By Hong Kong.
Dear Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Beijing,
I’m afraid we have to break up. It’s not the millions of people marching against you; it’s you.
The People of Hong Kong
What does it look like when an enormous citizen coalition comes together to challenge a Goliath- and wins?
When it comes to protesting your government, getting what you want, and living to tell about it, Hong Kong is showing the world the way.
How to Protest Your Government 501
The people of Hong Kong have been through a great deal together. Colonized, ceded, then turned over to partial Chinese control only a few short decades ago. It is a like a large bank that keeps changing hands.
Hong Kong has had enough.
Widespread protests, in response to a deeply unpopular decision by Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s government to propose a law that would allow China the authority to deport Hong Kong citizens to mainland China, have borne fruit. The bill has been suspended.
Opponents to the extradition bill were appalled when it was introduced, and feared that China would make use of such a law in Hong Kong to extort citizens for, among other things, free speech. Already, at least five outspoken journalists and booksellers in Hong Kong have mysteriously disappeared from Hong Kong. Some have resurfaced in Chinese custody months later.
Bringing Hong Kong under the complete authority of the Chinese government has long been the ultimate goal of Beijing. With the recent installation in Hong Kong of mass transit stations that link the city to China’s mainland high-speed rail system, came a law allowing Chinese authorities to impose Chinese laws inside the Hong Kong station.
The gradual creep of Chinese tech companies into Hong Kong’s local security systems, and even increased smart home options, are also a matter of grave concern to those in Hong Kong who oppose Chinese rule.
Activists in Hong Kong are determined to keep its strange and fragile autonomy. They are concerned about Chinese tech companies, which are de facto Chinese government entities under China’s communist system. They fear that smart features and the Internet of Things will increasingly be hijacked by the Chinese government to spy on the free citizens of Hong Kong.
The protesters are getting it right.
With the exception of a few brutal incidents involving police violence against unarmed protestors, as well as some property damage, the protests have been largely peaceful.
And just plain large.
Almost a third of the population of Hong Kong have turned out for the protests; they’ve taken to the streets, today sporting black tee shirts, meant to signal their fury towards Lam’s government and Beijing.
The protestors also skew young. As such they are more tech savvy than past generations. In spite of China’s massive tech power advantage, the people of Hong Kong are fighting back, and winning. Sharing tips on community message boards on how to evade Chinese surveillance, using cash only for transactions; staying off the grid.
Protestors delete their social media accounts. Unlike in past protests, protestors discourage each other from taking photos. People obscure their faces with masks to outwit face recognition software. They delete apps of Chinese origin from their phones; they replace their SIM cards often, and only travel using one-trip passes instead of permanent passes.
They are right to be afraid. Activists have been targeted, arrested, and worse. Some have disappeared. This has not stopped the citizens of Hong Kong.
Nor are they allowing the government to define their movement; an official reclassification of their demonstrations as protests rather than riots is now included in their demands. The movement, they insist, is peaceful.
And it is.
Volunteers hand out sports drinks and information about staying off the Chinese surveillance grid. The Red Cross has set up tents to treat injuries which, for the most part, have been minor. One protestor was killed when he fell from a rooftop, but no citizens have been killed by police.
The protestors aren’t satisfied with the temporary withdrawal of the extradition bill, or Lam’s apology. If she was really sorry, they insist, she would step down and her whole administration with her.
Critics of Lam insist that she represents the wishes of Beijing and the Chinese government, not the people of Hong Kong. They want the bill permanently shelved. And they want Lam gone.
They might get what they are after, too. The movement has quite a few things to recommend it as a case study in How to Protest Your Government:
- Focus: The people are focused on one thing; the extradition bill.
- Unity: The movement stretches across all of Hong Kong society, including professionals, government workers, teachers, business people and the press. It also stretches across socioeconomic boundaries.
- Nonviolence: Any violence on the part of your movement is too easily condemned by the opposition. Violence erodes support.
- Numbers: There really is safety in numbers. Over two million people, almost a third of the population of Hong Kong, showed up for the protests.
The Chinese government may have the guns, but the people of Hong Kong have the numbers. The “they can’t kill or disappear us all” sort of idea is a good one, though far from safe. Closer to the truth is “they can’t kill or disappear us all probably.”
If the citizens of Hong Kong stay united, winning more to the cause by continuing to comport themselves with nonviolence, they are likely to get to keep their independence from China for a little while longer anyway.
Unfortunately, Democracy is always under threat from those who think their way is not only better, but the only way.
Chinese officials have been stolid their responses to the protests, almost languid. Perhaps because they know they can afford to wait.
Hong Kong’s time has always been running out, and it still is. Under the same agreement that allowed Hong Kong to retain its current system of being governed under a “one country, two systems” policy, the city is scheduled to officially revert to full Chinese control in 2047.
That is, if the citizens of Hong Kong are willing.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)