Thoughts on umbrella revolution

Had a great lunch with Elene and Tings Etc to discuss the ongoings in HK, gaining a lot more insight.

I know a lot of fellow leftists have been skeptical about the nature of the protests in HK and whether it’s worth supporting. A lot of the criticism is legitimate (though there is also a caveat). Firstly, it does appear that unlike the early-2000s (when I was living in HK and involved in the democracy movement) where an economic critique was very central to protests, the economic critique (never really picked up by the Western media in the first place) has become less emphasized. Secondly, a nativist discourse (apparent to anyone who has visited HK in the last decade) has become stronger and stronger. I have found it odd that unlike my past experiences, the languages has moved from ‘Democracy in China’ and supporting our Chinese compatriots, to ‘Democracy in Hong Kong’ and ‘Hong Kong for Hong Kongers’. This is highly problematic and can be seen with racist (especially against mainlanders) views from supposedly left group like Wong Yuk Man’s People Power party that has pushed for immigration restrictions and blaming the housing shortage on migrants. We also see it with really odd revisionists that romanticize British rule, wearing t-shirts and carrying flags with colonial symbolism. Though the one nuance with this whole HK identity thing is that it seems to be (relatively) more inclusive of HK’s S. Asian population – and I’ve seen critiques from that perspective in response to difficulties for members of the S. Asian communities in getting citizenship (though this too is unfortunately often used to once again debase Mainlanders – “These people are more deserving of citizenship than you mainlanders!”.

Now, the caveat is that there is still significant leftist analysis, however marginalized, held by various left groups and unions that are a part of the movement and the fact is, there is heavy working-class involvement (remember, a general strike has been called and groups like the Dockworkers, Bus Drivers, and Coca Cola Factory Workers are on strike). And indeed, I still genuinely believe that the core grievances that have drawn many to the streets, are concerns about income inequality, housing inaffordability, and lack of labour protection – all exemplified by a legislative system where corporate sectors, including banks and textile companies, literally have seats in the legislature. As well, (I am not sure if I am recounting the explanation completely accurately but) this new generation of youth/students that have taken primacy in the movement and their involvement can be partially credited to an earlier movement opposed to efforts by the government to ‘depoliticize’ (or more accurately to remove critical analysis and introduce nationalist/pro-government emphasis) education and the teachers that were influenced by this movement and began teaching at the time. These teachers saw critical gender, sexuality, class, race analysis as central to their work and if this thinking has really taken hold amongst these young activists, perhaps the analysis is a little more substantive than given credit for. Ultimately, however, surely we must recognize collective action in itself, especially in the context of individualized consumerism so often seen as a mantra of HK society, opens up the opportunity for a consciousness-raising that rejects neoliberalism and embraces solidarity. One of the more inspiring tidbits I came across was a segment that played during a live stream where various participants were interviewed – highlights included: construction workers building temporary stairwell for crossing highway meridians, ambulance workers volunteering at a medical station, truck driver delivering supplies and taking away garbage, regular folks cooking for one another. Surely, the nature of this collective action, this collective care can in itself act as a critique against those that suggest that the status quo for all its faults is the only solution. Hesitation at supporting the umbrella revolution is not unfounded, but, for now anyways, I prefer to err towards the side of possibility, of opportunity.

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