“Be Water!”: tactics that are winning Hong Kong’s democracy revolution

“Be Water!”: tactics that are winning Hong Kong’s democracy revolution. By Anthony Dapiran.

Hong Kong’s young protesters are eschewing the fixed, immobile occupation strategies of the past, in favour of a highly mobile, agile style of protest. A rally may turn into a march; a march may begin in one direction and abruptly change to another direction; the focus of a particular protest action may only emerge in the course of the march itself. In recent protests, small sub-groups of protesters dispatched themselves to carry out targeted “wildcat” occupations of a government building, flooding the entrance lobbies, escalators and lifts. When the government declared the building closed and dismissed staff for the day, the protesters dispersed and moved on to their next target. …

Leaderless, like the Yellow Vests in France:

The current wave of protests in Hong Kong is leaderless. This is partly a response to the Hong Kong government’s aggressive prosecution of past protest leaders … With no obvious leader, there is no one to imprison.

But the lack of a centralised leadership is also a result of the online, organic tactics. Protesters use online forums such a LIHKG – a kind of local, lo-fi version of Reddit where users comment and vote on posts – as well as Telegram chat groups (the larger among these have tens of thousands of members), where the poll function enables participants to vote on next steps: should the protesters stay on or disperse? Protesters vote on the spot, and act accordingly. …

Tear gas:

Part of the reason for the increased amounts of tear gas is that protesters have learned how to neutralise it.

Small mobile teams of “firefighters” wait at the rear of the front lines equipped with traffic cones. When a tear gas shell lands among the crowd, they race in to cover the shell with the traffic cone, creating a “chimney” that contains and funnels the smoke away. Another team member then moves in to pour water into the cone to douse the shell, putting it out. When a traffic cone is not available, water or wet towels are used to smother the tear gas shells, or a nimble protester wearing heat-proof gloves will snatch up the shell and throw it, either back at police or to the side of the crowd out of harm’s way. …

Stampede:

One of the greatest risks of injury or death in a crowd arises from the dangers of a stampede. This threat is compounded by the urban geography of Hong Kong …

Aware of these risks, crowds of protesters chant “One, Two, One Two…” in unison as they retreat, and march in time to the count. This ensures the retreat is orderly and avoids what could otherwise become a deadly crush. …

Supply lines:

To ensure new supplies can reach the front lines quickly, Hong Kong’s protesters have developed a unique system of hand signals, to send messages through the crowd about what equipment is required.

A sign is passed onwards through the crowd back to the supply depots where goods have been transported near to the protest site, and the requested items are then passed through the crowd along a human chain back to where they are needed. These human supply chains have stretched as far as a kilometre in length, and are an impressive sight to behold.