that not be better for the city as a whole?
“We live in a time when moderates are treated worse than extremists, being punished as if they were more fanatical than the actual fanatics.”
— Orson Scott Card
It begins with the fact that moderates are unwilling to condemn or distance themselves from the radicals. The movement began in consonance with the radicals, they were unified in opposition of the establishment. If they oppose the radicals who were key parts of the movement, then what does that reflect? Does this mean that inherently they support the establishment that they fought together against?
“There are no enemies on the left”
We see this very clearly in Hong Kong. Many are not entirely supportive of the methods radicals take, but they are unwilling to condemn them because of the optics and questions the masses (that the radicals have huge influence over) would ask. Many moderates are blinded by the subconscious thought of “there are no enemies to the left” and they need all the support they can get.
Moderates please neither side.
How can we reach the final stage?
“The future depends on what we do in the present.” — Mahatma Gandhi
We all need to start thinking about what we can do to solve the issue. These are just some of the things that I deem to be integral.
Everything starts with accountability
“If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem”
Accountability by the government and police departments for police misconduct must occur. But not because of revenge, but because there needs to be trust between the establishment and its citizens again. A society cannot function without a solid relationship of trust between us and the institutions that govern us (Judicial, Enforcement, Government). The police department needs to prove that systemic misconduct among its officers does not exist, only then can the public begin to not attribute these separate incidents to the police force as a whole. One positive step the police have taken is reprimanding a police officer that ran through several protesters with his motorcycle.
“Any conduct that violates internal rules will be handled seriously by the police” — Officer John Tse
That act was not disproportionate, it is outright unjustifiable and an indiscriminate use of force. It is good to see that the police were swift in taking the officer off-duty and conducting an investigation using due process. This is why an independent commission is important, the public obviously does not trust the internal systems in place. An independent commission will begin to build up the trust necessary between us and the police.
Likewise, the same must occur on the side of protesters we must not encourage those who use means that contradict the very ideals we are trying to advance; Freedom of Speech, Individual Liberties, Due Process. We should start by not justifying, supporting or even encouraging those who act as Judge-Jury-Executioner. We are not a barbaric society and our actions must reflect that. The radical actions of the few must not represent or reflect this entire movement. We do not advocate for freedom of speech by threatening anyone who opposes our views, we do not protect our judicial system by disregarding its ruling or deem ourselves exemptions to the law.
We don’t give anyone a blank cheque or exemptions because they are aligned with you. This does not show critical thinking or moral consistency. It is hard to criticise those in your in-group, but their ideological alignment should not absolve them of wrongdoing.
Don’t put all our eggs in one basket
“The fear of being different prevents most people from seeking new ways to solve their problems.” — Robert Kiyosaki
My problem with the movement is not because it chooses to use violence, it’s the fact that it chooses to put all their eggs in one basket. When you lock your mentality to believe there is only one solution, it becomes a very slippery slope. Once vandalism fails, arson fails, physical assault fails, setting people on fire fails, what is next? How far are we willing to fall down this deep pit of progressive violence until the movement becomes unrecognisable? It is frustrating that many believe violence to be the only solution. Though violence is often involved in revolutions, history shows that if this is the only action taken, it will not succeed.
Some examples of movements that created lasting impacts beyond violence undertaken:
- Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French Revolution)
- United States Constitution (American Revolution)
There needs to be multiple avenues in which we pursue to achieve our goals. Concrete plans, not abstract idealised visions of what we want.
We can start by:
- Having Clear Leadership (no revolution has ever created lasting change without clear centralised leaders and representatives)
- Being willing to have negotiations with the government (seems naive to believe that not engaging with the government directly creates changes)
- Lobby our local politicians, many of whom already support the movement (politicians are sheep, their actions reflect what they think we want to see)
- Reaching out to those around us, those who don’t have similar views and understand where they come from
- Drafting amendments or changes to laws on the steps of how we want the government to change (being specific, not vague)
- Run for political office, we know that this can be done as we still live in a quasi-democratic system
More creative people than me can create more innovative solutions, but my point is that if you see violence as the only solution, then you haven’t really spent much time to think. But none of this happens without leadership.
Willingness to compromise
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies”
— Nelson Mandela
This is by far the hardest but most important step that should be taken. No one ever wants to give something up, or shift from their position. Everyone feels that they have suffered enough and deserve everything they ask for.
We have to be realistic.
If nobody in the world ever compromised, then our world wouldn’t be where we are today. Democracy did not develop in a day, in the centuries that this idea has been around only in the recent decades have; women got the vote, people of colour got the vote etc. To this day there are still many marginalised groups still being discriminated upon systemically. No country has ever created an effective implementation of a system that satisfies our desires for freedom and individual liberties. Rome was not built in a day, so why should we be so entitled to believe us the exceptions? I value progress, I would much rather pave the road forward slowly as I walk upon it, than to remain at the start, unwilling to walk upon this road because it is not yet complete.
Achieving Bi-Partisan support is hard, countries that have been democratic far longer than Hong Kong still fail on this matter. I imagine our relationship with the government to be like a nervous middle school dance, we take a step forward fully afraid but hoping that they will do the same. Hopefully, we continue to take steps forward together no matter how nervous we all may be. We don’t trust the government but they don’t trust also, but someone needs to take the first step.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”
— Mahatma Gandhi
Ice Cube wrote this song during the height of the LA riots of the 90s. It was a departure from what his peers were all writing about. Hopefully some of you could take something out of this like I have.