Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Speaking out

The real estate and business tycoons in Hong Kong were in for a shock.  They had mostly kept quiet with respect to the student protest going on in Hong Kong right now, trying not to offend either the supporters of the protest or the Chinese government.  But to remain silent was not enough. 

The Chinese government recently berated the silent tycoons for keeping quiet and not speaking out or using more effort to denounce the protestors or stop the protests.  It may not sound like much - when the Canadian government grumbles about certain sectors of Canadian society, nobody quakes in terror.  However, it's totally different when it happens in China. When the Communists tell you off, it's really bad news.

Where corrupt absolute power reigns supreme, you do not even have the right to remain silent. 

A lot of Hong Kong people we know don't like to discuss politics or to express their opinions on social issues.  They don't want to offend anybody with what they think.  My parents (and many other Hong Kong people we know, both friends and family) do this all the time, and we find it really annoying because we are both straight-shooters.  We like to get everything out in the open so if there is a difference in opinion, we can try to work it out or at least we are not in the dark as to where the people around us stand. 

The Hong Kong Democracy protests have divided Hong Kong society.  It's affected everyone in Hong Kong, and people cannot hide their opinions anymore.  Lots of people have been unfriending each other on Facebook and deleting people from their contacts because of their differences in opinion regarding the protests.  In fact, Man Yung is currently engaging in a mini-war with one of his Facebook friends because she is anti-protest and he is pro-protest - wonder when they will unfriend each other?

"The supporters of the government and the anti-protest groups are generally people with property, with money, who don't want to rock the boat because they are doing ok in Hong Kong," said Man Yung.  "They see the protests as an unnecessary disruption in their lives.  They will themselves to believe in the propaganda of the state-controlled mainstream media, and in the self-serving, official statements of the government leaders because they would rather not change the status quo.  When Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung recently said he is against having real democracy in Hong Kong 'because there are lots of poor people in Hong Kong and you don't want the poor people having the right to vote in elections and influencing the governing of Hong Kong' - what an extremely stupid thing to say, by the way, if someone said it here in Canada it would be political suicide - he is actually voicing the secret opinion of lots of the well-off supporters of the government."

For a concise, clear statement as to why the Hong Kong protests are necessary, Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong recently wrote an article for the New York Times which we reproduce here:

HONG KONG — Tuesday night marked one month since the day Hong Kong’s police attacked peaceful pro-democracy protesters with tear gas and pepper spray, inadvertently inspiring thousands more people to occupy the streets for the right to freely elect Hong Kong’s leaders.

I was being detained by the police on that day, Sept. 28, for having participated in a student-led act of civil disobedience in front of the government’s headquarters. I was held for 46 hours, cut off from the outside world. When I was released, I was deeply touched to see thousands of people in the streets, rallying for democracy. I knew then that the city had changed forever.

Since the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, less than a year after I was born, the people of this city have muddled through with a political system that leaves power in the hands of the wealthy and the well-connected. Many of us, especially people of my generation, had hoped democratic change was finally coming after years of promises from Beijing that we would eventually have free elections. Instead, in late August, Beijing ruled that Hong Kong’s oligarchy will remain in charge. Universal suffrage became a shattered dream.

But not for long. The thousands of protesters, most of them young, who continue to occupy main areas of the city are showing every day how political change will eventually come: through perseverance. Our peaceful democracy demonstration has demolished the myth that this is a city of people who care only about money. Hong Kongers want political reform. Hong Kongers want change.

My generation, the so-called post-90s generation that came of age after the territory was returned to China, would have the most to lose if Hong Kong were to become like just another mainland Chinese city, where information is not freely shared and the rule of law is ignored. We are angry and disappointed that Beijing and the local administration of Leung Chun-ying are trying to steal our future.
The post-90s generation is growing up in a vastly changed city from that of our parents and grandparents. Earlier generations, many of whom came here from mainland China, wanted one thing: a stable life. A secure job was always more important than politics. They worked hard and didn’t ask for much more than some comfort and stability.

The people of my generation want more. In a world where ideas and ideals flow freely, we want what everybody else in an advanced society seems to have: a say in our future.

Our bleak economic situation contributes to our frustrations. Job prospects are depressing; rents and real estate are beyond most young people’s means. The city’s wealth gap is cavernous. My generation could be the first in Hong Kong to be worse off than our parents.

My parents are not political activists. But over the past few months, because of my prominent role in the protest movement, my family’s home address has been disclosed online, and my parents have been harassed. Despite the aggravation, my parents respect my choice to participate in the demonstrations. They give me freedom to do what I believe is important.

