Escalation by other means?

After an eventful night of direct confrontation, maybe protestors are ready to consider alternative methods of escalation?

The HK Federation of Students and Scholarism called on supporters to surround the central government offices last night.

I never agreed with Regina Ip but found myself in agreement with her when I heard her on radio news today: So what if you block people from going to work for a few days, what do you achieve?

According to student leaders,  the goal of surrounding the central government offices last night was “to have the government respond to our demand, and this action will continue until they respond.” See Occupy supporters and police clash as Hong Kong protests escalate. The action was ended by excessive police force and so the government is under no pressure to respond.

I am not alone in my skepticism. My FB feeds today are full of accounts of people saying that they didn’t believe that this action would achieve anything–even among those who went along.

The organizers estimated that about 4,000 people turned out at Admiralty last night. This is a relatively low figure given the massive outrage at police brutality in Mongkok, especially compared with the mass rally denouncing thug violence on Oct. 3. Is this a sign that there was rather weak support for radical forms of escalation?  I also saw some posts in my FB feeds suggesting that leaders have to show leadership — curiously, such voices come from people who normally argue that “there are no leaders.” See post on unity.

I have been saying for some time 1) that escalation by radical action can be counterproductive and can backfire on the movement, and 2) that there are alternative methods of escalation that are simultaneously more effective and less risky. The critical issue is to impose costs on those whose voices count in pressuring CY to re-open talks. Staying at the occupy sites, surrounding the central government offices, or storming the Legislative Council building clearly do not impose costs on those who count the most.

Let me be long-winded and put together what I said earlier:

It may be less daunting, though by no means easy, to put pressure on business elites who are in the position to influence the government. All over the world, business elites are naturally pro-regime. But they may have second thoughts if protestors can impose costs on their continued collusion with the government. Protestors are circulating a list of businesses for a targeted boycott. (

Scholars have argued that methods of dispersal — such as consumer boycotts and nonpayment of taxes — could be as effective as methods of concentration — such as the massive demonstrations that are on display now. If targeted boycotts hurt the interest of business tycoons whose support CY relies on and if nonpayment of taxes make bureaucrats unable to administer Hong Kong, then protestors would have a higher chance of compelling concessions … (Beware that not paying taxes would get one in trouble. Thus there is a call to write stacks of checks of $689 each) (

HKFS is talking about escalation in response to police brutality [in Mongkok]… It is understandable why student leaders want to do something to show their outrage and to keep up the momentum. But don’t get fixated on methods of concentration such as occupy and mass demonstrations, think about potentially more effective methods of dispersal such as targeted boycott. And it is worth remembering how students’ satyagraha walk against the high-speed railway (反高鐵五區苦行) deeply touched HK people in 2010. Paradoxically, the clearance of static occupy, a method of concentration, organically gave birth to flash or fluid occupy, a more sustainable method of dispersal. (

Escalation may be productive but may also be counterproductive. Rowdies think that escalation “would demoralize the police and force the government to offer concessions” and “steel protesters for future struggles”? That could happen, but there is no guarantee. It is the same dilemma faced by the government: will repression intimidate protestors or backfire. For protestors, taking radical actions may galvanize support, but may alienate supporters and strengthen the police. What happened on Sep. 28 and Oct. 3 is unlikely to be repeated. At the time, police and thug violence backfired on the government. This time, the storming of Legco is backfiring on the movement. ( Also

So, the following view is misguided:

a university student said he felt the night’s action was “encouraging”. “Unlike the guerrilla warfare in Mong Kok, we have here demonstrated a clear goal of blockading the government headquarters by storming the different access routes. This is a clear action demanding the government to respond to our call for universal suffrage.” (Occupy supporters and police clash as Hong Kong protests escalate)

A group of secondary students restaged the satyagraha walk at Admiralty yesterday. “They knelt down after every 28 steps and walked around the buildings nine times to remember the police’s use of tear gas on September 28.” (Occupy supporters and police clash as Hong Kong protests escalate and High school pupils stage barefoot walk in Occupy solidarity.) Such action could be taken out of occupy sites to neighborhoods to spread the cause. See also

Lesson from the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa:

Suffering under the system of apartheid for almost 40 years, black South Africans -who have erupted in protest several times over the years – take to the streets of townships across South Africa in 1984. But the revolt is chaotic, unorganized and violent, and many blacks die as the regime responds with violence.
In Port Elizabeth a charismatic and shrewd young activist, Mkhuseli Jack, skillfully redirects the people’s energy into strategic nonviolent action. Mounting an economic boycott of downtown businesses, all of which are owned by whites, blacks gain more attention for their demands than ever before.
Coupled with rent boycotts, labor strikes and international sanctions, the new wave of non-violent direct action separates the government from its means of support. It also helps push a new prime minister into negotiations for national elections in which blacks participate for the first time in South Africa’s history and elect Nelson Mandela as president.

Violent clashes mar the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong (

China Digital Times has a good collection of various reports.

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Filed under Umbrella Movement

4 responses to “Escalation by other means?

  1. Pingback: Is hunger strike effective? What could be more effective? | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  2. Pingback: “we thought if we could keep the revolution peaceful, it might lead to some changes” | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  3. Pingback: Post-occupy: Divided over strategies and tactics though united over genuine universal suffrage | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

  4. Pingback: Lessons from “Almost a Revolution” | Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

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