The #MuslimBan, broken promises, and the Great Default

Tonight, a lawsuit by the ACLU stayed the executive order that aims to ban immigrants and refugees from an arbitrary collection of nations for varying amounts of time, from a few months to indefinitely.

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From Bloomberg here

The ban was expected. That it was extended to green card holders (permanent residents) was surprising. Thus in addition to new refugees and family members on travel visas, you have this case at LAX:

One detained traveler was an Iranian woman who’d held a green card in the U.S. for five years and whose citizenship swearing-in ceremony is in two weeks, Cunnings said.

The woman has an 11-month old child with her who is an American citizen.

A CNN feature on the chaos surrounding the creation and implementation of the order includes this passage:

Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — did not apply to people who with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.
The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President’s inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Their decision held that, on a case by case basis, DHS could allow green card holders to enter the US.
Fundamentally, this order is a series of increasingly large promises being broken. People who followed the rules, did everything conservatives have asked immigrants to do, get nothing for their sacrifice. Translators for the US military who risked their lives in exchange for residency, nothing. Religious and ethnic minorities fleeing the Syrian civil war and ISIS, nothing. And people who were promised permanent residency, nothing. America has always been a land of broken promises, but for 2017 this is particularly sharp sting.
This is the beginning of what I’m calling The Great Default, where any prior promises and commitments made before Jan 20, 2017 should be considered conditional and uncertain. Climate agreements, trade agreements, foreign alliances, ethics rules, civil liberties, religious freedom. It’s a fire sale. The immigration ban is telling every other country that the US is willing to do things without consulting its own government, let alone yours. For those that say the system will ameliorate Trump and make a trade war with China impossible, well, what about now? Bannon and Miller overruled the part of the government that actually has to implement policy. They don’t want to learn, they want to extend their will. Bannon has been given a major national security position, letting those who said “it’s just an advisory position!” know that yes, that too is conditional.
There is no honeymoon period. Get the sandbags, close the storm windows. Nothing is sacred.

Occupy Hong Kong: A coalition of resistance takes shape

A collection of University of Western Ontario students show solidarity with protestors in Hong Kong.

The Nation is reporting that some 10,000 union workers in Hong Kong have decided to strike in solidarity with the Occupy HK movement.

Just a week ago the protest movement was catalyzed (and moved forward in timescale) due to student action. Now older citizens of all stripes have joined in, including businessmen and women, as this liveblog update catalogues:

In Admiralty, the crowd began to swell, fuelled [sic] by many working in Central who came out during their lunch breaks to voice support.

Clad in a stripped shirt, Lampson Lo Ka-hang, 33, said: “They are doing the right thing because someone needs to pressure the government,”

He said most of his colleagues were supportive of the movement.

Another man in his 30s, surnamed Yu, who works for a financial firm, said: “I just want to take this time to support these students.”

This is joined by large solidarity protests all around the world, including in regions dealing with similar problems, like Singapore.

And now there is a burgeoning strike movement. Given Hong Kong’s centrality to the global economy, the greatest power protestors possess (besides moral rightness) is the ability to disrupt the way China does its business. The mainland is known for sacrificing many things to keep factories running and capital moving. The PRC government has its hands tied on one of their usual solutions to unrest- appalling violence- and thus has to face the umbrella-wielding activists on unfavorable soil.

The fight will be long, for Beijing is used to besting social movements, as this year’s 25th anniversary of the June 4th massacre shows. But there is a built-up call for more political rights and economic justice. Heartening stories have been relayed, of mainland tourists showing support, amidst the expected skepticism and contempt. Events will always tilt towards those areas where protest is least constricting, and despite the tear gas and pepper spray, Hong Kong is still that island for which the issue of democracy for all of China will ultimately begin.

Each aspect of Hong Kong society is joining together, joined by the huge diaspora across the world, and other allies- many in their own battles against oppressive institutions. The bundle of sticks does not break when bent- it stays strong, and cannot be destroyed.

