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.
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.
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.
Following a strong students’ strike on Friday, the pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong launched Occupy Centralin 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.
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.