This week, as I was working on our biggest event of the year, the Campaign Nonviolence Action Week, the significance of this work for nonviolence came into focus.
On Tuesday, I received a facebook message from Iris, a friend I knew from college. We volunteered together serving the homeless many times back then, but I hadn’t spoken to her in probably more than seven years. Her message was simple, “Please help.”
Iris lives in Hong Kong, which, as you’ve probably heard, is in the midst of perhaps the largest, mostly nonviolent protest in the city’s history. They are working to prevent mainland China from forcing their communist policies onto the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong. The latest concern was a policy that would allow people arrested in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China where the judicial system is anything but fair. While the government has agreed to rescind that policy, the fight is not over.
Iris has joined the demonstrations and said to me, “Recently the situation in Hong Kong is going downhill pretty fast…. The regime is using all sorts of tactics to suppress our freedom of speech. … The regime also used the police, gangsters, and pro China patriots to attack the protesters physically. Some protesters were seriously injured by sharp knives, batons, tear gas bombs, rubber bullets, bean bag shots, etc. Many of them are very young and innocent! ”
In a recent Atlantic article about the Hong Kong situation, they say that police have “arrested nearly 1,400 people between the ages of 12 and 76 since the protests erupted this spring.”
Iris said that their ultimate hope was universal suffrage — the right for everyone to vote for their Chief Executive — rather than the current system of appointment from mainland China. Her appeal could not have been more urgent, “We know very well that without genuine universal suffrage, there’s no way to stop this outrageous suppression by the regime.”
Recently images from Hong Kong are showing protesters carrying U.S. flags during rally’s as a symbol of their fight for democracy and hope that the U.S. might show support. Now, here in the U.S., we have a chance to make our voices heard about this situation too.
The people of Hong Kong, Iris says, “hope that the U.S. government can pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act so that the Chinese communist party cannot take advantage of Hong Kong… We want to make sure there will be consequences when tyrants commit human rights crimes so that they cannot continue to spread totalitarianism everywhere.”
This bill currently has bi-partisan support and President Trump has indicated support for it as well. Please contact your elected officials and show your support for this bill.
In my continued discussion with Iris, she expressed her hope and support for the continuation of a largely nonviolent movement, and yet when faced with the government’s violent backlash she writes, “Although I still strongly believe violence is not the way out, the past few weeks made me rethink and doubt whether staying purely nonviolent is possible in certain situations, for example now in Hong Kong, people are tortured once they are being arrested (or caught) by the police. Some even suspected that the police had raped or killed people.”
I write this article from the comfort and safety of my home in the U.S. and so it feels uncomfortable to keep encouraging her to stay nonviolent when she and millions of others in Hong Kong are putting their lives on the line. Nevertheless, I know that nonviolence works and I know that it works because brave and courageous people, like Iris, are willing to put their lives at risk for a cause greater than themselves. Their nonviolent movement can show the world that they have the moral high ground and can potentially gain the sympathy and support of the U.S. and other democracies for real and sustainable change. Dr. Erica Chenoweth’s research on nonviolence proves the impact and success of movements like this as well. (Also, check out Jamila Raqib’s “The Secret of Effective Nonviolent Resistance,” which details concrete examples of successful nonviolent campaigns around the world that have faced withering repression.)
This week, as Campaign Nonviolence Action Week roles on with over 3300 actions for a culture of peace and nonviolence, Iris’ pleas and the pleas of the protesters in Hong Kong are a reminder why this week matters. It matters because people’s lives and their human rights matter. It matters because nonviolence is the key to unlocking the potential for people around the world to create more just and peaceful lives for themselves and others.
Each and every person who takes nonviolent action this week, however great or small the event, is part of this nonviolent movement and we at Pace e Bene stand with you. We also stand together in solidarity with all those choosing nonviolence as they risk their lives for justice in Hong Kong and around the world. Thank you for your courage!
Campaign Nonviolence, a project of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, is working for a new culture of nonviolence by connecting the issues to end war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction. We organize The Nonviolent Cities Project and the annual Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.
Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.