Occupy Hong Kong: through rain, lightning, and tear gas…

A torrential downpour on the mass crowds blocking key parts of Hong Kong
A torrential downpour on the mass crowds blocking key parts of Hong Kong

American media accounts tend to focus on the umbrella- now only four days in immortalized as a revolutionary symbol- as a way to deal with pepper spray. What gets left out is that Hong Kong has a subtropical climate. Not only has it been in the 90s (F), the summer is also notoriously rainy. In this way, umbrellas are the ultimate protest tool. Not only have they helped against police crackdown, the shade and rain protection have kept thousands of people at their posts. An economic shutdown only works as long as people are willing to stay out in the highways and streets.

Twitter is probably the best way to keep track of things, but some websites are doing an excellent job. The South China Morning Post has kept a very well-maintained English-language liveblog, the current section is located here.

Occupy is not just a movement, confined to a place and time. It is a method of action. It is a title given to those that go out and work. It existed long before there was a march on Wall Street, and exists now and will in the future. The protest here has been incredibly well-coordinated, but on a grassroots level. If people are disciplined and certain key traits (nonviolence, respect for the city) are maintained, there is no need for a rigid hierarchy. I am continually impressed by the humanity and decency shown by the protesters, but also their strength under fire, and their endurance under bad conditions- whether pepper spray or pelting rain.

Shut it down: Occupy Central and the global economic system

One of the strongest, most incendiary things an individual, or a group, can do is to seize a physical place and refuse to leave. The action of occupation is as old as mass movements, and predated the big-O Occupy movement. It is used to protect people from eviction, to keep park space free from development, to block access to political institutions, and to paralyze the economic infrastructure of towns, regions, and whole nations. As was the mantra in 2011 among some activists, sometimes you need to shut this motherfucker down.

Protestors in anti-pepper spray gear. September 28, 2014. Alex Ogle/AFP
Protestors in anti-pepper spray gear. September 28, 2014. Alex Ogle/AFP

Occupy Central comes from a long and storied history of nonviolence. The color revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and Lebanon occupied key places of political and cultural importance. Central goes beyond that to a more radical place- using occupation as an economic weapon of the people. We saw this happen with the West Coast port shutdowns three years ago, and the related Block the Boat campaign against Israeli industry. There is an added weak point in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and other major ports- access of goods and labor is of international importance. To shut down central portions of Hong Kong is to amplify the power of the act of occupation, so it can reverberate into global markets. In the short term, good business must be paid for by increased political rights. From that platform, working to change the global economic system becomes easier.

Clash between umbrella-holding protestors and police. September 28, 2014. Alex Ogle/AFP
Clash between umbrella-holding protestors and police. September 28, 2014. Alex Ogle/AFP

They now call it the Umbrella Revolution. It certainly has gained that tangible thing that defines great movements, whether a place, color, or object (Serbia’s 2000 peaceful revolution is sometimes dubbed “The Bulldozer Revolution” due to protestor tactics to break up barricades).

The whole world is watching. We have been blind to the authoritarianism creeping throughout Hong Kong. It has been a time to get educated, and get on the right side of affairs.

Justice comes with an umbrella: Hong Kong and Occupy Central

Pro-democracy protestor engulfed by tear gas. Hong Kong, September 28, 2014.
Pro-democracy protestor engulfed by tear gas. Hong Kong, September 28, 2014.

Following a strong students’ strike on Friday, the pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong launched Occupy Central in its full form early. They aim to paralyze the economic center of the territory, to force changes in the political structure to allow for universal suffrage and free election of the chief executive in 2017.

I first wrote about the simmering conflict over a year ago, and about Occupy Central earlier this month. It is a reminder that some of richest places in the world, like Hong Kong and Singapore, are not true democracies and their people are fighting for the same political rights that many in the developing world seek.

Hong Kong exists in the nexus between colonialism and authoritarianism, a British holding turned over to China but given certain rights that the mainland population does not have. The agreement was vague, and Beijing is attempting to keep true democracy off the table, and make an already anti-democratic system more rigged.

Student meeting to discuss tactics. September 29, 2014
Student meeting to discuss tactics. September 29, 2014

Occupy Central is a shining example of the mass civil disobedience that is popping up all over the world, which can challenge governments and the existing economic order that resists progress.

As with climate change, world poverty, endemic racism- there is no time for gradualism. Hong Kong has waited 17 years for full democracy and has not gotten it, and will never get it if the present state of affairs continues. The need is for people to get more radical and ambitious with their movements. It’s to go beyond symbolism and into disobedience. Nobody said a just society would come easy.

