I attended most of the anti-extradition bill protests since the inception of the infamous article. Week-on-week, I have seen the police escalate the violence; from targeting journalists, to insulting protesters, and now just having complete disregard for the role they are meant to be play in society. While this is not acceptable, it is perfectly understandable; the police force is being given carte-blanche by Carrie Lam. Every time she is being asked, she will profess blind faith in the forces, regardless of the obvious aberrations they may commit.
Even more baffling, as was revealed in her leaked tape, she stated that "the only thing I have is the Hong Kong Police Force". One would think that a seasoned observer of the situation in Hong Kong since its retrocession to China would understand that every time the government has dug its heels and rammed legislation through the throats of Hong-Kongers, they have reacted in kind. Therefore, by unconditionally supporting the police’s actions, not only is she removing any accountability of the HKPF, but she is also furthering disapproval from the population which should be where her support comes from.
However, as the weeks pass, I see a risk looming for the pro-democracy movement’s continued public support. Just a few weeks ago, protesters would brush Carrie’s antics and half-truths off, and keep marching peacefully.
It changed recently as we saw unapologetic destruction of private property (smart lampposts as well as MTR equipment) by the most extreme fringe of the protest movement.
While we can have an academic debate as to whether the average protester supports an increased usage of violence or not, the fact is that there does not seem to be post-facto introspection as to whether matching the police’s escalating violence is the best strategy.
Not only is this playing to Beijing’s narrative of “terrorists senselessly destroying Hong Kong”, but it also risks alienating support from the average Hong-Konger who would fail to see how destroying an MTR turnstile is advancing the cause of democracy.
In any social revendications movement, there are agitators and anarchists. Honestly, I am impressed as to how very few there were considering the massive protests that took place. As a result, I am not so concerned about them if they are shunned by and from the group.
But when weeks of protests turn into months, there is a danger for an increasing number, in letting themselves being defined by the struggle and losing sight of the desired outcome. I have seen signs of this on the front where fully black-clad protesters play martyrs, seeking peer-validation for it.
The brotherhood of the fight, for the lack of a better term, is appealing, heart-warming to an extent, and most of the time, necessary. It is not a problem in itself, but addiction to it is, as it blurs one’s vision. Beyond becoming more tolerant to one’s own violent behaviors, the risk is to obfuscate the goal itself: there are 5 demands, once they are met, the fight is won. If your course of action takes you away from that goal, you must refocus, re-think your strategy, question your assumptions, adapt, …be water!
It may be that now is the time to tone-down the destruction, call-it out when it occurs, and focus on the few political levers that you (we) do have; there are elections just around the corner; the fight needs to, if only temporarily, move to that arena. Get every single elector out, and out-vote the Beijing sycophants who incidentally just recently found a conscience and are proposing ideas after ideas to solve the housing “crisis” which they have helped create.
Do not give them justifications to suppress or delay the elections. Instead, announce the complete suspension of any means of protests on that day.
Protesters, you have the overwhelming support of Hong Kongers, principally because there is complete acceptance of your goals, and, until now, of your means to attain them. That is your strongest asset, and something that the Hong Kong government lacks as a result of its inability or unwillingness to understand your fundamental demands. This asset is critical in your ability to win this fight.
If the fringe activists keep taking violent actions against an increasing number of perceived “enemies”, they will eventually run out of friends…
If the struggle becomes your goal, you will lose public support, and, in the end, lose everything.