Today, while most students at Yale attend class, our counterparts in Hong Kong are sitting in the streets, protesting against autocratic encroachment from mainland China.
About a month ago, Beijing ruled that, although every Hong Kong resident could vote in the chief executive election, candidates had to be chosen by a selection committee, guaranteeing that only pro-Beijing candidates would be nominated. Last Friday, university and high school students went on strike. The protests escalated on Sunday as a large, pro-democracy group called Occupy Central joined. They occupied the front of Hong Kong’s city government headquarters along with other downtown areas in hopes of disrupting the business and political elite of this typically orderly city.
What happened next was shocking. In response to an entirely peaceful demonstration, Hong Kong’s police cracked down with surprising force and faced protesters in the streets with militaristic guns and tear gas. The Chinese government and Hong Kong’s chief executive issued statements endorsing such police actions. This only caused the protest to grow and over 50,000 protesters donned goggles, cling film and rain coats. They used umbrellas to deflect the worst of the gas and the spray.
It is devastating to see the images of tear gas and armored police on the streets that I know so well. I could hardly believe that photos similar to the protests that engulfed Ferguson, MO, were emerging from my hometown. The rapid escalation of the protests in Hong Kong point to the deep fears and anxieties that are embedded in Hong Kong society.
Neither the protestors nor Beijing seems likely to concede. Over the last decade, China has adopted an increasingly hard-line position against open elections. At the same time, democratic leaders in Hong Kong have come to expect more and more. Today’s dissenters are making all-or-nothing demands for free and open elections. As Beijing fears that the democratic movement will spread and gain traction in the mainland, it is unimaginable that Beijing will walk back on its ruling, in spite of the thousands of protesters who are understandably angry.
Today’s protests are a reflection of the radical polarization of Hong Kong society. While many Hong Kongers have rushed to assist the protesters, others call them radicals and violent dissidents. Popular opinion remains sorely divided over the protests and the fight for democracy. While only a few months ago, roughly one in seven citizens voted in a referendum in support of Occupy Central’s agenda, nearly the same number of residents signed a petition against the Occupy Central movement.
I am heartbroken to see Hong Kong torn apart by such polarization.
On Oct. 1, I will stand with the protestors on the streets of Hong Kong in support of their call for democracy. I, too, yearn for democracy, as the needs of many disenfranchised and marginalized Hong Kong citizens have been neglected. Only through proper representation will the interests and concerns of our citizens be fully addressed. I believe that democracy is a crucial step in helping to fix our broken political system. But democracy will not flourish in a society that is divided and distrustful. In order for democracy to take hold, it is important for both sides — the Hong Kong government and political establishment as well as all those who struggle for democracy — to come to the negotiating table and build a new future for Hong Kong.
Our “Wear Yellow for Hong Kong” movement is an overseas coalition of students, who have pledged to work towards full democracy in Hong Kong. We support all efforts to rebuild trust in our community through dialogue, persuasion, peaceful activism and popular demonstrations. We urge all parties to move towards reconciliation and compromise, as only with broad support can we find a path to successful democratic political reform. Although Hong Kong may not have truly free and open elections in 2017, we will work to build up the pro-democratic movement so that one day Hong Kong people will live to see true democracy realized.
As I show solidarity with the pro-democracy protesters on Oct. 1 by wearing yellow, I also pray that the protests will end peacefully and bring about an era where a broad coalition will work toward the successful implementation of democracy in Hong Kong.
Even if you may not know much about Hong Kong politics, it will be a powerful sign if college students across the country show their belief in the importance of democracy by wearing yellow. The global movement to “Wear Yellow for Hong Kong” supports not only pursuing democracy in Hong Kong, but also gaining support for our cause through peaceful activism.
Christina Wong is a junior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.