Simultaneously, on opposite ends of the world, protests in Ferguson, Missouri and Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, signify the ground zero of polarized political movement—the demand for democracy upheld by civil and human rights. The movements in Ferguson and Hong Kong are primarily youth-led and organized, a focal point not lost in media and supporters of radical struggle. Their objectives dictate a call to accountability and action. Sparked by the killing of unarmed African American 18-year-old Michael Brown in August, activists in Ferguson have engaged in ongoing protests to counter police bias and violence against Blacks and Latinos. In the wake of a succession of unjust murders at the hands of law enforcement officers, organizations are leading the way to reform in Ferguson including The Organization for Black Struggle, Hands Up United, and Millennial Activists United, among a host of social, political and religious supporting allies.
Tip this moral compass toward the Far East and you will find the Occupy Central with Love and Peace demonstrators organizing with a similar fervor. The movement was founded in collaboration with the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) and the student movement Scholarism. HKFS was established in 1958 by student unions from eight schools and is known for cultivating social activists; while Scholarism was born in response to HK government’s plan to introduce Beijing-style “patriotic education,” which some residents feared would brainwash the students. According to a 2012 report, high school student Joshua Wong led protesters into months of demonstrations with more than 120,000 people gathered at government headquarters during its peak including a hunger strike by three of the movement’s members. The current pro-democracy civil disobedience in Hong Kong illustrates protesters’ response to what they consider Beijing’s gradual infringement upon their political freedoms. Long-term planning has shaped the current Occupy Central demonstrations, which demand that China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) grant universal suffrage to the city as outlined by Hong Kong’s Basic Law. As it stands, the NPC insists on hand-picking candidates for the city’s next chief executive elections in 2017.
October has seen significant developments in both movements. In Ferguson, youth organizers summoned the public to join them in solidarity for a four day event of strategic peaceful demonstrations across Greater St. Louis dubbed “Ferguson October” on the 10th – 13th. Spearheaded by young, many first-time organizers, the planned event was a massive show of force by peaceful demonstrators coming from all over the country to speak out against sustained injustices happening across the nation. Highlighting the fatal killings of young Black men that continue to deteriorate trust between cops and constituents, from New York to California, the young leaders of #FergusonOctober remain steadfast in their motivations. They too have a long-term commitment to resist the system that has adversely impacted people of color, and plan to work with officials in implementing viable changes within Ferguson and the U.S. Conversely, three weeks into #OccupyCentral’s protests and mass sit-ins, demonstrators have added tents among the barricades around government buildings signifying their commitment and determination in developing genuine democracy. Though officials refuse to meet with them, protesters continue to resist what has been deemed “fake universal suffrage.”
On the surface, young activists overtaking Florrisant Road, in the suburb of St. Louis, and Admiralty, in the central business district of Hong Kong, are championing separate causes. However, both revolutions amplify the standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during the winter of 1948. The objectives and common denominators of both revolutions are guarded by the framework of the UDHR articles, over half of which directly address both Hong Kong and Ferguson political struggles (as summarized on the website PDHRE.org):
Article 1- All human beings are born free and equal.
Article 2- Everyone is entitled to the same rights
without discrimination of any kind.
Article 3- Everyone has the right to life,
liberty, and security.
Article 5- No one shall be subjected to torture
or cruel or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 6- Everyone has the right to be recognized
everywhere as a person before the law.
Article 7- Everyone is equal before the law
and has the right to equal protection of the law.
Article 8 – Everyone has the right to justice.
Article 9- No one shall be arrested,
detained, or exiled arbitrarily.
Article 10 – Everyone has the right to a fair trial.
Article 11- Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent
until proven guilty.
Article 19- Everyone has the right to freedom
of opinion and expression.
Article 20- Everyone has the right to peaceful
assembly and association.
Article 21- Everyone has the right to take part
in government of one’s country.
Article 22- Everyone has the right to social security
and to the realization of the economic,
social and cultural rights indispensable for dignity.
Article 27- Everyone has the right to participate freely
in the cultural life of the community.
Article 28- Everyone is entitled to a social and international order
in which these rights can be realized fully.
Article 29- Everyone has duties to the community.
Article 30- No person, group or government has the right to destroy
any of these rights.
As both movements aim to defend the rights of their fellow citizens, they realize that their struggle has come with a price. Unarmed protesters in both Ferguson and Hong Kong have been met with tear gas, pepper spray, and the threat of weapons by officers (and in the case of HK, by counter-protesters). While high tensions have resulted in volatile moments of anger by protesters in both cities, leaders are undeterred. A Facebook video of protest highlights produced by Umbrella Revolution Hong Kong concludes: “Democracy is won by stand-up fighting, not by knee-down begging. Stay on the streets. Safeguard Hong Kong.” And recently, in Ferguson, activist leader Tef Poe ended a Democracy Now interview with the following proclamation: “The message that we’re sending to the system is that we’re not going to stop. We are resilient. I told the police officer, you can only do two things to me, you can kill me or you can lock me up. Once you get past being scared of either one of those options, a brand new world opens up.” Regardless of the price, youth protesters in Hong Kong and Ferguson are equipped to rewrite history one demonstration at a time, a mission for which previous and following generations should be most grateful.
By Mai Perkins
Student in the Graduate Program of International Affairs at the Milano School with a Media & Culture Concentration.