From the months-long anti-extradition protests to Monday’s territory-wide strikes, Hong Kongers have impressed the world with their unwavering faith, courage and perseverance to defend themselves against police cruelty. Despite political pressure from Beijing, they have, more than they realize, achieved significant political, social and cultural change as the territory lurches into a new era of non-violent activism.
First, the summer is usually uneventful for university and high-school students, but this year, rather than going to summer camp or doing seasonal work, they have forged a political rite of passage — protesting in the streets and clashing with police.
Through interacting with people from all sections of society, young advocates are rejecting a popular misconception that peaceful resistance is composed of numerous symbolic protests aimed at raising public awareness, but lacks a strategy to achieve meaningful transformation.
What people are seeing in the escalating protests and strikes is a new wave of democratic populism that penetrates all levels of Hong Kong society. A culture of urban mobilization has emerged and has revolutionized the local political landscape.
Coming together with hope, people are willing to stand up to defend their civil rights.
Beyond spontaneous acts of courage, moments of collective resistance inspire more dedicated advocates to fight for progressive change.
Second, the waves of grassroots resistance underscore the institutional hypocrisy of Beijing’s “one country, two systems” framework. Everyone sees that no constitutional mechanism exists to check the abuse of power by public officials.
When Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) refused to make concessions to calm the public mood, the police authorities recruited extrajudicial groups, such as criminal gangs, village thugs and retired officers, to brutalize and assault law-abiding citizens.
Ever since the widely televised mob attacks against commuters in Yuen Long on July 21, Beijing and its handpicked agents in the territory have launched a smear campaign against peaceful demonstrators. China’s Liaison Office and local police allegedly orchestrated the gang violence, deliberately undermining the rule of law and imposing a reign of terror.
The threat of a violent crackdown has become more real by the day, as Beijing has announced to be prepared for a military intervention in Hong Kong. However, having endured police tear gas attacks and the thugs’ indiscriminate beatings, Hong Kongers have overcome the fear of death. They keep fighting week-in, week-out to force the Lam administration to open up the autocratic system.
Third, the protesters have good reasons to oppose blind submission to authoritarian rulers. They are laying the foundation for an ideational order where legitimate authority is to be fairly distributed among the people, not monopolized by a few.
Democracy relies on the passions and abilities of citizens, and genuine activism should be open to everyone, rather than being the preserve of superheroes. Implementing incremental change nonviolently requires the art of working with people to get the best deal possible. Along the way, advocates learn to resist, coordinate and compromise.
American community organizer Saul David Alinsky once said that effective political action should be assessed on the basis of provoking a specific reaction from the other side. Following in the same footsteps, Hong Kongers are down-to-earth and pragmatic, striving for efficiency in everything they do.