It’s been almost a year since demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest the now-pulled Extradition Bill. Police beatings, riots, political arrests, student walk-outs, and property damage have all followed with the government in Hong Kong and China attempting to portray everything as a one-off with very little public support. Reality is much different from Beijing’s fantasy with pro-democracy candidates making major inroads in District Council races forcing HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam to promise to reflect on the results. She also vowed to not step down from her position while visiting the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week.
There’s still much to discuss and process about Hong Kong and the coronavirus-caused pause, along with the Lunar New Year, might be the best opportunity for both sides to reflect on the past year. It’s doubtful the tension and conflict will end, and police launched more tear gas at protesters last night, but this shouldn’t cause any of the “Five Demands. Not One Less” crowd from backing down.
“The greater threat to the legitimacy of the local and central governments is posed not by noisy, violent, attention-grabbing protesters, but by the portion of the population who think of themselves as pro-democracy,” Benjamin Wilson wrote at Hong Kong Free Press yesterday in a retrospective of the current climate. “This includes those who identify as part of the movement even if they disagree with some of the more radical actions committed by demonstrators, or have never physically attended a protest or taken part in social media debate, or breathed a word about their political opinion to others.”
Wilson’s theory is the protests have planted the seed of democracy inside the minds of Hongkongers. That seed, he hopes, will eventually become a full-fledged tree overtaking the rest of the forest of ideas in Hong Kong.
The big test for Wilson’s hope is the September elections in the Legislative Council. Democracy advocates won’t get a majority The Economist reported last November due to the rules put together by China, however, they might be able to get more of a say in issues including whoever becomes chief executive. This would be a victory if the right candidate is selected.
There is still plenty of fear in Hong Kong about what is coming next. The Wall Street Journal wrote last month the so-called “Greens,” people who see themselves as neutral in the clash between police and protesters, are becoming more fraught for the future. One woman opined the region is “not right” because of the events of the past year. She understands the pro-democracy protesters but is still fearful there’s no way to cross the current divide due to violence on both sides.
Those fears might be alleviated if Wilson’s theory comes true.
“As this anti-authoritarian identity is consolidated – paradoxically, by the very forces intended to stamp it out – the movement has carved its values into the fabric of contemporary Hong Kong culture,” Wilson suggests while also pointing out the changing social and political climate. “The adoption of a protest anthem; the sustained local coverage and endless reports of confrontations, on the street, in bars, at university campuses, between pro-Beijing and pro-democracy supporters; and the wide international response – all strengthen the position occupied by protesters as the most significant issue affecting Hong Kong in our times.”
Are there things Americans can do as individuals to strengthen pro-democracy forces outside of the hashtagivism of social media (which isn’t bad but more can always be done)? Absolutely! Groups like Demosisto, Freedom HONG KONG, Democracy for Hong Kong, Hong Kong Free Press, and Hong Kong Democracy Fire all exist and need support to keep the fight for freedom going in Hong Kong. This could be more powerful than any kind of legislation passed by Washington, DC because the money goes directly to Hongkongers and allies looking to stay organized in 2020.
The fight for freedom in Hong Kong is not going away, despite the hopes of Beijing. Protesters need to stand firm in their beliefs. Hopefully, the demonstrations will keep going and eventually force the government to respond diplomatically instead of with further violence.