Opinion True Stories

An American Umbrella Revolution

By | Nov 3, 2014

joel-umbrella-oneI stood in the middle of a Hong Kong thoroughfare that was typically jammed with cars and trucks. For the past couple of weeks, this street had been taken over by a group of mostly Hong Kong youth. They were protesting the Chinese government’s political control over this former British colony. They wanted democracy.

When I walked between the groups of people and clusters of tents, it was the silence that was most acute.

One would think a revolution would consist of angry yelling, horn-blasting, or perhaps even weapons being drawn.

The only weapons these protesters had were their smartphones, iPads, and laptops. They sat on the street with their noses in their textbooks finishing their homework.

This seemed somehow different than the Arab Spring revolution in North Africa and the Middle East.

One would think a group of young people on the streets would create a party scene. But there was no laughter to be heard. In fact, the air was tense. A protester was beaten up the day before. Some people with gang affiliations, who opposed the protests, had attacked the protesters a week earlier.

Memories of Tiananmen Square—a Chinese crackdown of a similar student democracy movement 25 years earlier when hundreds of innocent students were killed—lingered in the minds of today’s protesters. Interestingly, many of these youth were not born when Tiananmen Square occurred.

Yet, this poignant historical memory kept the atmosphere solemn. Would the government respond again in such a violent manner? Are China’s political leaders in Beijing willing to listen to these youth?

While standing in that Hong Kong thoroughfare, I glanced up. In between two overpasses there was a shrine of umbrellas connected together to protect the people below …As if these umbrellas would shelter protesters from an angry government.

Since Hong Kong has a subtropical climate, most residents carry umbrellas. During the demonstration’s early days, the police tried to use tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters. When tear gas was shot into the air, umbrellas were opened in hopes of shielding themselves from the toxic air.

Around the world, umbrellas shelter us from the elements. In Hong Kong, they shelter people from tear gas.

It was with this simple act that the Umbrella Revolution began.

The youth involved in the Umbrella Revolution have adopted a future-driven voice. They are communicating to those entrenched in the status quo that it is time for change. These youth are willing to camp out on the highway. To them, education is the key to changing their future. They brandish laptops and textbooks as their “weapon” of choice.

Most American youth are not concerned with whether or not they have the right to vote for their political leaders…Because that right already exists when they turn eighteen.

joel-umbrella-twoDespite the freedom to vote, there are many structural inequalities that continue to permeate our society—which, for many American youth, makes the concept of a better future nearly impossible to imagine.  I’m reminded of youth who grow up in sectors that reveal some of the greatest socioeconomic inequality in this country. Many turn to violence to release their frustration and anger. For them, education does not represent hope; rather, it is a hopeless mirage.

Because of these systemic inequities, countless American youth become the next generation of America’s poor. They eventually end up living on the streets as homeless adults.

I see them everyday.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if America’s youth demanded a change of status quo for homeless Americans? Wouldn’t it be incredible if America’s youth revolted against a society that allows for such inequity?

Revolution is typically not on the minds of the majority of America’s youth. Hong Kong youth carried the same mindset—until a few weeks ago.

Let’s hope that the next generation of Americans is encouraged by Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution to rise up against America’s inequality.

Now where are the umbrellas?