I’ve been posting as much as I can about the Hong Kong protests both to my personal Facebook page and to my official Two Americans in China account. I also changed my profile pic to one that shows support for the protesters. I’ve written about it in my newsletter. I’ve been talking to my goddaughter about why movements like the one in Hong Kong are important and have been helping her spread the news to her friends in the mainland. I know many people scoff or laugh at “armchair” activism, but this is an instance where outsiders need to take a step back and let Hong Kong fight their own battle.
When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of occupation by the British, the Sino-British Joint Declaration listed certain rights and promises to the former colony that China would abide by. One of those promises was that Hong Kong would have the right to elect their own top official in 2017, a right generally referred to as “universal suffrage” by Hongkongers. Recently, Xi Jinping’s government announced that Hongkongers would be able to vote on their top official in 2017, but only from a pool of pre-approved pro-Beijing tycoons.
Even though the election is more than two years away, many believe that this is only the beginning of a long-term plan to slowly whittle away at Hong Kong’s rights so that by the time 2017 rolls around, Beijing will actually be the one choosing Hong Kong’s leader and not Hong Kong. However, Hongkongers (mostly students with an awareness of what is happening politically that would rival most American college students) have decided to preempt this attack on their rights and have been protesting en masse Since September 29th. Initially, Beijing replied with tear gas and riot police threatening to use rubber bullets, but has since scaled back their suppression, using unofficial hired goons and Triad members to rough up the protesters instead. Unfortunately, the student protesters are tiring, and the protests appear to be winding down.
Over the weekend, I came across a story about how the infamous hacker group known as Anonymous had “declared war” on the Hong Kong police in support of the students after Beijing began cracking down on the protesters. As a supporter of Hong Kong’s protesters, though, I have to say this type of support is out of line.
This is between the people of Hong Kong and the Beijing government. Any outside help is not needed or wanted and could actually hurt the cause. Hong Kong’s freedom is Hong Kong’s responsibility. Hong Kong does not need outside governments, organizations, or individual people to fight their battles for them. They are perfectly capable of stating their own needs and desires and working toward those goals. Hongkongers do not need White Knights riding in to rescue them.
So what can you do to support the protesters in Hong Kong?
What Hong Kong needs is attention. Many people are afraid that Beijing might crackdown on the protesters in 1989 Tiananmen Square-style violence. This is a genuine concern. However, the only thing China fears more than its own people is how it looks on the world stage. Most likely Beijing stopped the tear gas and armed guard attack on the students last week because the world was watching them and condemning them. By watching, sharing, and talking about the protests in Hong Kong, Beijing loses power over the situation. Listen to what the protesters are saying and spread their message as much as you can.
When I was talking to my mom about Hong Kong over the weekend, she said “oh, that hasn’t really been on the news here. Here the only thing anyone is talking about is the Ebola outbreak.” Seriously? One guy with Ebola is not an outbreak. Pay attention to the news in the world that matters, like Hong Kong. Talk to your kids about what is going on. Talk to your students. Share the protesters’ stories on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media you use.
The other thing you can do is vote
Now, you might think that voting in America won’t affect people on the other side of the world, but how can you support the spread of democracy in the world if you don’t participate in it yourself? We have way too much apathy in America when it comes to the right to vote. This might be because it is a right most of us were born with — we never had to fight for it. But just like the world is (or needs to be) watching Hong Kong, the world is still watching America, too. When we don’t vote (and nearly 40 percent of us don’t), what kind of message is that sending the rest of the world? It says that democracy, freedom, and self-determination (pillars of American society and the major justification for most of America’s wars) aren’t that important. But imagine a world where you don’t have those things. Imagine being a Hongkonger. We all need to set an example for our children, our students, and the rest of the world. We all need to vote. If you are living overseas, visit the Federal Voter Assistance Program to learn how you can still vote this November.
What do you think? How else could people show support for the protesters but not fight their battle for them?