Outrage or Apathy?
have been talks by Hong Kong academics and activists about a possible mass
democratic movement named “Occupy Central” that can epitomize society’s varied aspirations
and assertions of rights. But one activist Chan King Fai points
out that there
are still many gaps to be filled before a framework of ideas can be laid.
Hessel, a French Resistance fighter and concentration camp survivor, was on the
twelve-member committee at the United Nations responsible for drafting the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In his hugely popular book Time for Outrage, while advocating
citizens’ peaceful, nonviolent and determined engagement to achieve democratic ends,
he highlights two specific challenges that many modern societies now face in
attaining those ends, namely: the gross injustices inflicted on people deprived
of the essentials for a decent life, and the violation of basic freedoms and
fundamental rights. It was outrage that fueled him and other like-minded
individuals to join in the Resistance, and he thought that the same outrage
should stir world citizens into fighting against injustices, including the
tyranny of the world financial markets that threatens democracies everywhere. His book, published in 2010, sold 4.5 million
copies world-wide, and ignited New York’s “Occupy Wall Street” and Spain’s “Los
Indignados” civic movements.
2011 interview with Democracy Now, Hessel described democracies as places where
the privileged should not be the ones who make the decisions, and where the
underprivileged are going to rise to a status where they are normal human
beings and human citizens with their freedoms and their rights. Citing the case
of France, which he thought had a solid democracy in the first thirty years
after the War but which has since then degenerated in terms of upholding
democratic values, he warned the young generations of the world to be vigilant
and to become engaged whenever they see that their citizens’ basic social and
economic rights and freedoms are not respected. He also expressed his worries
about young people being too concerned with material wealth and becoming
forgetful about the importance of democratic values, saying that indifference
is the worst possible attitude.
Hessel believed that each individual has to have a strong sense of
responsibility and must not rely on any form of power or god, admitting he had
been influenced by French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre.
challenges cited by Hessel, while universal in nature, happen to mirror exactly
those that Hong Kong has for a long time had to struggle with. Lower rungs of
the social ladder suffer infinite iniquities brought about by land monopoly and
the antiquated and inequitable tax system that seeks to enrich the already
rich. Freedom of speech and of the press is being eroded daily, either by way
of high-handed tactics or manipulation by business- or CCP-controlled,
self-censoring media. Fundamental right to a basic shelter is denied those city
dwellers with meager means, while every male indigenous villager in the New
Territories is unjustly privileged with a right to a “small house” that
measures 2,100 sq. ft. in floor area. To top it all, citizens have been cheated
out of their political right by a rigged electoral system being foisted on them
with no promise of genuine universal suffrage for the foreseeable future.
says in his article, the new “Occupy Central” movement would be a test of participants’
resolve in the democratic cause to self-sacrifice (including the possibility of
being arrested), to engage long-term in civil disobedience and to exercise self-restraint.
This resolve is necessary in order to unite citizens and move onlookers into
than the resolve of an active minority being a major pre-requisite, Hong Kongers in general coming to the tipping point of feeling “outraged” would
no doubt be the key to the effectiveness of any civic movement.
be helpful for activists to take heed of what Victor Hugo said about revolution
in Les Miserables. (The word
“revolution” here might be substituted by “civil disobedience”, the words
“Divine Right” by “entitlement”, the word “monarchy” by “those in power”.)
itself is often no more than a faction. In all revolutions there are those who
swim against the tide; they are the old political parties. To the old parties,
wedded to the principle of heredity by Divine Right, it is legitimate to
suppress revolution, since revolution is born of revolt. This is an error. The
real party of revolt, in a democratic revolution, is not the people but the
monarchy. Revolution is precisely the opposite of revolt. Every revolution,
being a normal process, has its own legitimacy, sometimes dishonoured by false
revolutionaries, but which persists even though sullied, and survives even
though bloodstained. Revolutions are not born of chance but of necessity. A
revolution is a return from the fictitious to the real. It happens because it
had to happen.”
Hong Kongers would like to continue to wallow in apathy or to let outrage sink
in, it is purely a matter of choice. But making choices no doubt means having
to face up to the consequences. This is what liberty is all about, and the
French understood this well and had the temerity to live up to the principle.
Hessel did risk his life in taking part in the French Resistance and Hugo had
put his personal freedom on the line in advocating for republicanism.