As thousands take to the streets in Hong Kong, campaigning for their say in a twisted system of democracy, one can’t help but feel similar levels of action would be impossible in Britain. In Hong Kong the outrage and dissatisfaction is palpable, exploding in scenes dominating the world media.
Political engagement in Hong Kong, it would appear, is alive and well. However, with just 44 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds turning out to vote in the 2010 general election, the same cannot be said of Britain. Surely we should be learning from their determination to achieve democracy to engage with, rather than ignore, our own politics.
Joshua Wong, the seventeen-year-old public face of the Hong Kong student occupation, is a level-headed figure. His public persona is calm, he does not disrupt or incite violent, his education shows. His lawyer, called in to represent him following anti-democratic attempts to silence him, described him as “measured beyond his years.”
The campaign in Hong Kong is focussed on achieving full democracy, the choice to elect their own Chief Executive, the head of the Hong Kong government, rather than be stuck with a government crony. The campaign has called for the current leader, Leung Chun-Ying to step down. Elected with support from just 689 voters from the electoral of just 1200, he has been heavily rebuked for prioritising China over Hong Kong in an attempt to appease his support base of oligarchs and pro-Beijing tycoons.
When, in Hong Kong, the right to simply vote is a contentious issue, the huge political power each and every one of us possesses in comparison is highlighted. While our system may be flawed, our right to democratic representation is leaps and bounds ahead of such a Hong Kong’s institution of government.
As I previously mentioned, the turnout for 18 to 24 year olds in Britain was just 44 per cent in the 2010 general election. Democracy then is wasted on a depressing 56 per cent of legally voting young people. If they felt shafted by the system then they have themselves to blame. They shafted themselves through a complete lack of engagement. Voting isn’t joining the system. Voting is how to change the system and is what the young Hong Kong people are fighting for.
In Hong Kong it is taking a young politically engaged activist to educate the masses. He is preaching how “the Hong Kong people should pay more attention to politics,” and that ordinary life is intimately and indelibly linked to the political process. Young people in Hong Kong know that if they hate the influx new Chinese money, amongst other things, then they should stand alongside the thousands of others who agree in protesting for a vote and being heard rather than remaining passive.
Not since the mining strikes of the 1980s have the British public shown such a level of political engagement. Like the student-led protests in Hong Kong, the miners strikes, whether you agree with them or not, epitomised people unifying with a collective objective. The UK has not seen kind of mass-scale activism driving for a real objective for decades—the Hong Kong movement has just this impetus. Real political drive centred in the engagement of the people.
Young Britain on the whole lacks political engagement. The truth is that for British politicians there is no conflict because the youth don’t offer any. There is a clear difference between choosing to rebuke the system whilst showing complete apathy and choosing to offer genuine, considered threat to the establishment.
In Hong Kong, to vote in a democratic system isn’t an option. Any candidate will serve as a perpetuation of power for the same establishment that has misled its population. In Britain, you have to walk less that ten minutes to a primary school and tick a box.
If you want political conflict in the name of change, then cause some, political conflict matters in ways indifference can never fathom. Get up and have your voice heard. Tick the box, whichever box you tick, but don’t spoil the ballot or waste a right that people in Hong Kong are facing the batons for.
When others have to cause conflict simply to have the right to be heard, it hammers home that to vote in a democracy is a duty over a choice.
The system will roll on regardless of whether you decide to engage with it or not, you will simply not be a part of if you don’t. You may as well make it difficult for those in power if you disagree with the system. Cause a conflict. Disregard the negative connotations and start something amazing.