Decision-making process in HK protests is the opposite of what we’ve seen in the most other centralized protests movements. For example, events can be proposed by some organizations such as CHRF and Demosistō, or purely by netizens. The process of organizing events is often very similar to improvement proposals in crypto space:
- It normally starts with the discussion in Telegram groups or during real life brainstorming meetings (similar to Bitcoin/Ethereum mailing lists).
- Then activists create a post on LIHKG (similar to BIP or EIP in crypto).
- If the proposal gets enough community support, people start discussing the details such as date, time, agenda, purpose, route, dress-code, gear, etc.
- Then somebody combines all the info together, attaches some posters and creates a post with a final information.
- After that artists create lots of call-to-action arts and posters with the info about the event.
- Eventually, people start spreading the message on social media, distribute leaflets on the streets and stick posters on the walls across the city.
Literally anybody can submit a proposal for an event, suggest some tactics, start a crowdfunding campaign, and share tips from their fields of expertise. Since August, when HK protests hit the mainstream media, we’ve seen a surge of netizen’s activity on reddit with lots of great ideas entering the space. The beauty of reddit, is that it allows pseudonymous interaction without any link to a real identity (R.I.P. Aaron Swartz), so if people are afraid to use regular accounts, they simply create one-time ‘throwaway’ accounts to share their ideas. It’s fair to mention that CCP bought a share in reddit and there was recently a scandal with censoring a photo from Tienanmen Square massacre, so the usage of VPN and privacy-oriented email services is highly recommended.
There is a spam filter and an automod in place in our subreddit to filter out spammers and trolls. There is a minimum account age and karma requirement to post/comment in our sub. If your don’t see your post in new, please use the ‘message the mod’ function and link to it, we will look into it.
OK, but what if a proposal didn’t get enough support? Well, if BIP/EIP didn’t get the public support in a crypto space, then it will not be implement. The same is happening in the HK protests movement. If a certain event didn’t get enough public support, then activists will just cancel it. Sometimes the date and time of the protest is announced prior to the event, but the actual action will be discussed by protesters right on the spot, depending on how many people attend the event.
In the next articles we will discuss in details how protesters communicate on the ground using Telegram, FireChat, AirDrop, and Walkie-talkie.
Evolution of protest
History crash course: Hong Kong used to be a British colony for 150 years, but due to the pressure from China it never gained independence as other British colonies did after the Second World War. Instead, Hong Kong was ruled by Britain till 1997 and then was handed back to communist China with a completely different legal and political system. In order to save an important role of HK in China’s growing economy, HK was granted with a status of Special Administrative Region under ‘1 country, 2 systems’ principle for 50 years till 2047. That turned out to be very useful for CCP because China was isolated internationally after Tienanmen Square massacre, so HK acted as a bridge. HKers were promised with genuine universal suffrage, but it was never delivered, which angered the populace. Here is a recap of HK protests from June to August.
Fun fact: in 1980s Britain tried to renew a 99-year lease for a part of HK called New Territories, but Beijing rejected an offer and threatened to cut off the water supply and deploy PLA, so Britain was pressured to handover not only New Territories, but the whole Hong Kong, including Kowloon and HK island. There are still many debates whether it was ethical to handover millions of people with western values to communist China.
There was an interesting study that analyzed hundreds of major protests over the 20th century for the overthrow of the government or territorial liberation. According to the results, all campaigns achieved significant changes after protesters have gained the active participation of just 3.5% of the population. And lots of them succeeded with far fewer than that. In Hong Kong there were multiple protests with more than 1 million participants, and the biggest peaceful march on June 16 gathered almost 2 million people, which is astonishing 27% of Hong Kong population. Critics say that the real number of participants might be less, but even if we assume 1 million people, it’s still 13.5% of the population.
With such a huge public support and unity Hongkongers should have achieved some significant political changes, right? Well, after three months of protests, Chief Executive of HK finally announced that she will propose withdrawing of the controversial extradition bill in October when the legislature reconvenes, but none of other demands has been met.
