Brown: Protest; the new universal language


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Demonstrators have taken over the streets in Hong Kong in a weeklong protest of China’s control over their democratic elections. The protest, dubbed Occupy Central, has brought protesters from all over Hong Kong to the collective cause of self-governance and autonomy from China who has played a large hand in Hong Kong’s government since July 1, 1997.

Given the youthful demographic of the movement, with many participants being students, it comes as no surprise that social media are used as tools to increase publicity of the protest. Despite censorship attempts, such as stopping the use of Instagram to control the images that reach Mainland China, this protest is being watched around the world. What we see here is another example of how the nature of protest and civil disobedience is adapting to the changes in technology, much as protests did in Tahrir Square in Egypt and Occupy Wall Street in the United States. In many ways, the world has become smaller and more connected through the growths in technology, and this in turn has widened the scope of protests held all over the world.

Through the use of social media, we have seen the emergence of a protest culture that transcends distance and demographic in ways not possible before. Pictures of demonstrators in Hong Kong uploaded to social media show young people using the “hands up, don’t shoot” gestures from the recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri. So what is the common thread that joins protesters in the United States rioting over the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a white police officer and protesters in Hong Kong fighting for democratic sovereignty nearly 8,000 miles away? 

The regimes in place that restrict freedom and oppresses the people have a million different names and faces, but the call for popular reform by the people needs no translation. This syncretic adoption of protest language that has literally crossed oceans demonstrates that we no longer live in a world where the struggles of the people exist in a vacuum. Although the specific demand for reform or equality may be unique to the country or demographic, the underlying principle that spurs the action never changes. It is possible for protests to spread and build off of each other the way that they have because what motivates the demand for freedom is intrinsic and universal.

The nature of a demand by the people can be observed in societies all over the world in any time period, and now we can see them grow to a global scale with a few clicks of a mouse. Social media has become the stage for social change and anyone with Internet connectivity has become the audience to a rapidly evolving global landscape.

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