17 February 2019
The Yellow Umbrella crowd is back. Although the turnout in Sunday's pro-democracy march leaves much to be desired, activists are pursuing the struggle through other means. Photo: AFP
The Yellow Umbrella crowd is back. Although the turnout in Sunday's pro-democracy march leaves much to be desired, activists are pursuing the struggle through other means. Photo: AFP

No more carnival-style marches for democracy, please

Pan-democratic groups should stop organizing protest marches like the one the Civil Human Rights Front staged on Sunday.

It’s just a waste of time and effort to be calling on thousands of people to march from Causeway Bay to Central and shout slogans on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, expecting to win concessions from the government in the struggle for genuine universal suffrage, when they should be reaching out to the communities to spread the message of democracy among the grassroots.

Sunday’s mass action was the first large-scale protest by the pan-democratic camp since the 79-day Occupy campaign which ended in December last year. 

Judging by the turnout, it seems that people are no longer too eager to take to the streets at the moment and call on the government to restart the entire political reform process. Organizers expected some 50,000 people to join the march, but said only 13,000 came. Still, that’s not a crowd to sniff at.

They had intended to stage a New Year’s Day march on Jan. 1, but postponed it as the original date was just a few weeks after police cleared the three Occupy zones in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.

It is understandable for the pan-democratic camp to sustain the momentum built by the Occupy campaign to voice out the people’s discontent over the patently unfair electoral reform framework set by Beijing in August last year.

However, there is no new development that would trigger another massive protest. The government has yet to submit its electoral reform package to the Legislative Council for approval, and no pan-democrat legislator has resigned to trigger a de facto referendum on the issue.

Any protest action staged during this interregnum is simply useless.

The Civil Human Rights Front has been criticized before for its seemingly pointless, although innocuous, activities, such as those held every Jan. 1 or July 1. The events often take on a festive air, like that of a carnival, and pan-democrat politicians often use such occasions to speak to their supporters and maybe raise funds for future electoral campaigns.

But people who want to fight for genuine universal suffrage are no longer satisfied with these kinds of marches. After their experience in the Occupy protests, they have developed a sense of being powerless in the face of a mighty and obstinate Communist Party, which refuses to budge an inch from its political reform formula.

Young people who spent almost three months in the occupy zones have learned that democracy cannot be secured by staging peaceful, noisy marches twice a year. They have realized that they need to find new, creative means of pursuing the fight.

These may be low-profile activities, but they are able to spread the core message of true democracy, and at the same time train battalions of committed and principled activists who are ready for a protracted struggle.

On Facebook, for example, several groups were formed after the Occupy campaign to nurture the spirit of the pro-democracy movement. These small groups gather regularly to share their experiences and hold discussions on pertinent issues.

Some of them also engage in small enterprises like making yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the campaign, to keep the spirit of the pro-democracy struggle alive and get ready for the next move.

Scholarism, the organization of mostly secondary school students, has developed a speakers’ bureau, which sends resource persons to school assemblies to amplify on the lessons of the Occupy campaign and hold lectures on the political reform package being pushed by Beijing and the Hong Kong government, and on why it subverts the principle of universal suffrage.

These groups are patiently working in the communities to explain to the masses the principles behind their struggle and the lessons of the Occupy campaign.

There is a great danger that people will become complacent or get confused about the pro-democracy fight. Some people will begin to accept the government line that its political reform package is better than maintaining the old small-circle election system, that universal suffrage is a gradual development that cannot be achieved in one go, that fighting for democracy will only divide society and destroy the rule of law in the city.

These issues have to be threshed out and discussed. Leaders of pro-democracy groups must remain vigilant about these criticisms and attacks that could erode the foundation of the struggle.

Already, several pan-democrat politicians have expressed their willingness to accept the 2017 chief executive election reform package if Beijing agrees to abolish controversial functional constituency seats, which represent the interests of different business sectors. That could be a dangerous move for the whole pro-democracy camp as it would give Beijing four key votes that it needs to approve the package.

At the same time, the pro-establishment camp should not gloat over the fact that only “less than 10,000″ joined Sunday’s march. Pro-democracy activists are working hard to nurture the spirit of the struggle in the background, and they have no doubt they will reap victory in the end.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe