Outrage or Apathy?

There

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.

Stephane

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.

In a

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.

Not surprisingly,

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.

The two

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.

As Chan

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

action.

Other

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.

It might

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”.)

“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.”

Whether

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.