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Truthdiggers of the Week: Hong Kong Protesters

    A protester holds an umbrella during a performance on a main road in the occupied areas outside government headquarters in Hong Kong on Oct. 9 Photo by Kin Cheung

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

Participants in the unfinished uprisings of the West and Middle East of the past few years were heartened to see residents of Hong Kong take to the streets Sept. 26. What has been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” by media and the “Polite Revolution” by some who noted the orderly conduct of many of the demonstrators began when a legislative body of the Chinese government proposed electoral reforms that would limit the public’s choice of political candidates to a handful of individuals selected by a committee nominated by regional businessmen. Protests against the proposal continue into mid-October, with demonstrators defying police warnings and returning to the streets after talks between organizers and the government collapsed Friday.

The demonstrators have received the standard treatment from the authorities. Students and activists who sense an opportunity to remake their society on more democratic terms have been met with pepper spray, tear gas and police maneuvers intended to intimidate and disperse, including arrests, as well as assault by paid thugs. The number of protesters in the streets and outside government headquarters has grown, dwindled and swelled again to the tens of thousands amid threatening language, ultimatums and deadlines for demonstrating set by the government.

Like Occupy Wall Street in the United States, no single group leads the protests. The leaders come from coalitions of pro-democracy activists, including the civil disobedience campaign Occupy Central with Love and Peace, Hong Kong Federation of Students, and the student group Scholarism, founded and led by 17-year-old United Christian College student Joshua Wong.

Wong, whose father made sure he had contact with poor and suffering people as a child, is among the roughly 30 demonstrators who have been arrested. He was released Sept. 28 when a judge ruled the police had held him for an unreasonably long time. Wong is given to fiery rhetoric, urging protesters at a mass gathering last week to “come to occupy the road outside the public headquarters, come bring your tents to show our persistence on long term occupy action.”

Wong has spoken of the need for international support for the demonstrators’ cause. Responding to a question from The Wall Street Journal about President Obama’s comments on the protests, Wong said, “Hong Kong needs more than a few words from Obama. They need public pressure from international media. We need U.S. citizens to come out and support us. If we all truly believe in universal values of democracy, freedom, human rights and rule of law, we hope more people can pressure the government.”

Out of a desire to avoid connotation with violence, many people involved in the protests have resisted the application of the word “revolution” to their movement. Have the activists of Hong Kong learned something from the stalled campaigns for democracy in the West and the Middle East? Their effort is young and its future uncertain, but observers across the world are cheering them on. The Hong Kong protesters are our Truthdiggers of the Week.

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

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