Tens of thousands of pro-democracy campaigners are paralysing Hong Kong with their civil disobedience. They have made their message clear to the world and their power clear to a major superpower. Their defiance shows us the power that young people still possess to change our world.

Throughout much of the world, young people are paying for the mistakes of previous generations. Youth unemployment is scandalously high in parts of the West, reaching well over 50 per cent in Spain and above 20 per cent in the EU as a whole[1]. It is predicted that today’s teenagers will be less wealthy than their parents, bucking the trend set by previous generations. The under-25s of today share no blame for the economic downturn, but bear the consequences harsher than their elders. A bleak future beckons.

Yet, despite this, young people continue to be helping to change the world. They have a lower stake in society than older generations, so have less chance of having their voices heard. Many seem disillusioned by politics, as the voter turnout for young people is incredibly poor (44 per cent of 18-24 year-olds voted at the 2010 General Election, compared to the full turnout of 65 per cent)[2]. In Britain, students were blatantly deceived by the now Deputy Prime Minister over tuition fees. Politicians do not seem to prioritise them unless they can entice the votes of their parents. However, as I have said, they continue to shape our world.

The Hong Kong protesters have followed a long tradition of student-organised rallies, a tradition that stretches throughout the world. Many of today’s pensioners were part of the huge protests that swept the West in the 1960s. Ethnic minority rights, gay rights, women’s rights and peace in Vietnam were furiously fought for by the young. Skip forward to the present day, or even backwards to the past, and you will witness a familiar phenomenon. Many of today’s anti-war demonstrations are filled with young people, as are most other political protests. Universities are full of political societies and their students are passionate about student politics. The young organise, represent and support each other incredibly well.

There are many issues at the heart of the Hong Kong situation. A small nation of people must resist a superpower to gain democratic freedom. Autonomy exists in a very limited form, even after the end of Britain’s colonial rule. The nation has a rather unique identity; partly Chinese, even slightly British, but, crucially, they are neither. They are Hong Kong. They are a prosperous nation, but their leaders are essentially selected for them. It is a complex issue, yet the people of Hong Kong are setting an example to the world.

Hong Kong students and Occupy Central have organised the mass display of civil disobedience. Despite some trouble the demonstrations have mostly been peaceful, as of the time of writing. An incredible number have come out to protest. The eyes of the world have been drawn to their campaign.

It appears unlikely that any immediate success will be seen. China’s regional and economic strength allows it protection from much of the criticism and sanctions the West would like to aim at it. It is unwavering in its unwillingness to grant political freedom, whether that be to its own citizens or those of the nations it exercises, or wishes to exercise, power over. The struggle for a free Tibet has achieved relatively little over several decades.

Despite the obvious need to remain realistic, the recent demonstrations are a positive step. They draw further attention to China’s clampdown on political freedom and demonstrate the power of people, even in the face of a much more powerful opposition. The students and other young people that have been so instrumental in organising the protests should be immensely proud.

It can be helpful, in struggles such as this, to take comfort in the successes of the past. Little political power has ever been granted freely, most of it has been fought for and won. The end of colonialism, the end of Apartheid, the end of the Vietnam War and countless other conquests exist as examples. The young people of the world should look at these, as well as the demonstrations in Hong Kong, and realise that with their organisation, solidarity and, perhaps most interestingly for the future, technology, they can change the world.

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/nov/29/eurozone-youth-unemployment-record-high-under-25s

2 Henn, M. and Foard, N., 2011. Young people, political participation and trust in Britain. Nottingham Trent University.