I’m currently contributing a short, light-hearted political column to Hong Kong Time Out Magazine. Below is the uncut, original version of my latest piece…
The good activist
Direct action and civil disobedience often involve effecting change by raising public awareness and so those involved inevitably open themselves up for scrutiny. Some dismiss activists as ego-maniacal, but most of us seek the spotlight for a just cause (not ourselves). Certainly some element of ego will be in play, as you need to be of an outspoken and confident persuasion – few revolutions are led by insecure, timid types. However, many local activists have discovered that you regularly have to put your reputation and liberty on the line to highlight an issue.
The tabloid press humiliated Tibet protester Christina Chan last year, taking the focus away from the political discussion and publishing stolen photos edited to look as if they were lewd. Coupled with photographers lying in wait outside her flat, it’s enough to discourage any young person from speaking out. Meanwhile Long Hair regularly resorts to lobbing fruit around LEGCO, hollering profanities and scrapping with police because he knows that, in the competition for publicity, his political struggles will be aired more widely if he resorts to farce than if he didn’t.
A few years back I myself was tear-gassed at the WTO demonstrations, and more recently had various objects and obscenities hurled at me before being detained – on ultra-flimsy grounds – during a peaceful human rights protest at the Olympic torch relay. The global resistance movement takes no pleasure in the extremes it must go to in order to capture the limelight. Sitting with some degree of dignity in front of a press conference is preferable to chaining oneself to railings, but it is a rare luxury to have such a platform and often it takes years of ‘lower’ or more creative forms of dissent to engage the fickle media.
Activism is no ego-trip or walk in the park, nor is it a recent phenomenon – we’re in good company. Some would have accused Ghandi of being a trouble-maker, Zhao Ziyang of being a wimp or told Rosa Parks to sit down and quit showing off. Many of our civil liberties were hard-won through peaceful resistance, and whilst we’ve regretfully had to adapt our methods, actions still speak louder than sitting at home complaining.
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