In 2016, a few weeks before Donald Trump’s election, I cast my first ballot in an election in Hong Kong. The vote, like any vote in Hong Kong, was rigged: half of the city’s legislators and city leaders are handpicked behind closed doors by Beijing loyalists in a system developed decades earlier by British colonial autocrats. In this way, the Chinese government and its oligarchy control the territory, even though the vast majority of residents vote for progressive democracy-friendly candidates like the two lawmakers I support, Roy Kwong and Wu Chi-wai.
This vote would be my last in Hong Kong. In the years since then, the Chinese authorities have crushed a pro-democracy uprising that took more than 2 million Hong Kong residents to the streets, and introduced a terrible national security law that allows them to punish any Hong Kong who protests the status quo. The government has used the law to appeal to everyone from journalists to booksellers to school children aged 10 and over.
On Wednesday, my elected representatives Kwong and Wu were arrested in a prison massive police sweep That rounded off almost every prominent progressive lawmaker in Hong Kong, along with a handful of well-known feminists, migrant rights, disability rights, and work organizers. Their crime was participating in an unofficial primary that attracted 600,000 voters last summer. Authorities say this non-binding expression of grassroots self-government was dangerous enough to undermine their rule.
I now live in New York experiencing the guilt of the survivors as I watch civil society collapse in Hong Kong. But when I was overseas, I found that the problem isn’t that the rest of the world doesn’t know. Hong Kong, with its multitude of international news agencies, has received a lot of media attention. The problem is, the rest of the world has so little to offer. What could western powers – who enabled the coronavirus to break through their own population – teach Hong Kong people Protection of vulnerable people? How could the United States restore Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms if American leaders try to overthrow their own elections?
When mass arrests took place in Hong Kong on Wednesday, the US president and his party attempted to delegitimize the hard-won victories of black organizers in the Georgia Senate runoff election – an electoral mechanism they developed themselves black voters disenfranchised. Less than 24 hours later, Trump would unleash a white supremacist riot to storm the U.S. Capitol and stop Congress from confirming the presidential election. Other Hong Kong residents watching the chaos live stream sent me a horrified message when the Capitol Police appeared to open the barriers and simply let the hordes in. Nor did we lose that two of The Mob’s biggest cheerleaders were Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who are known for positioning themselves as Hong Kong’s strongest ally in Congress – until Cruz blocked a bill last month that blocked more Hong Kong residents Allowed refugees to enter the US on the grounds that they were “Chinese spies. ”
While President Xi Jinping’s takeover of Hong Kong is a direct extension of state ambitions, the American attack on American democracy is channeling the despair of an increasingly outnumbered white ruling class that preserves its undeserved status and gains after centuries of racist violence. But this American violence is in its own way tied to Hong Kong repression. The tear gas introduced to students in Hong Kong was that the same tear gas made in Pennsylvania Used against Black Lives Matter protesters in more than 100 cities across America. A Trump Executive Order last year found that the The US State Department trained the Hong Kong police force from combat tactics to drug robberies. In the meantime, the Chinese government has taken up every flare-up of American unrest – from the Capitol storms to the Protests after the death of George Floyd– To strengthen the case for action in Hong Kong.
Even now, I’m not sure most Americans understand how fragile their representative system really is. Yes, the votes were upheld, but what if a handful of other senators objected? Yes, Trump’s white supremacist coup had fizzled out, but what if there weren’t dozens of hooligans taking selfies, but thousands who refused to leave? In Hong Kong we thought we had more time. As it turns out, you don’t live in an autocracy until you are. Your resistance will work until it stops working. When an unelected authority takes total control, it feels like numbness. Just like what you experienced before, except this time you lost permanently.
After the US election in November, a friend said to me, “I wish we were the country Hong Kong people think we are.” I understand this feeling. Not because I think the United States should be the role model for the world, but because too many people in too many other places have run out of opportunities – and are waiting for this country to do it right. Unlike Hong Kong, America can try again.