Entering the sixth month of protests, events in Hong Kong took another turn when a police officer discharged their firearm at a protestor on Monday, leaving him in critical condition. The week prior, a student protestor died after falling from a parking garage, seemingly while trying to avoid tear gas. The further escalation in violence is a reminder of the very real stakes activists protesting for a better society face, and it’s not likely to deescalate soon. Many of the protestors are college students or of the same age, fighting for their freedom in spite of the danger. It takes pure courage to do this, and citizens in the United States should look towards the protests in Hong Kong not as foreign troubles but an inspirational demonstration of people’s willpower.
The protests in Hong Kong started in June, over an extradition bill allowing Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to mainland China. Hong Kong views themselves as autonomous from China in many ways, and the extradition bill was seen as overreach from the Chinese government. Protests raged over the city since then, continuing even when the extradition bill was repealed in September. Ultimately, the protestors are still fighting for reasonable demands such as the release of all captured protestors and their amnesty and independent investigations of police brutality.
Like many protests, young people and college students figure prominently in the ranks of demonstrators. Unlike many protests in the US, the protestors are actually taking direct action in the fight for change. This means they are taking the protest beyond simple rallies and marches, and in return are being beaten and tear gassed for it. Still, they keep on fighting, even after multiple skirmishes, injuries and a ban on wearing masks—with their autonomy on the line, they have yet to let anything stop them.
In the US direct action feels frustratingly rare. When the daughter of local distributor of Starbucks in China made comments against the protestors, the protestors vandalized various Starbucks locations. In America we’re lucky if people can organize a boycott that goes beyond a few people breaking things they already bought for the sake of an angry Facebook video. Activism is unfortunately slacktivism and I’m guilty of it too. We rely far too much on petitions, marches and hashtags and have no stomach to support protestors who cross the imaginary “civility” line to protect their land or community. In Hong Kong protestors are demanding the demonstrations not be referred to as riots, but in America no one stands up to demand the same label be scrubbed from the demonstrations in Ferguson.
The events going on in Hong Kong are so important because of how they tie into the larger history of protest between government and citizens. The protestors in Hong Kong are young people fighting for what is right and for progress. We in America saw how powerful that can be during the civil rights movement. Many of the protestors in Hong Kong are fighting for expanded suffrage. We in America know how tiresome that fight was for women in the 1920s. Now the protestors are facing violence at the hands of their own government. We in America will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the shooting at Kent State next year, where four college students were killed by their own National Guard. Americans know who were on the right and wrong sides of each of these conflicts, and need to know the people of Hong Kong are on the right side in their own struggle. Right now, the people of Hong Kong are asking for our help. They deserve our show of support to help encourage them to keep fighting for their freedoms, it would be un-American not to offer them that.
For their credit, many Americans are showing solidarity with Hong Kong. When gaming company Blizzard banned a player for supporting Hong Kong, gamers started a boycott against the company. Members in Congress are passing bills supporting the protestors. College students are organizing demonstrations in a show of support. Momentum needs to keep flowing in their direction, and whatever Americans can do to help Hong Kongers preserve their autonomy needs to be placed center stage and fought for.
Vincent Rendon can be reached at Vrendon@Sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @VinceSagebrush.