“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King Jr. said.
Recently, protests in Hong Kong escalated dramatically as anti-government demonstrators moved into university campuses. Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University became the site of an intense stand-off between protesters and the police, in what appears to be the latest in a series of revolts in the semi-autonomous state.
University authorities, meanwhile, have implored students not to engage in violence, insisting universities are an impartial place of education and the spiraling unrest on campus is a major safety threat. Many students disregarded these pleas, and hundreds of students were trapped inside the campus for more than 24 hours, facing off against a police force that used tear gas without moderation.
All the way across the world, students at UConn prepare for the March of Solidarity. Many are eager to express their opinions and shout catchy slogans about racism, climate change and the omnipresent leviathan that is the patriarchy. To draw a comparison between student protests at the University of Connecticut and the terrible events at Hong Kong’s PolyU would be facetious, but perhaps worthy of consideration.
Statistically, most of the Hong Kong protestors are young, middle-class and educated, with a third of those arrested being under the age of 18. Carrie Lam, the beleaguered Chief Executive of Hong Kong, courted controversy by commenting that the violent protestors had no “stake in society,” perhaps alluding to their age and the lack of consequences they face, despite the economic slump their protests have put the state in.
The increasing violence of the protests is worrying and intensely fascinating at the same time. The social rage of Hong Kong’s younger generation, coupled with the peer pressure students face, has escalated the protests to violent riots. There has been extensive property damage and extended closure of schools and universities.
A turning point has been reached when angry mobs flood universities to prove a point. Many of the young protesters who stormed Polytech University were secondary school children, who were fueled by frustration and the strength of the crowd accompanying them. Now they are stuck in an extremely dangerous situation, surrounded by radical protesters making make-shift bombs and pitching Molotov cocktails.
Looking back in history, in 1989, a similar movement where students rose against the government ended in a massacre in Tiananmen Square, and it does not take a lot of imagination to see China take similar, drastic measures again. After the Arab Spring, humanity has learnt that autocratic regimes can bring down popular uprisings, if they respond with equal brutality.
Today, as UConn prepares to speak up in the March of Solidarity, it is important to learn from the mistakes of our fellow protesters. Change on campus happens when local civic leaders hold peaceful demonstrations, while including university authorities in deep and meaningful discussions. It will serve us well to remember that loud and violent protests will never be the answer.
Nidhi J. Nair is a contributor for The Daily Campus. They can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.