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Hong Kong’s July 1 pro-democracy march: is it worth attending or not?

By Jonathan Man, Progressive Lawyers Group

July 1, an ambivalent occasion for many, marks the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from the United Kingdom to China. 21 years ago, despite widespread cynicism, ex-governor Chris Patten welcomed this momentous occasion labelling it a “cause for celebration.” However, as the story has unfolded, it seems that the scepticism of many has borne more and more weight. After all, the ‘one-country, two systems’ policy for Hong Kong was the brainchild of the same Chinese leader, who less than a decade ago, summoned hoards of armed soldiers and a mob of tanks to commit one of the deadliest massacres of the 20th century.

And the same trend has continued with China habitually persecuting Falun Gong observers and wiping the Internet squeaky clean of any ideas or statements that might threaten the establishment. Their sole saving grace has been the bulwark that is their economic strength, which they have leveraged against any international diplomatic pressure. This trend has followed through to Hong Kong as well. China has showed relentless commitment to affirming their sovereignty over Hong Kong, and have routinely denounced the ‘two-systems’ ingredient of the recipe, making Hong Kong the butt of the joke that is the so-called Independence Day.

July 1st Protest democracy communist party robot

File photo: HKFP, Tom Grundy.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the people of Hong Kong have taken this ‘celebratory’ occasion to voice their concerns as to whether Hong Kong has a ‘true democracy’. Battling through typhoon signals and the scorching heat that has plagued this annual march in the past, the band of protesters parade through Victoria Park, down past the scenic city of Hong Kong central-business district through Yee Wo Street eventually reaching their final destination: the government headquarters. With electrifying energy, perfectly synchronised chants and the sight of people in matching t-shirts, you don’t need to go to Russia this summer… just come to Victoria Park!

With predicted turnouts, however, to this year protests being at an all-time low, the protests are threatened as not being the climax of the day’s proceedings. So if you need something to get your wheels rolling to come down to the march, this is for you.

one country china july 1 democracy march protest rally

Photo: Dan Garrett.

Firstly, July the 1st also marks the one-year anniversary of Carrie Lam’s tenure as Chief Executive. One year ago, we might not have been able to tell what kind of ‘villain’ she would be, but now we can confidently say that she is the same obsequious mouthpiece for Beijing that we thought she would be.

Despite having proposed some favourable policy initiatives, such as her housing policy, she has otherwise been the kingpin in spearheading the demise of our autonomy and rule of law. In an effort to butter-up her friends in Beijing, she has followed suit by effectively initiating an aggressive censorship regime by being a firm advocate in removing a statement, “the Chinese Communist Party’s one-party rule” in the recent textbook review fiasco. She championed the passing of a bill effectively ceding part of Hong Kong’s jurisdiction to our neighbours up north arguably in contravention of the basic law. And, if you didn’t think this was enough, she has even ventured to support the discouragement of exercising freedom of assembly, by supporting stronger sentences for the occupy central organisers.

No doubt, Carrie Lam has nobly served Beijing’s cause, almost like a dummy. Some have even labelled her as ‘communist at heart’, which is why we need to show our presence on July 1st and tell her that we know her game plan. We need to tell her that we care about our rights, our law and our autonomy.

Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

And every single one of you who shows up counts. If we are to achieve any of the success we had in 2012, where the march stopped the imposition of a communist-inspired education program, numbers do matter. In fact every single one of you count. The more we have, the clearer and louder Ms. Lam will hear that we are here to hold her and her regime to account.

At this point, if you’re still not convinced, then think of it like your duty to attend these protests. Any democracy centers are citizen activity and not passivity. For it to work, citizens have a duty not only to elect their representative members in elections, but also ensure that these representatives truly and unrelentingly represent the citizens’ interests. Think about it this way, if you’re not participating in this weekend’s march, then you’re letting all the other demonstrators down as well. Don’t be that guy or gal!

Don’t be fooled though. Universal suffrage and having a ‘true’ democracy are only part of the march’s agenda. By coming down, you will be exposed to a plethora of beautiful initiatives that our beautiful people are fighting including smokers’ rights, LGBT rights to name a few.

So I hope you’re convinced. As quoted by Jason Ng, “A right not exercised is a right lost.” If we don’t take a stance now, we might never have an opportunity to fight again.

So I hope to see you all this Sunday.

Jonathan Man is a convener of the Progressive Lawyers Group. He is a solicitor specialising in human rights law.

Hong Kong's July 1 pro-democracy march: is it worth attending or not?