Demanding Local Power From Hong Kong to New York

2014.10.7.HongKong.MainHong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution. (Photo: Pasu Au Yeung / Flickr)

Imagine: a wave of protests engulfs a city, demanding attention to a lack of democracy. Police fire tear gas, local lawyers object, and instead of dispersing, the protests don’t dwindle, they grow. A week in, thousands of students are boycotting their classes and major junctions in the city are occupied and shut down. Peaceful protestors in black receive respectful attention from the public and the press and the story is front page news around the world.

That story’s from Hong Kong, but what if it wasn’t? What if that was the story of the same week in New York? What if, after 400,000 marched through Manhattan those protestors hadn’t hopped on buses; what if those protestors had refused to go home?

In Hong Kong, the people in the streets have a few clear demands. They want open elections with candidates they can pick. What if we had rallied for the same? The Hong Kong protestors want candidates — not cronies – not people picked in private by an unaccountable committees. They want universal suffrage and a real say in local decision-making. What if the Climate justice marchers had demanded the same stuff?

In our case, how about publicly funded elections? Not candidate picking by private funders and political campaign committees? How about an end to pay-to-play decision making and the recurring threats to some people’s right to vote.

Direct democracy. If it’s a good demand for Hong Kong, it’s a good demand in the US too.

The Hong Kong democrats want island policy set by island people, or at least people who put local interests first. Not rule by far off bureaucrats or the permanent power of permanent power.

If the majority in US opinion polls say they want more spending on shared goods like schools and transit and renewable energy, why is corporate pressure so often able to stop worthy projects in their tracks and push through dirty oil and gas pipelines instead?

Decentralized power, electoral transparency, local decision making about local concerns: are those Hong Kong’s demands or ours? You tell me.

One sure way to distinguish their protests from ours, is that seven days on, there’s were still in the street, while ours had gone home and business was back to usual.