As millions of people take to the streets of Hong Kong, a wave of young pro-democracy candidates were recently elected to District Council. From the frontlines of protest to political office, Dylan Ratigan interviews three leading members…

By Dylan Ratigan

Hong Kong’s shimmering skyline set between Tai Mo Shan, an extinct volcano and the South China Sea betrays a political and economic battle that erupted this year as protestors poured into the street demanding China back down from recent efforts to integrate the city further into the Chinese legal system.

The protests climaxed in November with a massive election victory for pro-democracy leaders, capturing 392 out of 452 district council seats in a sweeping win against pro-establishment representatives.

In response, China has shown remarkable restraint in comparison to people in the streets who have been beaten in Barcelona and killed in northern India.

Last week I landed in Hong Kong and took the opportunity to hear activists stories first hand.

In talking to three newly elected officials, I got to explore what is happening on the ground in Hong Kong right now. Why are millions of people taking to the streets? What exactly is happening? Who is involved? Why is it relevant to America and people around the world?

While every nation clearly has its own complex cultural and political dynamics at work, there’s a theme that links them all: old established centralized systems of power, which consolidate wealth and resources at the expense of local populations, are under attack and clinging to power.

Meanwhile, the world shifts as technological breakthroughs are decentralizing power and spreading pro-democracy movements throughout the world in unprecedented fashion.

“It Is A Warning To The World”

Sitting in a cafe in Central over a pot of jasmine tea, Owan Li, an activist held in a university seige earlier this year, now a newly elected district councilperson, told me that the movement’s message to Beijing is clear.

“If you keep distant, maybe you can still have economic benefits. However, if you get rid of Hong Kong, you will get lost, and even have no exports to foreign countries or foreign society, ” said Li. “Hong Kong is more valuable to mainland China if they leave us alone. It is good for both sides. If you don’t keep the distance, or if you try to take over Hong Kong entirely, you will totally lose,” he added.

The newly elected district representatives see change perpetuating and sustaining the two-systems-one-country protocol in Hong Kong, which is seen as at risk.

“If we keep the [current] system, we will both benefit and have good economic prosperity. But if you don’t keep it, I would say you destroy both Hong Kong and Chinese society,” Li told me.

“It is a warning to the world that China is growing,” says Edith Leung, an activist turned elected representative who’s friend lost her right eye in a protest earlier this year. “An autocratic country like China, a Communist Party, being so large, being such a populated country, growing up. It is a threat to the world.”

What struck me most about talking to those who won the election here in Hong Kong was how young the representatives are, the massive percentage of young women on the front lines and how much support they have from the greater Hong Kong population.

“I met people on the street, they were 70, 80 and even 90-years old,” says Leung. “I saw them on the street. Perhaps the young people are the most active ones but all the Hong Kong people, no matter who they are and what age they are, in this movement, for example, families, parents give money and donate and some of the younger active ones go to the frontlines.”

“We Cannot Fail Again”

It’s overly simplistic for us to see Hong Kong as a frontline in the culture war between Chinese interests and Western interests. Of course, Hong Kong is the door to China and the rest of the world. It is easy to explain away Hong Kong’s protests as just issue between the Cantonese of Hong Kong and the Mandarin of China.

But there’s a lot we have in common.

Protestors are voicing the global issues around consolidation of centralized power – like we have in America, or the centralized power in places like Madrid at the expense of Catalonia, or similar issues that we are seeing in India, in La Paz, in Beirut and around the world.

What we are seeing in Hong Kong is just one of more than a dozen locations around the world. Whether it is in Barcelona, Beirut, La Paz or Paris where people are stepping into the street, sometimes with violence, frequently with non-violence.

So, what needs to evolve? The young people I spoke to in Hong Kong have changed the culture of protest since 2014. They now to try to move towards solutions with clear requests, based around a culture of non-violence and learning from past missteps.

“We had a failure after the Umbrella movement and we know why we failed, because we had separation of camps, so many different factions. At the end of the day, it turned out we got nothing” said Leung.

She says that she doesn’t want history to repeat itself. “We have solidarity and we have to go together and achieve all the things. We have failed in the past, so we cannot fail again. We think this is the last chance to fight for real freedom and real justice.”

OUR INTERVIEWS FROM HONG HONG

Owan Li is one of the millions of student protesters and is among the group that was recently elected to the new office here, in the sweep of pro-democracy voters who supported pro-democracy players.

Edith Leung is among the millions of women protesters that have led the protests, of which a third of the protesters are women. Edith is also a member of the incoming class of recently elected pro-democracy politicians here in Hong Kong.

Henry Wong is another member of the recently elected District Council class of legislators.