Commentary: The fight behind closed doors at home in Hong Kong

Commentary: The fight behind closed doors at home in Hong Kong

The city is torn over the protests and the struggle continues at home, among friends and in chat groups, says Doris Lam.

A train passenger gestures towards a Hong Kong protester
A passenger gestures towards a protester after he prevented the doors of a MTR underground train from closing at Fortress Hill station during morning disruptions to the rush hour commute in Hong Kong, Aug 5, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

HONG KONG: To say that there’s not much Hong Kongers will be shocked by at this point is not far from the truth.

It’s been 11 weeks since the first anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong.

The most recent tipping point occurred when a young woman allegedly lost an eye after police fired a bean bag into the crowd at Tsim Sha Tsui in mid-August, triggering a five-day airport sit-in, a two-day airport shut down and forcing 200 flights to get cancelled.

The woman has now become a figurehead for Hong Kong’s protests, as protesters stood by airport gates covering one eye to show support and bring awareness to the incident.

A NEW NORMAL

Weekly protests and chaos are now the norm in the city. Tear gas no longer evokes surprise, although tough police action continues to make headlines.

If anything, these high-profile clashes with police forces and stories of specific protesters getting hurt in the process have reignited a fire, and led to an expansion of the fight against the extradition bill into a broader march for more ambitious political goals of democracy and free speech.

READ: Commentary: How did Hong Kong, my home, turn into a war zone?

These developments have generated huge discussion among Hong Kongers, even if they aren’t involved in the protests. 

Some people say that Hong Kong has no future if they persist — and to an extent they are right. No one likes to live with constant violence, scheduled disruptions, or have tear gas thrown into their streets.

Hong Kong tear gas
Protesters react to tear gas from Shum Shui Po police station in Hong Kong. (Photo: AP/Vincent Yu)

But many Hong Kong residents who have participated in these demonstrations feel deeply that going to these great lengths are in the greater good and will help create a brighter future for Hong Kong.

A WILD AND UNPREDICTABLE TURN

While I sympathise with the goals of the protests, however, I myself hesitate to join in. For one, the protests can take a wild and unpredictable turn.

Just this past Sunday (Aug 25), at least one police officer drew his weapon and fired one warning shot into the sky. At least one water cannon was used for the first time this summer after protesters hurled sticks, rods and even Molotov cocktails. 

Indeed, developments seem to be getting out of hand where protesters seem to be using disruption to draw press attention, and resort to dangerous means that could hurt people.

READ: Commentary: Could 'black hands' be behind the Hong Kong protests?

READ: Commentary: How a leaderless movement in Hong Kong went haywire

That comes at a serious cost to them as well. This past week, at least 86 were arrested, many of whom risk having a permanent black mark on their record.

Protesters may be putting their future or even their own lives at risk to stand for what they believe in. 

But even if only a small proportion resort to extreme tactics, it only takes one small mistake for actions to spiral out of control and lose the cause its moral legitimacy.

The ensuing violent exchanges have given both protesters and authorities a bad reputation, while dividing Hong Kong residents watching these developments. 

An anti-extradition bill protester throws a Molotov cocktail as protesters clash with riot police d
A protester throws a Molotov cocktail as protesters clash with riot police during a rally at Tsuen Wan in Hong Kong on Aug 25, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Make no mistake. Under no circumstances can the use of violence be justified, but many will also be watching the police force's responses for any outright abuse of power.

Incidents such as the assault on a 62-year-old man at the hospital in late June and a strip search of a female Hong Kong protester just a few weeks ago are clear examples the police may be veering into a troubling infringement on the rights of citizens.

TORN

The prolonged protests may be entrenching a divide in Hong Kong society. There are reports of older Hong Kong residents hitting out at protesters and saying that Hong Kong has no future if protests keep going.

On Facebook and some private Whatsapp groups, protesters are chastised as brainless followers of Donald Trump for desiring democracy like America, and called disruptors of public order who deserve to be beaten by the police.

Degrading memes of Joshua Wong, swear words and angry emojis take up a large chunk of these chats.

As foreign as that may sound, in reality, the people in these chat groups are likely relatives, friends and coworkers of protesters and those fighting against the extradition bill. 

It’s uncomfortable to stay in these group chats but it’s equally uncomfortable when you exit them, knowing that awkward questions will follow the second you leave.

People react over the presence of police during rally held by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade
People react over the presence of police during rally held by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions after a number of crew members in the aviation industry were let go for joining the anti-extradition bill protests, in Hong Kong, China, August 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

READ: 'You don’t know what you are doing': Hong Kong’s older generation hits back as protests turn violent

READ: Commentary: How Hong Kong’s protests are affecting its economy

Here is the lesser-known story about the Hong Kong protests: The fight behind closed doors at home and how likely it is to find someone with a very different point of view, whether an extradition bill supporter or people who are simply against the protests, in your own social circle.

Personally, I know a few university students who have tried to talk to their anti-protest parents. Sadly, many of these conversations ended in heavy conflict and resentment in the household.

These are challenging discussions to have with loved ones, but even more difficult to avoid having for many youths who feel strongly about their objectives.

Last Sunday (Aug 25), Hong Kongers as young as 12 have chosen to go against their parents’ wishes by going out to the protests. 

A group of middle-school students dressed in masks and protective gear were out at the protests. The police announced the next day that Hong Kongers aged 12 to 15 were arrested when the march turned violent.     

Parents and social workers were called afterwards. On social media, questions such as “Did the parents know they were out?” and “Are they alone because their parents do not share the same views?” mushroomed.

Many protesters are putting their family relationships on the line by going out to protest. Some have chosen to hide their actual views to maintain peace at home and to show respect for their parents.

People write messages on post-it notes as they take part in a rally held by the Hong Kong Confedera
People write messages on post-it notes as they take part in a rally held by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions in Hong Kong, China on Aug 28, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

READ: Commentary: It's Hong Kong's elites who have failed the city

Either way, going out to protests doesn't mean they respect their family any less, and abstaining from protests doesn't necessarily mean they are less supportive of the movement.

TURNING BACK TIME

People angry at protesters want everything to go back to the time before the protests started, when streets were undisrupted and the city was peaceful.

That ironically doesn’t make them very different from the protesters, who see themselves as fighting for peace, freedom and the ability to live in our city without having to our dilute thoughts and opinions in fear of arrest.

To quote journalism professor Yuen Chan on Twitter:

People say Hong Kong is dying, but what you're seeing is a city refusing to die.

I see one that’s very much alive. The flame is flickering but it’s a light that’s refusing to be extinguished.

Doris Lam will be graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a Bachelor of Arts in 2020.

Source: CNA/sl

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