Hong Kong’s Democratic Movement – A Unique Protest Culture that Guarantees Success Never
When one thinks of protest, one can picture that the people are unsatisfied by the government and have decided to take action over certain matters, to show the government (whether or not elected democratically by the people) that what it is doing is against the will of the people. Ultimately, the function of a protest is to make the government listen to the people, with the implicit threat that otherwise the people will make sure their demands are met – even if that means overthrowing the government.
We have seen thousands and thousands of protests in the world, and many end in bloodshed. It is no doubt sad but one has to pay a price for what one wants, and on the road to democracy and to freedom, prices often are high. Yes, blood will be shed, and yes those in power, democratically elected or not, will most certainly use propaganda to label the protests as “violent” or “irrational”. However, when a government goes against the peoples will’, or worse, betrays its people, the rational response is to behave “irrationally” – it is only human nature. After all, not all violence is visible and will directly cause death: bloodless violence does not mean that no harm is done. This type of violence carried out by a regime, or by people in power, will almost certainly trigger violence led by angry people – the people who no longer trust the government and doubt the credibility of those in power.
People protest with the aim of changing what is wrong in society. People want to make sure the changes happen. For better or worse, changes will bring new ideas to the regime, or even a new government that will listen to the people and respect their will. Demonstrations reinforce to those in power the fact that it is the people who give the government the privilege to serve, reminding the world of the foundations of democracy: A government is accountable to its people.
We have seen how Ukrainians rejected their government earlier this year. Of course we have all seen the videos of musicians playing music in front of fully-armed police troopers. Of course we have all watched the videos of Ukrainians explaining to the world what they are trying to achieve. All of these seemed peaceful and rational. However, when their voices were not heard, they marched on. They threw rocks at the police, who are supposed to be the servants of the people and protect the people, but instead were obeying a regime that ordered them to kill civilians. The police used their truncheons on the people, and snipers shot to kill.
The word “riot” is always used by governments seeking to bolster their own legitimacy in the face of a people who have decided that they will no longer accept their lies and betrayals! Words are amazing things: they control how the public see a certain issue, they plant ideas in our minds without us knowing, they are the best invention for those in power to continue brutality, and they are the killing machines which those who are high up deploy to manipulate the world’s point of view in the international arena.
In Hong Kong, the situation is completely different. Not that Hongkongers do not wish to have democracy, not that the government is less tyrannical than others, not that there are not protests. The key difference is the existence of “professional protesters”. These are those who take pains to appear to be helping Hongkongers on different issues: may it be broad topics like referendum and democracy, or local-scale issues like the construction of incinerators or the expansion of land-fills in certain areas. However, their goal is to take control (or hijack) the issue by representing the people. These people are high profile and are shape themselves as the frontline fighters in Hong Kong.
They violate the natural rules of protest. They promote peaceful, rational, non-(physically) violent and non-verbally-violent protests, but all these strictures apply only to protesters: That is to say that when the police use violence against protesters, they would tell protesters to remain non-violent and accept their fate – to be brutalised.
How do they do that? Let’s sum it up in a ten step routine they apply to EVERY PROTEST:
- An issue is brought up, and a small concern group is formed by the individuals being affected directly by the issue (e.g. Northeast New Territories Development Plan which will affect some villagers more directly than others, but it is important to acknowledge that the Plan will dissolve Hong Kong’s border which will lead to a catastrophic butterfly effect – so the issue is broader than it is being portrayed to the public)
- “Professional protesters” get involved and present themselves to be the approachable “protest experts” to the concern group
- When the “protest” comes around, the “professional protesters” will allow the concern group/the subject of the matter to speak on stage to attract more people and media, generating public support. These “protesters” will wait for the perfect moment, very patiently, sometimes days for days (e.g. the anti brainwashing-national-education-curriculum protest)
- When the moment comes, the “professional protesters” will take to the stage and hijack the protest
- The “professional protesters” will make a moving statement praising the concern group/affected individuals for their courage and determination to take the matter on, making everyone’s blood boil and bringing the atmosphere to a climax
- The “professional protesters” will then call for a photo opportunity for the media to take pictures to commemorate the event – a trophy for them, as their image as frontline fighters is reinforced once again
- They then will give the stage back to the concern group, and begin negotiating with them what the next step should be, behind the scenes. The group and the supporters will be left there to carry on chanting, shouting slogans, or worse, singing songs. They will talk the concern group down and the typical reasons they give to call it a day are, “we have achieved a great deal” (the ultimate goal is far from being achieved!), “you guys are really tired”, “the government and the public have heard our voice”, “let’s be strategic and focus our energy on our next move”, “the public is clearly on our side, look at the turnout!”
