By Courtney Laermer and Sophie Zinser
Assistant News Editors
Last Tuesday night, Sept. 30, Ariane Turley ’15 and Nina Stender ’16 organized an informal protest for students native to Hong Kong to show their support for current pro-democracy protests in the region.
Approximately 42 universities are participating in similar solidarity movements across the nation. These movements include demonstrations, such as wearing yellow and donning umbrellas. A Facebook event called “Wear Yellow for Hong Kong on October 1st,” launched by students at Harvard University, inspired many of these protests and demonstrations of solidarity.
Amy Zhang ’15 explained the rationale for protesting on the night of Sept. 30.
“Nina [Stender and I] wanted to do something on October 1 because that was the ‘wear yellow to show support’ Solidarity Day, worldwide,” Zhang said. “I’d seen a lot of this yellow ribbon imagery…. They’ve been popping up around Hong Kong, so I wanted to do something with yellow ribbons.”
The yellow ribbon has been utilized in the past as a symbol for universal suffrage, hence its adoption in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrations.
Zhang added that her original intention for organizing these demonstrations was to have an abundance of yellow ribbons placed throughout Olin, but explained that Sun Services might disapprove.
“So we just put a little bit [of yellow ribbons around Olin] and we asked everyone to write things…because in Hong Kong they have this democracy wall where people write up little thoughts and messages of support, so we wanted that sort of thing for Wes,” Zhang said.
There will be a forum next Thursday night in order to continue spreading awareness about the demonstrations at the University. The goal is for students of both sides of the conflict to attend the meeting and discuss the issues at hand.
Suet Ning Wong ’16 explained why she participated in the demonstrations.
“All of the Hong Kong students have been hearing news about what’s happening at home,”
Wong said. “We were feeling that we should do something because it affects us so strongly. [We also wanted] to just raise awareness about what’s going on in Hong Kong.”
Wong added that she and her friends initially felt relatively indifferent toward the issue. However, over time, she became more interested in becoming involved.
“After seeing the images—which are definitely being blown out of proportion—such as the police using pepper spray on students who are just teenagers, [I felt] very moved,” Wong said.
Protests in Hong Kong have been gathering steam over this past week. The origins of these protests lie in an announcement made this past August, which stated that Hong Kong citizens would be able to vote for their Chief Executive for the first time beginning in 2017. The issue became prevalent because previously, Hong Kong’s political and economic elite had selected this important public official, but now the Chinese government is responsible for choosing all candidates for this position.
On Sept. 22, Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students began protesting outside of government headquarters. Four days later, several hundred demonstrators entered the front plaza of the Central Government Complex, a facility that has been barred from public entry since July 2014. Police cordoned off protestors and restricted their movement.
Ariane Turley ’15, one of the organizers of the protest response at Wesleyan, spoke about her feelings toward the police reactions to the protestors. The videos and photos of this treatment shocked Hong Kong residents, leading to the mobilization of many citizens.
“What’s exciting about this also is Hong Kong’s response to police oppression,” Turley said. “Sunday night, police fired tear gas at the protesters. [With these protests], we hoped to shift focus away from active police oppression so that this isn’t viewed as an active ‘us and them’ dichotomy. We don’t want people to be angry toward them.”
There were a variety of demonstrations throughout campus, including the tying of yellow ribbons around the columns in front of Olin and in the Science Library. Some of the ribbons included phrases such as “Fight for Hong Kong” and “Solidarity for Hong Kong.”
In addition, there was a poster placed in a prominent space at Usdan, reading, “Democracy for Hong Kong” and “Power to the People.”
Turley outlined the main objectives of this protest.
“Our main goal is to raise awareness of the issue,” Turley said. “[This] is very important and close to us. Our main thing is to have solidarity within the group. We’re just the kids from Hong Kong watching these protests like everyone else around the world.”
Additionally, the timing of these protests is significant because Wednesday, Oct. 1 marks China’s National Day, which commemorates the establishment of the People’s Republic of China at Tiananmen Square on Oct. 1, 1949. Turley noted the significance of the timing of the event and explained why these protests are important for students and young people to follow.
“I think it’s important for Hong Kong to protest not only for democracy and so people can have a vote, but to show that people care about the [political] issues.” Turley said. “In Hong Kong, I feel that there is this concern that people only care about economic future and the growth of the city. But it is important that they’re actually going out in the streets and caring about the issues of the day.”
Wong added why she feels it is important to support these demonstrations at the University.
“I’m supporting the movement because Hong Kong has been autonomic for so long and we had our own government and we were kind of promised democracy and to be left alone from China for the past 50 years,” Wong said. “But in recent years, China has been increasing its influence over Hong Kong slowly, ,and that’s a big cause of fear for a lot of Hong Kong citizens.”
Students spoke about their opinions regarding the conflict.
“I am very conflicted by the situation, because of course I support democracy in comparison to communism,” Wong said. “We do not want to be under the communist system. The impression most of us have of China is that there [are] many restrictions and corruption in the political system. There is control and censorship of the media…. Interaction with [the] outside world is somewhat restricted….We want the freedom that we have enjoyed since Hong Kong was returned to British rule.”
Zhang added that this conflict, as well as Hong Kong in this situation, has a definitive purpose.
“Here, they have a very clear goal…. They want free and fair elections for the next chief executive election without Beijing’s intervention because what they don’t want is Beijing to choose all the people they can vote for, which is what happens,” Zhang said.
Zhang further expressed that she feels that most students are unaware of the facts.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand Hong Kong [at] first, which has [its] own court system, [its] own press laws, [its] own currency,” Zhang said. “Hong Kong’s seen as very distinct. I think that’s the important thing. It’s not just governmental protests. They want to preserve their identity. Even though it’s such a tiny city, they’re very different from China.”
Furthemore, Wong noted that despite these protests, she does not think it is possible for Hong Kong to be entirely independent.
“The Hong Kong economy is so dependent on China,” Wong said. “They are our biggest market. It’s complicated because we don’t want to be under China’s rule, but we want all of the perks of being [associated with China]….We are a city; we are small. We import everything from China.”