It ain’t over ‘til we win
What I learnt about the Yellow Umbrella, The Oscar Speech, and Democracy.
There I was, only the police cordon and some makeshift barricades between the police and the protestors. Tension grew as the police gearing up with gloves, shields and baton — just few weeks after tears gas and rubber bullets were fired, at the crowd of university students from a week-long boycott of classes in sit-in protest.
But there was no fear. We sat there in solidarity chanting ‘I want true democracy’, ‘I want true democracy’.
Selma is Now
“the struggle for justice is right now”
Last week I saw Selma, a great movie on the famous Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 that led to the landmark passage that year of the Voting Rights Act in America. Later when I heard the Oscars acceptance speech musician Common mentioned the fight in Hong Kong for democracy, I was transported back to my trip taking part in the protest in Hong Kong October 2014.
“The spirt of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the south side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression, to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy.”
Common spoke about the Edmund Pettus Bridge, once a landmark of a divided nation and now a symbol for change. John Legend followed remaining us that Selma is now, where the voting rights is being compromised in the America and that we must march on.
Indeed, many are still in the fight around the world.
A Divided City
“I only felt being part of a larger community and strangely, one that I never felt in my entire time living in Hong Kong.”
I flew to Hong Kong from Australia on Oct 16, just few weeks after the protest clashes with the police that saw tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray were deployed at a scale this peaceful city of Hong Kong had never seen.
Amid fear of talk on whether we would see a return of heavy-hand tactic like that of 1989, more citizens of Hong Kong took the street and claim occupation of three protest sites calling for genuine democracy.
The news of the protest shocked the world. Widely covered by media outlets around the world from the New York Times to The Guardian, the graphics of police use of excessive force angers me, and the students selfless courageous act tears me up.
I didn’t know what to do. I left Hong Kong almost 10 years ago and know little of the development there, so I read all the news I could get my hands on, made my trip back and went on the street to speak with the protesters to learn the situation first hand.
Walking along the protest site in Admiralty, right on the highway outside the Central Government Offices building, it’s a lively village of its own filled with abundance of creativity, from student study area to first aid station, to inspiring artwork and organic farm.
At a temp public square constructed, a session was held every night for people to debate ways forward, disseminate news and share hopes and dreams.
However, it ain't all peaches and cream out there— on another protest site Mong Kok, was the hotbed of confrontation between the pro-Beijing group and the pro-democracy protesters who occupied the main north-south corridor in the district.
The police were outnumbered. Despite a few pro-democracy protesters de-escalating the tension by pulling people out of arguments and keeping a gap around the protest zone, agitators were looking for opportunity to bring chaos to the area. On top of the constant provocation, I came close to an arson attack aimed to burn off the supplies of the pro-democracy camp.
The city was divided. Allegations were made against the police siding with the government, selectively arresting the pro-democracy protesters while allowing them to be attacked by the pro-Beijing group, even police were caught on camera beating up a protester in an alley.
Division had also made its way to homes. There were polarising opinion between my relatives and I that often ended in heated debates, it staggered and upset me at first but I was pleased to have at least voiced what I saw and how I felt.
When I heard similar stories from the protesters I met on the sites — a father who moved by his son’s decision to camp on the street and help out the logistics on the site, eventually joined in despite previous opposition. I only felt being part of a larger community and strangely, one that I never felt in my entire time living in Hong Kong.
A Story Everywhere
It start with a moral outrage
The protest lasted for 79 days.
955 people were arrested, 1,900 people filed complaints against the police.
Like many grew up in Hong Kong, I never thought the pro-democracy movement would lasted that long, let alone such large scale protest by people from all walks of life united by a common hope for democracy, self-determination and a better future for all.
I was fed with the idea that big changes come top-down.
But having walked the streets and took part in the umbrella movement, what I saw was a bottom-up, spontaneous act of courage led mainly by students.
“Only through continuous attention and movement, we can pressure … for change in Hong Kong and China,” “We have no right to withdraw hope. We have no space to retreat. We must stay hopeful.”
In many way this could the story anywhere in the world where human rights are fought for: the ‘I can't breathe’ march in New York against police brutality; the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ Rally In Paris for freedom of expression; and closer the home in Australia the ‘Light the Dark’ vigil for asylum seekers.
It starts with a moral outrage. When we witness injustice or violation of human rights we question why that is the case. We seek the true story behind and perhaps find ways to join others to speak out and take a stand.
The Umbrella Movement has not yet realise democracy in Hong Kong but it awakes a generation of young people willing to act, unafraid of stepping in with hope and their voices for change.
“I’m just an ordinary undergrad student who “accidentally participated” in the movement.” Lester Shum
This month of March marks the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. We saw Alex Chow and Lester Shum, the first Hongkongers to speak at the Geneva summit for Human Rights and Democracy forum.
They spoke passionate about political reform, and how the summit had broaden their horizon where they can learn activists around the world, from French journalist Pierre Torres who escaped from ISIS captivity, to blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng escaped from China.
A realisation that so many around the world are fighting for change also gave hope that they too, can achieve genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
Student involvement often are the last to react, after others have tried and failed with many other means. As the Umbrella movement has shown, it however can galvanise the population and putting the issue on the main socio-political agenda. It took the bulk of the risks and makes it less risky for others to take part in the movement thus having their voice heard.
If we look at the the eight stages of successful social movements by Bill Moyer, a renowned social change activist, the Umbrella Movement would be at stage five — the three major protest sites were cleared while the political objective has not been met by the government of Hong Kong.
Just as many are fatigue from street occupation and dismayed by the prevailing status quo, 80% of the work has in fact been cemented. Where the next step lies perhaps is to broaden the base, further collaboration with other interest groups to sustain the moment, employ creative tactics and ultimately attaining the goal — universal suffrage in 2017.
On the Lennon Wall of Hong Kong there’re full of colourful post-it notes carry support of the umbrella movement and hopes for true democracy.
“I am moved by their audacity, taking great personal sacrifice for the city’s future. I know one day we will win this fight too.”
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Love to hear your thoughts and feels on the post as well, tweet me at @ricky_keung