Beijing keeps repeating that HK protests are purely ‘internal affairs’, but as we can see, Hongkongers absolutely cannot succeed without a help of international community. Protesters in other countries usually have an option to either overthrow their government, or achieve a significant political change, but in HK it’s not an option, because HK government is controlled by the central government in Beijing. Side note: it took Ukrainians 3 months to overthrow their government during Euromaidan in 2014.
Red Media constantly blame ‘foreign interference’ for massive protests in HK, claiming that Hongkongers are unable to organize such a movement by themselves, so many Chinese, even in crypto space, believe so.
Surprisingly, even some independent journalists buy this story, calling protesters ‘US-backed rioters’.
Don’t get me wrong, American corporate media is biased, and the CIA (NED) is definitely meddling as they always do, but 2 million protesters on June 16 and 1.7 million protesters 2 months later on August 18 clearly showed us that pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong has a huge public support, and it’s very different from US-backed regime-change attempts in other countries like Venezuela.
To debunk the ‘foreign interference’ myth even further let’s look at a few examples of how this highly decentralized movement naturally evolved due to constant pressure, and how protesters managed to reach such a huge international exposure, much more than recent anti-government protests in France, Algeria, Sudan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Russia, West Papua, Puerto Rico, and Kashmir.
Get international attention
Hongkongers learned a lot from the Umbrella Revolution of 2014 and many other smaller protests over the last few decades, so all logistical practices of collecting & bringing supplies and setting up medical & donation stations were already in-built and didn’t need any additional organization from ‘foreign powers’. Interestingly, some tactics were even brought to HK by foreign protesters a long time ago, e.g. there were 2,000 South Korean farmers during anti-WTO protests in 2005, who showed the importance of constructing barricades in a triangle-shape, so police cannot simply push it down. Side note: all South Korean men have to serve in army.
The Umbrella Revolution of 2014 was mostly focused on occupying certain city areas (Admiralty, Causeway Bay, and Mong Kok), so in early June 2019 activists chose the same tactic and most protests were held on the Hong Kong island, which is the main business and government center.
After two million people took to the streets, Hongkongers understood that the HK government is fully controlled by CCP and will not give them any freedom regardless of how many people demand for it, so activists started brainstorming the strategies. The only way to survive the white terror, put the pressure on the officials, and prevent a brutal crackdown, was to bring more international attention and raise awareness of mainland Chinese.
To bring more international attention, Hongkongers fund-raised $0.8 million US dollars for a huge ads campaign prior to G20 summit in Osaka. It increased international coverage, so HKers repeated the same tactic again and again, placing ads in different newspapers across the world.
Protesters also visited foreign consulates multiple times to deliver petitions, and HK students abroad organized solidarity rallies in different countries. One more way to bring the attention of a foreign media was waving foreign flags, especially UK and US flags. That decision spiked lots of debates among protesters, but we will focus on how activists achieve consensus in the next articles.
Finally, activists started visiting famous tourist destinations across the world such as Mont Blanc, Mount Fuji, Horseshoe Bend, holding a flag with a slogan “Liberate Hong Kong; Revolution of Our Times”, which was introduced by pro-independence activist Edward Leung Tin-kei in 2016.
As a result, many Lennon walls spawned across the city, protesters moved from Admiralty to other locations, and netizens organized an event dedicated to raising awareness of mainland Chinese in Kowloon by distributing booklets in simplified Chinese, sharing posters via AirDrop, chanting in Mandarin, and talking to tourists about different censored topics such as human rights abuses, political kidnapping, enforced disappearance, widespread torture, oppression of Tibetans, detention of one million Uighurs in internment camps, forced organ harvesting, persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and other religious groups, crackdown on human rights lawyers, creation of a surveillance state, and suppression of dissidents across the globe.
This strategy gave certain results, so in mid-July CCP was forced to change the tactics by suddenly allowing and even encouraging HK-related discussions on Chinese social media, but only if they follow the Party line, which denounces the protesters as “violent separatists and terrorists”, who are backed by foreign powers and lost the public support.
