International media describe the recent protests in Hong Kong against the extradition bill as the “last stand.” Martin Lee, the father of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, also refers to “the last fight for Hong Kong.”
There was the air of the “last stand” during the clashes between protestors and the police outside of the Legislative Council building on Wednesday, June 12. Some young protestors seemed to set aside their personal safety and possible long jail terms as they dashed at riot police in full gear marching forward to clear protestors.
It also sounded like the “last stand” when protestor after protestor repeated the message that “we don’t think the government will withdraw the extradition bill, but we are not going to let Hong Kong die without a fight.”
However, protestors should make sure that the recent protests do not mean the last stand, but the beginning of another chapter in Hong Kong’s decades-long struggle for democracy and freedom.
Keeping up Pressure
The Civil Human Rights Front called for a general strike so that supporters could turn out at the Legislative Council building on Wednesday. However, the Front requires a permit from the police and the police would not issue another permit for more protests. What should determined protestors do to keep up the pressure? Equally important, given that the police fired rubber bullets as well as tear gas on Wednesday, what could ordinary people do to continue to protest without risking physical injuries and arrests?
Studies of civil disobedience point out that “methods of dispersal,” when protestors launch stay-aways, strikes, and boycotts, can be as effective as “methods of concentration,” when protestors gather at central locations.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) June 12, 2019
The best payoff of mass demonstrations is to demonstrate people power. The 1-million strong demonstration on Sunday, June 9, has already galvanized local and international support. For next steps, protestors should think more about “methods of dispersal.” People on strike do not necessarily have to come to the Legislative Council building to make an impact.
Targeted Economic Boycott
Hong Kong’s business elites are overwhelmingly pro-Beijing for that is where the money is. But the “follow the money” logic also gives Hong Kong’s humble citizens some ability to sanction tycoons, since these figures make their fortunes not only from lucrative contracts with Beijing but also from the everyday purchases of millions of ordinary Hong Kong citizens. A targeted consumer boycott might make businesses rethink their continued collusion with the government.
During the Umbrella Movement of 2014, protestors circulated a list of pro-establishment businesses for boycott and urged supporters to go to local mom-and-pop shops instead. It was unfortunate that this potentially more effective tactic was not taken seriously then. Occupation of busy streets captured the world’s attention, but it was not sustainable for long because many people had to go back to work or to school.
Now that the government is determined to clear protestors to prevent Occupy 2.0, protestors have to find other civil disobedience tactics to keep the momentum. Gene Sharp, the architect of nonviolent action, listed 198 noncooperation methods.
The general strike could be expanded. It could be more effective if civil servants can be convinced to join. It would be particularly helpful if individual police officers could be persuaded by relatives and friends to not fire at protestors. Protestors themselves could also update the list of pro-establishment businesses for targeted boycott and pro-democracy businesses for targeted support.
When young people feel that there are alternative nonviolent methods to keep the fire burning, they do not have to hurl bottles and barricades at the police, which only gives the government the perfect excuse to crack down harder. It is also bad optics when international media show pictures of clashes rather than disciplined people power.
The current fight against the extradition bill does not have to be the “last stand” if protestors find alternative methods of civil disobedience to keep up the pressure.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.