- The tired concern groups are talked down and their passion is weakened. Because of the “credibility” these “professional protesters” enjoy, the concern group believes in the key advice given by these “protest experts” – it is a long term game
- When they persuade the concern group successfully, the “professional protesters” retake the stage and announce on behalf of the concern group that, “we have made our voice heard today/tonight! We could not have done all this without you and the support of the people of Hong Kong, right? (every one shouts YEAH!)” and then, “let’s give ourselves a round of applause!”
- The “professional protesters” will then talk their way out and conclude the protest. The protest ends peacefully without challenging the regime, the government, the people in power – in fact the protest is concluded without achieving any of the goals originally set, let alone any demands being fulfilled.
Protests in Hong Kong end peacefully, every time, but no one ever asks why even though 99% of these protests preserve the status quo. No one follows up, and the “professional protesters” carry on looking for other topics and issues to dominate in order to build their reputations as the “face of democracy, and the power of the people” despite the fact that they have done, almost always, more harm than good.
Truth be told, people’s movements require no leader. Unfortunately, Hongkongers do not seem to be able to function without a leader in any circumstances – that is exactly why many Hongkongers began to use the term “Kong-sheep” to describe ourselves: desperate to follow.
In some recent occasions, anonymous protesters have volunteered to participate in protests even though the subject matter does not directly affect them. These protesters do not buy into the routine “professional protesters” practice throughout all these years, but believe that when the government is dysfunctional and can no longer be trusted, the people should overthrow it.
To Hong Kong’s eternal grief, these volunteers are always abandoned on-site without fail. The “professional protesters” will always stop them by taking the moral high grond: “this is not what the concern group wants! They want a peaceful and rational protest!” “Violence is bad in any circumstances (no matter what the government has done and what bloodless violence the regime has engaged in)!” All these may sound perfect at the point when a true peoples’ movement begins, but to a dictatorship or a government that is not accountable to its people, it is more than music to their ears!
Without disrupting the system by disobeying those in power, the people have zero chance to achieve what they demand – something these volunteering protesters understand. They are bold, but at the same time, they understand how corrupt the authorities and uniformed forces are. That is why they want to protect themselves with masks or cover – what we see as “black bloc” in many protests. However, the “professional protesters” will jump out to condemn these individuals as spies planted by the authorities and convince the “subjects of the protest (concern group)” to believe their story.
The individuals volunteering as protesters risk their personal safety for what they believe in, and for the concern group’s interests. However, they are being dismissed and often betrayed by the “professional protesters”.
Often times, lawmakers, who come across as being pro-democracy (a stand which once taken seems to lend a teflon quality to all adopters), are the first to condemn these “irrational acts” and even side with the authority to “prevent” any “violence” from happening again by endorsing the reinforcement of security around these events. Some even criticise protesters for wearing masks (surgical or otherwise Guy Fawkes masks) and demand that them surrender themselves to the police. If you read the news, you will find out who these people are.
Traitors of the people often come in disguise. Only when we realise who those traitors are can we break free from the burdens that have been laid on us all over the past decades, and really take control of the society that we want to make better.
If we continue to believe that the representatives in the legislative council will be able to resolve our problems, and lower our guard, we will be sold out. Because many of them, politicians or “experts”, are no different from the corrupt. Perhaps with the exception of the care with which they have painted their masks to gain the seats that you and I pay for.