Side note: 1.7 million Hongkongers took to the streets on August 18 despite heavy rain, showing that community still strongly supports the pro-democracy movement even after 10 weeks of protests.
Once protesters became more mobile, netizens proposed guerilla tactics that were previously used in other countries such as flash mob-style actions without clashing with the police (this tactic proved to be effective during the 2018 Armenian peaceful revolution, and was later implemented in Russian decentralized protests movement Bessrochka, but didn’t get the momentum yet). In the end of July 2019, HK protesters have successfully adopted this hit-and-run strategy that can be best described as: occupy, disrupt, disperse, repeat.
Every night at 10pm Hongkongers shout out slogans from their apartments or from wherever they are with turned on phone flash lights, which is similar to an event from Russian Digital Resistance movement of 2018, when people were flying paper planes out of their windows at a certain time as a protest against government’s now-failed attempt to block Telegram app.
As we see, the movement was not organized by some centralized ‘foreign power’, but rather evolved naturally due to ongoing cat-and-mouse game with police, and with a help of netizens around the world, who shared their experience via social media platforms.
Crypto community stands with HK
For many years international business communities were afraid to discuss China’s sensitive topics because of potential economical repercussions and cyber bullying by 50 cent army. On the other side, businesses and famous people were often endorsing CCP’s domestic and foreign policy without any fear of a backlash from the western world. Interestingly, famous people on the West sometimes do use their influence to support and raise awareness about pro-democracy protests, e.g. Rihanna’s post about Sudan massacre, but when it comes to world’s superpower China, most people prefer to keep silence.
However, this trend is changing rapidly as more people start exercising their freedom of speech everyday. The boycott of a Disney movie Mulan is an unprecedented example of a backlash caused by supporting Beijing’s position.
As for crypto community, it was interesting to see how some influencers jumped in from the start fully supporting HK activists, which was a very bold move, especially for an owner of bitcoin.com domain name. Side note: even though there is a growing pro-independence movement, most HK protesters don’t seek any independence at this moment, but rather demand a genuine universal suffrage within ‘1 country, 2 systems’ principle.
Some crypto influencers are less vocal, but they still show support by setting up pro-HK profile pictures, which is a regular strategy in crypto space for supporting a common cause (#WeAreAllHodlonaut).
However, it’s worth mentioning that independent donation-based news outlet Hong Kong Free Press recently had problems with receiving donations held by BitPay. Hopefully, the issue will be resolved ASAP and it’s not politically-motivated as when Coinbase suspended account of WikiLeaks shop without any notice or explanation.
The Chinese government thinks that it is teaching Hong Kongers and the rest of the world a lesson. Only we can prove the opposite to be true: that it is actually Hong Kongers teaching the world right now, showing us how the future is already here and how to face that future head-on, hand in hand. © HKFP
How things end with Hong Kong will set the precedent not only for Taiwan and the Philippines, but far beyond that. There are different attempts in crypto community to start a libertarian country with a highly decentralized governance model. However, this country won’t have a regular army, at least in the nearest future, so how can people protect their freedoms if big aggressive governments will decide to interfere?
Civil disobedience, peaceful protests, digital resistance, and global solidarity seems like a good non-violent way to protect freedoms, so Hong Kong is a great example of a battle between people and an authoritarian state. If Hongkongers survive this battle, then their experience will be used as a guidebook how to protect civil rights. Their success will also inspire other communities across the world to demand more freedoms the same as Ukraine’s fight for freedom inspired Hongkongers.
In the next articles we will look at how Hong Kong activists solve disputes, achieve consensus, and what are the centralization risks of the movement. We will also talk about digital resistance, coordination on the ground, and the use of security- and privacy-oriented technologies.
Now, when somebody says that protests are organized by ‘foreign powers’, you can always refer them to this article, which explains in details the decentralized nature of the movement.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed financial advisor, and this article is not a financial advice. The information presented here is for educational purpose only, it represents my personal opinion, and is not purported to be fact. Cryptocurrencies are very volatile and can move quickly in any direction. I’m not responsible, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any content, goods, services or companies mentioned in this article. Seek a duly licensed professional for an investment advice.