How To Hold a Protest & Outsmart Surveillance, Hong Kong-Style
In moves that have impressed China-watchers the world over, Hong Kongers have brought innovation and decency to their largely peaceful protests against the proposed amendments to the extradition law, despite a violent crackdown on Thursday, 13 June.
Nearly a million Hong Kongers took to the streets in opposition of the bill they feared would make it easier for the Communist Party-ruled mainland to crack down on dissident Hong Kongers, in what they see as creeping Chinese control.
The massive protests in Hong Kong have not only shaken the Communist Party but also set an example for how to organise smart and effective resistance, based on two things – solidarity and street smartness.
Playing It Smart
With their liberties under threat, the stakes couldn’t be higher. And the police certainly didn’t make it easy, charging the protesters on Wednesday with rubber bullets and tear gas.
But Hong Kongers responded to the tear gas in a way that, by all accounts, had not been seen before.
Wearing masks, the protesters fell upon tear gas cannisters thrown at them, dousing them quickly with squirts from their water bottles before they could cause damage. Simple and effective.
Having Each Others’ Backs
Even amidst the chaos, they were looking out for each other.
It wasn’t just about helping other protesters – they even looked out for the journalists reporting at the scene.
Seeing him unprotected, a group of young people provided an umbrella and helmet to CBS reporter Ramy Inocencio and his cameraperson, to guard them from the tear gas being used by the police.
No one generally cares or thinks about the amount of garbage left behind after a massive protest – the stakes are usually too high to worry about waste.
But in a gesture of compassion and goodwill similar to that of Japanese fans at the FIFA World Cup in 2018, some protestors volunteered to clean the city at night, as can be seen in this video posted by singer Denise Ho, a prominent pro-democracy and LGBTQI activist.
An interesting element of the protests has been that the protestors aren’t being naive about the risks they face for doing what they are doing. One of these is being identified by the government as protestors, which may have consequences after the dust settles.
The rise of surveillance techniques around the world, often using the things we take for granted, like our phones, cards, etc, means protesters need to find new ways to stay anonymous. Once again, the Hong Kong protestors have shown how to beat these kinds of surveillance.
See this photo by Quartz reporter Mary Hui, in which she observes long lines at the train ticketing machines where people were buying physical tickets rather than using their rechargeable cards that leave a trail.
A Twitter user in Hong Kong relayed another technique some protesters reportedly used to beat drone surveillance of the protest – someone alerted the protesters of drones in the air and they opened their umbrellas, shielding their identities from the drones.
A Wall Street Journal columnist tweeted this photo purportedly of Hong Kong reporters at a press conference being held by the police, dressed up in helmets and gas masks, in apparent solidarity with the protesters outside.
The heroism of the Hong Kong protesters inspired a lot of support and encouragement from citizens of Hong Kong and from all across the globe.
The video was shared by an Israeli correspondent Amichai Stein, in which an ambulance enters the throng of protesters. The protesters calmly make way for the ambulance, and once it passes, regroup and cheer.
The initiative got a lot of love and respect across the globe.
Another user shared a similar video of Hong Kong protesters clearing the way for an ambulance in Causeway Bay.
In her first public appearance after Sunday’s march, Carrie Lam said the government wouldn’t proceed with the bill if public anxieties and fears aren’t properly addressed. She also said that she personally needed to take the responsibility for societal divisions over the past week. However, the bill has still not been withdrawn and remains “indefinitely suspended” for now.
Not many dare to stand up to government excesses and threats to liberty like the people of Hong Kong did. Despite the threat to their lives and the general turmoil, its citizens took to the streets in protest.
And while they were there, they demonstrated intelligence, resourcefulness and compassion.
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