Pro-democracy Advocates Fuel Public Debate

Photo courtesy of Trey Menefee, Flickr Creative Commons

In recent weeks there have been a series of student protests in Hong Kong. These protests, as reported by the New York Times, are in response to the Aug. 31 decision by the Chinese Parliament to limit the candidates for the highest office in Hong Kong, the Chief Executive, to only those approved by a pro-Beijing panel. The students are protesting this policy, arguing for the candidates to be chosen by the public via petition.

The students have written letters to current Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who took office in 2012. The criticism was so severe that students were calling for Leung’s resignation and the issue became more damning by a report in an Australian paper that said Leung had failed to disclose $6.4 million in payments from an Australian engineering company disbursed while he was in office.

The government, however, has been making moves towards the protestors and has begun to take down their barricades; the people themselves have begun to turn against the protestors.

It is clearly an injustice that has been handed down on the people of Hong Kong, but how does one go about fixing it? It can seem hopeless sometimes, but like the night giving way to day, the forces that possess moral truth can conquer tyranny.

For instance when the Roman Empire invaded Judea it established a puppet government and desiccated the temples as part of a master plan to eradicate the people of Judea’s culture. Resistance was subject to horrid displays of violence, intimidating the public. Despite this, the Jerusalem community united together to peacefully confront the Roman governor. This was essentially a walk to the slaughterhouse, since they were more or less offering themselves up to be killed, but they were not. Instead, the confused Romans relented and gave the people back their temples preserving their culture.

That is how history is written—the powerless defeating the powerful—but you know what these famous moral crusades shared? They confronted the problem with civil disobedience, a moral truth and a narrative—not simply through working within the system and appealing to the elite’s better nature. If history has taught us anything, it is that power corrupts and is self-perpetuating. So to the protestors of Hong Kong and anyone else who desires social change, I recommend these three steps towards making that desire a reality:

1. Discover the moral truth.

First and foremost, you must have a moral argument to make when challenging the status quo. Supporters of hierarchies (i.e. states and corporations) are not moral agents. They are not concerned with their own moral failings, the impact they have on the environment or human lives in their quest to gain and maintain power. This leaves them vulnerable to a powerful moral argument, that when combined with the next two steps, will generate a public outcry that will threaten their power, making them accommodating to your commands.

2. Use civil disobedience.

This is very important as it establishes a clear relationship where your side is the hero and the elite is the villain. You are looking to break the law so that the authorities will respond with violence while you do not retaliate. Non-violence is crucial as it is important that the authorities do not paint you as the aggressor to the masses. This will allow you to be seen as an innocent fighting for a good cause and the elite as a malevolent tyrant.

3. Construct a narrative.

You cannot win over the masses with mere facts explaining the injustice. The authorities, in response to your well-reasoned arguments, will develop a false narrative where the injustice is justified under a guise of economic growth, or that it is simply natural. In the face of stories, facts are useless, so in response, you must develop your own narrative. In contrast with the false narrative, yours will possess a moral truth that cannot be countered. So even though they might compete, yours will win out for they simply cannot erase what they have done, much like British abuses of the people of India, as exposed by Gandhi.

This by no means is an infallible blueprint, but these are the trends I see with every successful movement for social change. If you follow these steps I am confident that social change will happen for the good of all.