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Humility, Strategy, and Boldness: Emo Reflections on the Third Day of the WTO Protests in Hong Kong
The sky was a brilliant shade of blue by the time I loaded the last photos onto the Indybay website, sprawled out on the floor wedged between my friends, and passed out. Three short hours later, the alarm was ringing.
The sky was a brilliant shade of blue by the time I loaded the last photos
onto the Indybay website, sprawled out on the floor wedged between my
friends, and passed out. Three short hours later, the alarm was ringing.
I heard a groan, followed by the improbable statement: “Awww…gotta get up
again and go fight cops.”
I pulled the blanket over my head, unsure whether to laugh or cry. Instead
I fell back asleep.
We did get up. The day was sunny and crisp. We arrived at the United
States Consulate right in time to run into a small march of fifty people.
The event was part of the People's Week of Action Against the World Trade
Organization (WTO). It was the second day of a "consulate hopping" protest
opposing the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The group was
shouting: "Down, down, WTO!" and "Down, down, USA!" as they climbed a
steep road heading for the US consulate.
Migrants led the protests again today, clearly making the links between
the deleterious effects of free trade and the economically-driven
migrations of poorer people. Referring to the Chinese name for San
Francisco—the "Golden Mountain"—Alex Tom, an organizer with the San
Francisco based Chinese Progressive Association, declared that although
historically many Asians have moved to San Francisco with "golden hopes,"
in reality "San Francisco is only a golden mountain for big corporations
that profit from the labor of thousands of low-wage migrants."
Representatives of worker's rights organizations from New York and Los
Angeles also spoke. Members of the groups who were not able to make it to
Hong Kong—mostly low-wage, immigrant workers in the US—sent messages of
solidarity against the WTO to the migrant workers here as well as to those
who are in other countries.
Speakers at the rally denounced both the war waged on Iraq (initiated by
the US) and capitalist globalization (dominated by the US) as imperialism.
The crowd responded by shouting: "US imperialists: Number one terrorists!"
When the rally concluded, a large delegation of Filipino/a activists led
the march away from the consulate. Indonesian and Thai migrants were
followed by the US group of nearly two dozen people and several union
members from Taiwan. The procession continued to chant as they left the
We arrived at Victoria Park just in time to catch the Korean farmers,
outfitted in their straw hats and beige vests, bolting toward the street
at a moderate pace.
“Here we go again.”
The majority of the Korean farmers were decked out in gloves and knee
pads. Some had rolled their pants up. Others wore handkerchiefs tied
around the knees.
“I wonder what they’re going to do?” Maybe the gloves were for handling
the burning hot tear gas canisters that sometimes get shot at big demos.
Maybe the kneepads were for extended low-to-the-ground street action.
But instead, the farmers—lined up in rows as always—waved to the crowd,
and in synchronization, bowed down, pressing their gloved hands and
foreheads to the asphalt. They stood up only to repeat the motion. One
knee bent, followed by the next. Hands on ground. Head to ground. Up. One
step forward. Repeat.
Incredibly, the farmers continued this all the way to the designated
protest area near the convention center—an estimated distance of nearly
half a mile.
I ran into an acquaintance that I’ve met through the Hong Kong video
activists. The farmers were taking a break. Some stretched out on the cold
street, arms extended, eyes closed. Others gave each other back and leg
massages. My friend squatted down and extended his hand to a farmer,
offering him a cigarette. The farmer accepted, and my friend lit the
cigarette. When I glanced back at the farmer I was surprised to see that
his cheeks were moist with tears. Then I noticed that my friend, too, was
The press—fucking heartless vultures that they are—swooped in to snap
pictures as if they were attempting to steal the very humanity from the
The farmer put his head in his hands. With curiosity I looked to my
friend, who was inhaling deeply on his own cigarette.
He glanced away, eyes red. “I am so moved by this,” he said quietly. “I
know that in their own country these people are able to fight their
police, and here in Hong Kong, they are reduced to having to lower
themselves to the ground. Just because they care about what Hong Kong
people think of them. I am so ashamed of Hong Kong people.” And with that
he broke down.
Now I was weeping too. “But you’re Hong Kong people!” I implored. “Doesn’t
that count for something?”
But I didn’t know what to say. The farmers stood up again—thousands of
them it seemed—and the procession continued.
I felt like I was invisible, but it wasn’t a bad thing. I felt like I was
engulfed in a sea of power restrained, like one small creature bobbing on
the surface of a vast ocean during a calm day. As the farmers fell and
rose in synchronized waves beside me, moving forward always, I paced the
perimeter of the march like the shoreline of a beach. I felt awkward with
my camera, snapping pictures. I felt awkward without my camera, not
snapping pictures. So I chanted with them, yearning to express the breadth
of the emotion and solidarity I wanted to convey, but limited to the only
words I knew that we had in common: “Down, down, WTO.”
Past neon signs and countless storefronts, shoppers with turned-away
faces, below towering, now graying, once pink apartment buildings
decorated with loaded laundry lines flapping in the wind, we made slow,
slow progress and I internalized a new battle plan and lesson: “Never let
the enemy set your pace.”
We crossed the bridge and were illuminated by the golden light of the
setting sun. Everyone I speak to is equally dumbstruck by the humility and
strength of the farmers’ procession. Many of the Hong Kong activists that
I’ve met have joined in with the bowing. They, like many of the farmers,
are red and huffing from the effort.
The sun was now sinking fast and the Via Campesina delegation, wearing
neckerchiefs and straw hats, carrying flags, were silhouetted against the
hyper-modern urban background of “Asia’s World City,” self-proclaimed
peasants facing off the WTO—the convention center seemed like the evil
castle just out of reach. I shivered to the beat of the drums as the wind
blew colder, whipping the water in the harbor restlessly.
Finally, when all of the farmers reached the permitted protest zone, they
sat down, clearly exhausted yet high spirited. Night fell. In groups, many
of the farmers left. In their absence from the highly fortified police
lines (now noticeably staffed with a sizeable front line consisting
entirely of women officers), batallions of press swarmed along the
barricades with their goggles, helmets and giant video cameras. However,
no confrontation at the barricades ensued tonight.
The rally closed with speakers—women farmers from South Korea implored to
crowd to succeed in shutting down the WTO. The women talked about children
who had to leave their mothers to go to school in the cities, about how
they come home to find their mothers “cold and dead.” The farmers, seated
and holding candles, swayed to the now-familiar anthem from the Korean
Kwangju uprising. As they sang along, the farmers (more than a few of whom
were crying) ended the ceremony.