Bravery is not about never being afraid, but about feeling fear and still choosing to do the right thing. Facing batons, pepper spray, teargas and armed forces, protesters from Hong Kong and many other places in the world have perfectly demonstrated the meaning of courage.
Fighting a mighty regime is always terrifying, given the resources and forces at its disposal. After a year of persistent protests in Hong Kong, more than 9,000 protesters have been arrested have been arrested and 1,000 of them prosecuted. However, our demand for democracy has not been fulfilled. Instead, police brutality has intensified; one judge praised knife-wielding pro-Beijing thugs for their “noble sentiments”; and worst of all, Beijing has scrapped its “one country, two systems” promise by unilaterally imposing a draconian rule over the city. Chanting “long live Liverpool”, carrying stickers emblazoned with Bible verses, waving other countries’ flags and holding blank placards have been framed as breaching the new security law. Books and TV shows containing critical voices have been censored, and liberal teachers reprimanded or fired. Each time China has sunk its claws deeper into this last beacon of liberty on its soil, our hope for democracy has faded.
On the same day the new law was put in place, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers took to the streets. More than 610,000 citizens cast their ballots in the city’s primary polls, despite Beijing’s warnings. When Beijing tightens its red lines and sends a chill through the city, our message to the world is clear: we will never surrender. “Be water” – the guiding principle of the anti-extradition protests last year – still inspires us. Forms of resistance need to be fluid and flexible; to evolve amid new political circumstances. When certain slogans and songs are forbidden, the city’s protesters use wordplay, songs with Morse code messages, and blank sticky notes to express our grievances. Others even subvert the Chinese Communist party’s own dogma, or the first line of the Chinese anthem “Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves”. Since political organisations are the primary targets of the law, resistance must now go underground, with some, like Nathan Law, fleeing the city to keep speaking out in the international arena.
When authoritarian leaders blanket the city in fear and desperation, courage and creativity are the most potent weapons we have.
• Glacier Kwong and Joshua Wong are activists; he is the author of Unfree Speech: The Threat To Global Democracy And Why We Must Act, Now