Berkeley Supports Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protesters from Afar

This article originally appeared in The Berkeley Graduate.

50 years ago, Jack Weinberg’s arrest helped set off UC Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement. Last week, commemorating the FSM, Weinberg spoke in support of protesters in Hong Kong.

Jack Weinberg speaks to UC Berkeley students on the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement

“This wasn’t what I was planning to say today, but I think it was what had to be said today,” Weinberg declared, “the whole world is watching.” Weinberg was the graduate student who refused to show campus police his identification 50 years ago. Students encircled the police car on Sproul Plaza where police placed Weinberg’s after his arrest. The students deflated the tires so the car was unable to move, instead serving as a podium for public discussion.

Speaking to students and FSM veterans gathered again in Sproul Plaza, Weinberg highlighted that university and high school students are leading the way in Hong Kong. “Our movement in Berkeley inspired activists around the world,” he remarked. “The Hong Kong students taking part are setting an example for the whole world to follow.”

Thousands of pro-democracy protestors have been occupying Hong Kong’s financial district since September 28. Equipped with umbrellas, the protestors have “turned central Hong Kong into a colorful sea of umbrellas,” according to Global Voices author Oiwan Lam.

The “Umbrella Movement” takes advantage of Hong Kong residents’ constant preparation for weather changes. In addition, the umbrellas have helped protesters fend off tear gas and pepper spray.

Local police are attempting to suppress the movement by force. As of this weekend, Amnesty International, Hong Kong Twitter that, “blue ribbon anti-protest groups have attempted to provoke peaceful demonstrator.”

Police clashes may continue. An opinion piece in China’s People’s Daily confirmed mainland China’s support for Hong Kong’s law enforcement, “to restore social order in Hong Kong as soon as possible.”

Occupy Central with Love and Peace is organizing the movement. Over the summer, the group gathered citizen opinions and had 800,000 signatures on a referendum that would allow all citizens to choose candidates for Hong Kong’s upcoming election. China previously announced they would only allow Hong Kong to vote, on the condition that a pro-Beijing committee choose the candidates. On July 1, organizers held a peaceful sit-in, commemorating the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China. In late September, students boycotted classes leading up to China’s National Day (October 1). “Pro-democracy protesters believe their future is at stake, and so does the Chinese government,” reports Oiwan from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement, courtesy of Pasu Au Yeung

“I am glad to see people in Hong Kong finally stand up for themselves,” remarked Jeremy C.F. Lin in an interview. Lin is a UC Berkeley at the School of Journalism graduate student. An international student from Taiwan, Lin believes, “Taiwan and Hong Kong share a lot of similarities. They both are economically strong, democratic, civil and both have been suffering from China’s insatiable thirst for international political clout.”

Lin is happy to see demonstrators in Hong Kong cooperating with student leaders of the “Sunflower Movement” in Taiwan, “we are ultimately fighting against Beijing for the same reason — our identity,” Lin explained. His friends in Hong Kong have passionately supported the protest, which Lin sees as directly linked to identity, “why would people in Hong Kong ever want to embrace China when they don’t share the same identity?” Lin feels the Chinese government is “unable to keep its promises and is run by a tiny minority of oligarchs who pay little attention to what the people really want.”

Lin would like to see UC Berkeley students becoming more involved, and believes students can actively support Hong Kong by using social media to raise awareness.

At Berkeley on October 1, Weinberg applauded the yellow ribbons and banner representing the movement. As Weinberg stated, “just when things seem impossible, the opportunity arises.”

Note: This author recognizes the absence of a voice from a UC Berkeley student from Hong Kong in this article and welcomes comments and opinions from students from Hong Kong.  

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