As the Occupy Central protests end and the ruckus of the umbrella movement slowly dies down after 77 days, it might be time (and maybe even a little overdue) to take a look at the flip side.
The media has predominantly focused on the nonviolent, innovative tactics of the Umbrella movement, depicting the protests as a genuine movement for freedom and democracy. Indeed, the movement has had international support due to its pro-democratic nature and many Singaporeans have pledged solidarity with the crusade. The political awakening of the Hong Kong people, and particularly the youth, has engendered a positive surge in political engagement and support for democracy.
This is all well and good, but it might also be prudent to look at the bigger picture. We are all taught to take any form of media with a pinch of salt and in this case, it might be interesting to consider the cameras and who might be holding them. Looking at the majority of pictures and videos of the movement, we are constantly shown the police force in a negative light from the perspective of the protestors.
Could the media however be influencing our perceptions? The violence used by the police force is undeniable, made clear by the teargas and the metal batons used to disperse protesters. But what might escape the public eye is the reciprocal violence; an image on Facebook of protesters with their hands raised in surrender omitted their legs that continued kicking the policemen.
Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the originators of the campaign, sought to send a message without causing major disruption. Their goal from the outset was a passive resistance campaign to ensure that the Hong Kong’s Chief Executive is elected by Universal Suffrage. Occupy Central was to be of a defined duration, after which they would surrender, offering no resistance if arrested or removed by the police. However, groups with a more radical agenda urged more direct and confrontational protest actions including radicals smashing the doors of the Legislative Council building. A shocking video captured by South China Morning Post, revealed students beating and kicking a plain-clothed undercover policeman unconscious. The increasing violence led many Hong Kong scholars, social leaders and politicians sympathetic to the movement to worry about the radical direction it was taking.
This drift away from the initial idea of non-violence is coupled with a drift away from the philosophical principles of the Umbrella uprising. When the protesters are shouting for democracy, do they know what they’re fighting for? Or is this a case of mob mentality?
Certainly, many individuals would have a profound understanding of the notion and everything it stands for. But the question asked to a number of occupiers concerning the essence of democracy incited a worrying silence. “It is at least a tiny bit worrying,” Albert Gazely comments on Facebook, “[that] what is causing tension is that the Democrats are not really talking about freedom of speech, but their right to overthrow and replace the chief executive.”
Much of the anger among protesters is directed toward Chinese officials, who are determined to pre-vet top candidates through a pro-Beijing nominating committee, and the Hong Kong government that accepted that decision. Thus, for some protesters, a main reason for fighting for the ability to freely elect their own leaders.
In the upcoming election for CE in 2017, Hong Kongers want to be able to have a voice. With an emerging sense of Hong Kong identity, demonstrators called for an electoral reform and demanded for democracy, opening up new and refreshing perspectives on the presence of democracy in Hong Kong.
Yet Michael Chugani observes in his column on South China Morning Post, that “more than two months of civil disobedience has brought Hong Kong no closer to so-called genuine democracy.” A poll conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong foreshadows another wave of mass migration, revealing that just over 21% of respondents would consider leaving the city in its current climate. Gazeley is therefore unerring in suggesting that “should recklessness cause [Hong Kong] to commit suicide, it will be to the advantage of nobody and the destruction of many.”
Is violence the best way to fight for universal suffrage? How about the views of Hong Kong residents who weren’t protesting? Will Hong Kong lose its glitter because of or despite of the uprising? These are all questions that we should ask in the wake of the struggle for a much needed reformation, questions that are, to many, obscured by the umbrellas.
Photos: Francis Hui
Tiffany Hung reports from Hong Kong.