Lacking a clear leader, students in Hong Kong are taking matters into their own hands by organising strikes via social media as part of a wider classroom boycott campaign against the now-abandoned extradition bill.
Thousands of students from 10 universities and at least 180 secondary schools are expected to join the class boycott, which will kick off next week when the new academic term starts, in a bid to pressure the government to meet protesters’ demands, including the complete withdrawal of the bill and an inquiry into police’s use of force.
While those at university liaise with each other through their unions, at least two platforms have been set up for secondary school pupils to facilitate communication and provide support, including “Student strike on September 2”, co-founded by student groups Demovanile, Anti-Foo and Demosisto, which evolved from the disbanded Scholarism.
A second platform, Hong Kong Students’ Strike Alliance, is comprised of Studentlocalism, Hong Kong Teen Anti Tyranny, Hong Kong Student Power, and pupils from different schools.
Groups such as Demosisto and tertiary students said they would help younger pupils by providing resources – including leaflets and templates of parents’ letters – which are expected to be required for them to join the boycotts. But they stressed that the teenagers were in charge of their own strike organisation.
“We don’t want to interfere [with] or control them,” Jacky So Tsun-fung, president of Chinese University’s student union, said on Thursday.
Joey Siu, acting external vice-president of the provisional executive committee of City University’s student union, added: “We encourage them to organise activities by themselves and to make their own decisions. What we’re trying to do is provide them with support and assistance.”
Ronald Hui Chi-hang, a 17-year-old student at Methodist College in Yau Ma Tei, said the organisers of secondary school strikes mainly communicated with each other on Instagram. “We use a group account to contact others first. Then we use more personal apps like WhatsApp and Telegram to communicate,” he said.
Hui said his school’s extradition bill concern group had asked for permission to form a human chain and have “Lennon Walls” – where messages of support for protesters can be posted – in classrooms. They planned to boycott class on September 4 but did not have the principal’s approval to do so.
“We’re allowed to have Lennon Walls as long as the messages posted are respectful,” Hui said.
Raut Himal, a 16-year-old student at Kwun Tong Maryknoll College, said the boycott at his school would take place on September 6, pending the principal’s final approval. “We didn’t use any support platforms and didn’t coordinate with other schools. We’re relying on ourselves,” he said.
Isaac Cheng Ka-long, 19, the vice-chair of Demosisto, said that compared with the 2012 Scholarism-led campaign against national education, the current situation was much tougher, although the movement was stronger, despite being leaderless. He said the campaign was tougher because the government’s stance was firmer.
“In 2012, there were only 100,000 people coming out for an assembly. This time there was 1 million, 2 million, and 1.7 million, so there is a great difference,” he said, referring to the estimated turnouts for the three biggest extradition bill marches organised by Civil Human Rights Front over the past two months.
But he added: “The participation of Hong Kong students is higher now. They are willing to sacrifice themselves – not their lives, but their time and learning – for the movement and the demands.”
While the ongoing protests remained leaderless, Cheng said internet forums and messaging apps such as Telegram give everyone a chance to have their voice heard.
“Decisions [are] made by the whole of the people who join the protest movement, not just the leaders. This is what makes the movement stronger,” he said. “There is life inside the movement."