The protests against the Chinese government currently taking place in Hong Kong are relatively unprecedented. The protests have escalated to a point that demanded a response from authorities on the Chinese mainland and in Hong Kong. Even more citizens are expected to flood the streets on Wednesday, a national holiday and day off work.
The civil disobedience and political dissent being expressed by Hong Kong student citizens quickly captivated the attention of countries throughout the world. Hong Kong is a global financial hub, which has implications beyond just the potential impact on the financial markets. If a place with relative freedom, peace and safety like Hong Kong can carry out a massive protest that questions the authority of the central government, couldn’t any nation?
In the United States, that question has been lingering in the minds of those frustrated with the country’s political and economic direction. Government-toppling revolutions were started in Egypt and Ukraine with tools for organization as simple as Facebook and Twitter. Even if a clear end-game motive is not established at the beginning, it appears to be increasingly common for citizens to publicly express their issues with authority.
Throughout the past few years, there have been a few examples of mass civil disobedience and government protest in the United States. None has called for radical change to the established structure of government, but the protests have been significant enough to influence political discussion at the highest levels. The most noteworthy example of recent protest was the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was both praised and criticized for its lack of a definitive agenda or power structure. Ultimately, the looseness of the movement is what led to its downfall. Winter fell upon New York City, and protesters left Zuccotti Park seemingly as quickly as they’d arrived.
Despite all of its perceived failures, Occupy Wall Street succeeded at introducing the concept of the 1% to the American public, spurring conversations about income disparity from the streets to the Oval Office. Although images of riot police facing off against Guy Fawkes-masked citizens from the various Occupy protests may have inspired feelings of revolution amongst some, that was never truly the intent of the movement. If the idea was to get money out of politics, at least the discussion was hurried along.
More recently, the attention of the nation has been focused on Ferguson, MO. Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown led to numerous prolonged protests that addressed, aside from the most pertinent issue of Brown’s death, race relations in America. Like Occupy, these protests may not have changed the racism of the nation’s police force over night, but at least they got the conversation started.
A tweet from rapper Freddie Gibbs read “I wish blacks in America would Mob up for our rights like they doing in Hong Kong right now.” This tweet is hardly a call-to-arms, but it represents the way many are feeling in America about a variety of issues, from race to income equality to health care and foreign policy. With President Obama’s approval rating stagnating at a low 42%, the majority of Americans feel the change they voted for in 2008 has yet to come.
For any true revolutionary action to occur, of course, things in America will likely need to get much worse. According to RT, 29% of Americans believe an armed revolution may be necessary to prevent the government’s infringement on civil liberties in the coming years, but the sample size of 863 residents is hardly representative of the country as a whole. The lack of major social or political calls for change — let alone any sort of mass protest or revolution — are enough evidence that Americans are comfortable with the country’s situation overall, even if there are problems to be dealt with.
If the unemployment rate continues to grow, if the economy slips or if America finds itself entangled in too many unnecessary wars, true calls for reform may soon become a reality. It’s unlikely that American citizens would express their issues with the government on such a massive scale, but the outpouring of support for the protests in Hong Kong wasn’t expected, either. In the U.S. and other countries around the world, the ultimate outcome between Hong Kong and the Chinese government will certainly be monitored closely.