Why the muted outrage? The danger of ‘demobilization’

The “one country, two systems” model is finally killed by the disqualification of four more legislators and the application of mainland laws when the HK section of the high speed railway opens.

Since last week, pro-democracy voices have been wondering why the public responses have been so mute.

This is not because there is no public outrage. The problem is that HK politics has entered the phase of demobilization.

Demobilization is common in contentious politics. What the Umbrella Movement achieved was unprecedented mobilization of hitherto unconcerned citizens. What the perception of failure has created is the opposite — demobilization of once mobilized individuals and groups. Like other cases around the world, demobilization has come with bitter infighting, defection, disillusion, and heightened repression. In the aftermath of the umbrella movement, different opposition groups have bitterly blamed one another for the perceived failure. (Tilly and Tarrow, Contentious Politics, pp. 35, 122, 144)

Once a movement has entered the phase of demobilization, it becomes very difficult to restart mobilization. HK people were motivated to join the umbrella movement then because they were hopeful that people power could change politics — they could cite the successful cases of massive protests bringing down Art. 23 legislation in 2003 and national education in 2012. Now, people are pessimistic because Beijing is dictating everything and is willing to issue new decisions whenever things do not go its way. Thus, just when mass protests are more necessary than before, people are not taking the time  to fight a seemingly lost cause. (See, e.g., 香港還有希望嗎?)

What to do? The most important lesson from other cases is: Don’t give up.
Here are lessons from other movements:
  • Lesson 1: Plan a strategy
  • Lesson 2: Overcome atomization and fear and futility; create unity; mobilize broad participation
  • Lesson 3: Target pillars of support; create cracks in the regime
  • Lesson 4: Resist violence
  • Lesson 5: let regime repression backfire
  • Lesson 6: Don’t give up! You haven’t lost if you haven’t given up.

Contentious politics is, after all, the art of the impossible. (See related posts: forceful nonviolencefallacy; hunger strike)

We know that the disqualified legislators will keep fighting on:





The rest of us could turn to everyday forms of resistance under tightening domination. (See James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak):

  • doing what everyone is best at and upholding professional values in our daily routines — after all, if the civil service still maintains some semblance of neutrality and the media still show signs of press freedom only because many individuals have insisted on professionalism in their daily jobs
  • donate to the disqualified legislators and vote for them and their allies in by-elections
  • support civic groups and media organizations that uphold HK values
  • buy from mom-and-pop shops instead of chains or businesses controlled by pro-Beijing forces — see  boycott ; 撐小店大聯盟
  • help out each other in daily lives to strengthen the sense of civic community and counter the regime’s divide-and-rule efforts
  • do whatever one can think of to live in truth and to sustain HK’s core values



【守護公義基金】 恒生銀行 788-006039-001

小麗民主教室 https://www.facebook.com/siulai.hk/

Demosisto: https://www.facebook.com/demosisto/

Long Hair: https://www.facebook.com/hklsd/  支持社民連:www.lsd.org.hk/donate

姚松炎 Edward Yiu https://www.facebook.com/Dr.EdwardYiu/

Observations of the muted outrage:

Joseph Zen: Why didn’t people come out in force? (那何市民沒有成群出來,作出更強烈的抗議)

連番廢黜議員 集會人數黯然 https://thestandnews.com/politics/連番廢黜議員-集會人數黯然/






Filed under Umbrella Movement

2 responses to “Why the muted outrage? The danger of ‘demobilization’

  1. Pingback: Is this the end of Hong Kong’s fight for democracy? – BKKOK.COM

  2. Pingback: Is this the end of Hong Kong’s fight for democracy? | SRI LANKA

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