Hongkongers protest too much, methinks
Illustration: Matthew Murchie
Standing up for what you believe should be done with reason
By Matthew Murchie, Imperial College London
Hong Kong is a city where citizens have a very high degree of freedom and rights. We have a stable political system, a clean government and a well-defined rule of law. There are many channels to voice our opinions.
Yet many people are never satisfied. In recent years, demonstrations have increased in frequency to the point where most locals don't bat an eyelid at the sight of hundreds of marching activists chanting slogans and yelling through megaphones. The police have also become very adept at setting up road blocks to facilitate protesters.
Peaceful protests can be an important channel for opinions to be heard, and the fact that people feel safe to demonstrate in public is testimony to Hong Kong's freedom of expression.
However, when people take to the streets regardless of the severity of a situation, governing bodies start to take protests less seriously. Being rash in their actions and unreasonable in their demands does not help the protesters' cause.
Staging publicity stunts like climbing onto the top of a flyover to protest against a government bill is not only dangerous, it's a huge nuisance for the hundreds of commuters affected by resulting road closures. Last June, a policeman was killed when he slipped and fell off the roof of a pedestrian walkway while trying to negotiate with a protester.
During such public disturbances, many protesters behave aggressively towards the police. Compared to most countries, our officers are remarkably professional and restrained. Activists who scream "Police brutality!" as they are calmly led to a police van demonstrate nothing more than their own craving for attention.
How often do protesters complain that their freedoms are suppressed because they are barred from entering delicate, invitees-only events? Demanding access to such meetings would be reasonable with a decent track record. With a reputation of charging on stage to interrupt speeches and lunging at government officials, it is little wonder that the police try their utmost to maintain a safe distance between demonstrators and high-ranking visiting ministers.
I've always maintained that there is nothing wrong with protesting or holding demonstrations, provided they are done the right way. If you want your voice to be heard, shouting loudly is usually not the most effective way forward. It pays to have some common sense and courtesy, and to argue with reason, not volume.