Hong Kong protests: "Might as well go down fighting"

Zeynep Tufekci (previously) has been in Hong Kong reporting on the protests for months, and she's witnessed firsthand the failure of every prediction that the uprising would end soon — but despite the mounting numbers and militancy of protesters, she reports that the protesters are not animated by hope or optimism, but rather, a fatalistic understanding that they will lose eventually, and a determination to go down fighting.

The protesters that Tufekci has spoken to invoke Xinjiang province, where millions of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been imprisoned in hundreds of concentration camps where they are subjected to torture, rape, and brainwashing. The Hong Kong protesters understand that President Xi and the Beijing establishment have declared war on dissenters in China, and that further integration with the mainland could lead to the disappearance, torture and murder of their loved ones.

The protesters have formulated a program with five demands on it: withdrawal of the extradition bill, independent investigations of police violence, dropping riot charges against protesters, amnesty for the arrested, and universal sufferage — the right to nominate and vote on their own leaders, without those nominations being subjected to a veto by the mainland Chinese state.

Universal sufferage is the most urgent of these demands (though all of them are non-negotiable — as the popular slogan goes, "Five demands, not one less"). The protesters understand that their fate depends on being able to elect their own leaders, and that without a legitimate, accountable state, they will ultimately be sold out to the mainland.

More than 80% of Hong Kongers have been teargassed. The protesters have lost much of their fear, and understand the stakes they're playing for. Their sole fear is of being disappeared and of being murdered and having their deaths falsely painted as suicides. When protesters are arrested, they call out their own names and aver that they are not suicidal, hoping to have video-records made by other protesters that can be used to get them a lawyer and to head off any attempt to stage their suicides.

Aren't you afraid? I asked, gingerly. "We are afraid," they quickly admitted. They even giggled, but it got serious quickly. This is our last chance, they said very matter-of-factly. If we stand down, nothing will stand between us and mainland China, they said. They talked about Xinjiang, and what China had done to the Uighur minority. I've heard about the fate of the Uighurs from so many protesters over the months. China may have wanted to make an example out of the region, but the lesson Hong Kongers took was in the other direction—resist with all your might, because if you lose once, there will be a catastrophe for your people, and the world will ignore it.

The two women weren't sure whether they would win. That's also something I've heard often—these protesters aren't the most optimistic group. No rose-colored glasses here. "But we cannot give up," one insisted, "because if we do, there will be no future for us anyway. We might as well go down fighting."

One of the young women gave me an umbrella: a tool protesters use to shield themselves from the sun, from CCTV cameras, from overhead helicopters, from the blue water laced with pepper spray and fired from water cannons, from tear-gas canisters. They had noticed I didn't have one, and were worried for me. They had brought extras to share. "You might need this," one of them said as she handed it to me, and wished me good luck. And then the clouds of tear gas drifted in our direction, as they so often do in Hong Kong these days, and we scattered.

The Hong Kong Protesters Aren't Driven by Hope [Zeynep Tufekci/The Atlantic]

(via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Studio Incendo , CC BY)