Other young people are not so lucky. Many teenagers attend our protests without their parents’ blessing. They return home to criticism for fighting for democracy, and many end up having to lie to their parents about how they are spending their evenings. I’ve heard stories of parents deleting contacts and social media exchanges from their teenage children’s mobile phones to prevent them from joining activist groups.

My generation’s political awakening has been simmering for years. Nearly five years ago, young people led protests against the wasteful construction of a new rail line connecting Hong Kong to mainland China. In 2011, many young people, myself included, organized to oppose a national education program of Chinese propaganda that Beijing tried to force on us. I was 14 at the time, and all I could think was that the leaders in Beijing have no right to brainwash us with their warped view of the world.

If there is anything positive about the central government’s recent decision on universal suffrage, it’s that we now know where we stand. Beijing claims to be giving us one person, one vote, but a plan in which only government-approved candidates can run for election does not equal universal suffrage. In choosing this route, Beijing has showed how it views the “one country, two systems” formula that has governed the city since 1997. To Beijing, “one country” comes first.

I believe the August decision and the Hong Kong police’s strong reaction to the protesters — firing more than 80 canisters of tear gas into the crowds and using pepper spray and batons — was a turning point. The result is a whole generation has been turned from bystanders into activists. People have been forced to stand up and fight.

Today, there are many middle school students active in the pro-democracy movement: Students as young as 13 have boycotted classes, while teenagers of all ages have been staying overnight at the protest sites. They protest gracefully, despite being attacked by police and hired thugs.

Some people say that given the government’s firm stance against genuine universal suffrage, our demands are impossible to achieve. But I believe activism is about making the impossible possible. Hong Kong’s ruling class will eventually lose the hearts and minds of the people, and even the ability to govern, because they have lost a generation of youth.

In the future I may be arrested again and even sent to jail for my role in this movement. But I am prepared to pay that price if it will make Hong Kong a better and fairer place.

The protest movement may not ultimately bear fruit. But, if nothing else, it has delivered hope.
I would like to remind every member of the ruling class in Hong Kong: Today you are depriving us of our future, but the day will come when we decide your future. No matter what happens to the protest movement, we will reclaim the democracy that belongs to us, because time is on our side.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung is a co-founder of the student activist group Scholarism. This article was translated from the Chinese for The New York Times.

What Joshua Wong and many of the student leaders and supporters of the protests have said as to the goals and reasons for the protest has always been clear and direct.  Even if they have not said a word, one has to ask - why have these protestors been so persistent, spending over five weeks outside under hot sun, pouring rain, chilled by the wind occupying the streets in protest?  Why have they endured pepper spray, tear gas, and violent attacks by thugs hired by the government and by the police? 

They want universal suffrage, real democracy, and freedom - that's why they protest.

The government leaders are always muttering about "Sinister Western Influences" and their supporters parrot this phrase like it was the best explanation for why people are protesting but there's no proof, and there is no outside influence that would be able to motivate these young people to stay in the streets, day after day, night after night. The government is actually paying money to triad members and unemployed folk who have no idea what is going on to pose as anti-protest supporters - even with wages the anti-protest supporters only do a half-assed job of anti-protesting, leaving as soon as 'it is time to leave work' and abandoning their anti-protest placards everywhere on the street. It is idealism that drives the young protestors sacrifice, there's no money in the world that could make them so unwavering in their commitment to their ideals.

We have yet to hear a convincing argument from the anti-protest supporters in support of their position.  Their rationale for being against the protest is muddy, confused, irrational.

"The protestors are creating chaos!"

"The protestors are blocking traffic!"

"With the protestors occupying the street people can't get to work!"

"The protesters are breaking the law by occupying the street!  Breaking the law is wrong!"

"I don't care about universal suffrage, I just want stability!"

"I don't care about democracy, I just want to do business!"

"I don't care about freedom, I just want to make a living!"

"Don't disturb me, just leave me in peace!"

What the anti-protest supporters don't realize is that letting the corrupt, authoritarian communist Chinese government have its way will only lead to more repression.  Just because the anti-protest supporters are not poor, or disenfranchised, they choose to support the corrupt government regime and not to speak out against injustice.

There is a duty for everyone to speak out and stand up against this evil regime.  Today they take away your right to universal suffrage, the next thing they will do is curtail your freedom of expression.  They will squash Hong Kong step by step until the Hong Kong people have nothing left - not even their lives.  Since the Hong Kong handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong people have been like the proverbial frog in the pot - being slowly boiled alive without knowing it.

A song composed in support of the protests - "I promise you an umbrella".  
The umbrella has become one of the symbols of the protests.  
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. - 
Martin Niemöller


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