The fight for democracy in Hong Kong

Protest march held prior to Hong Kong’s 25th anniversary vigil of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The ongoing struggle for transparent democracy in Hong Kong continues, as the last week featured significant setbacks. 2017 will bring the first direct elections for the head of Hong Kong, but it appears that the process of nomination will be rigged in order to elect candidates willing to support policies of mainland China. Candidates will need to be approved by a majority of a large nominating committee, which will likely have a conservative bias that defers to the Beijing government.

Election boards do not see high-profile use in the United States, but they are a key mechanism resisting multiparty politics. They have been used to exclude many candidates for the Presidency of Iran, and are a weapon for incumbents and dominant parties.

Encampment in Hong Kong for Occupy Central, 2014.

When the British left in 1997 very little effort was expended towards ensuring a democratic Hong Kong. Thus the past two decades have been full of vague promises. Since no dates were etched in the political process, things have been delayed as long as possible. This has mostly benefitted pro-Beijing groups; democratic opposition can only show its full power when there are democratic elections to move in.

One of the main democratic coalitions, Occupy Central, are furious. They promise to radicalize and expand protests, but Hong Kong does not have the same powerful push for democracy that other places have. Due to its economic importance, and its attachment to the political and economic power of China, few major players date side with Occupy Central:

China recently warned foreign countries against “meddling” in Hong Kong’s politics, with an article in a state-run newspaper on Saturday accusing some in Hong Kong of “colluding” with unnamed “outside forces”.

Despite great wealth and geopolitical importance, Hong Kong is an ignored front in the fight for worldwide democracy.

You can’t unspill blood

Bill Weinberg writes today about the incredibly tight security in and around Tiananmen Square, along with preemptive arrests of the types of Chinese citizens that might think about doing a public vigil for the massacre’s 25th anniversary.

As he points out, such over-the-top security is in itself self-defeating. He writes:

The absurd security measures speak to the ultimate futility of trying to suppress the truth this way. The virtual shutting down of the square was itself a perverse and paradoxical commemoration of the massacre on the part of the authorities. Presumably, it caused some children to ask their parents what all the police patrols were about, ironically facilitating the passage of historical memory on to the next generation—even if those children received only veiled and guarded answers. If they were hushed by their parents, this would only serve to heighten their curiosity, and plant seeds of doubt about the morality of the system.

The Tiananmen, 2005
The Tiananmen, 2005

The Los Angeles Times has a feature about what the Square was like – police everywhere, aggressive interrogations, complete blockades for any journalists who looked curious.

This whole scenario shows to me how difficult it is to destroy any memory of 1989. Even if Chinese citizens in Beijing do not know the details of the reform movement and its fate, they know that the government remembers something. One does not radically increase security around a certain date each year by chance. Even if this whole round of arrests and intimidation keep what’s in the black box inside, no one can deny that there is a black box. And it holds something. Some of us have the luxury of knowing a few of the details, but for a foreigner this isn’t part of my national history. It’s one component of 20th century protest, and fits in alongside Poland, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, and all those other democratic surges of the late 1980’s and early 90’s. I don’t walk past the Square every morning. My June 4th wasn’t like the tourists from other parts of China who showed up and didn’t know why security was so intrusive. The black box sits in the middle of one of the largest plazas on Earth. No matter what the Chinese state does, it will insist upon itself.

You can’t unspill blood.

Tiananmen on June 4th, 1989 happened. Huge numbers of Chinese participated and survived. Some of the most riveting news photography was taken and published all over the world. People remember. Mother Jones reminds us how young and jubilant these protesters were. Overall all of China there were all segments of society, but the lifeblood in Beijing were kids. Many of whom were younger than I am now, turning 24.

You can’t unspill blood.

Tiananmen Square is the site of a tragedy, even without a single protester reminding, or informing passersby. The government is fighting reform and pro-democratic movements, both within mainland China, in Hong Kong, and all over the world. But it’s also fighting a war against the past. Though economic vitality has been used as a salve for political tension, it cannot work forever. One day the catch-up will end, and China will have the same problems all developed countries have with their pasts.