The movement for democracy and freedom in Hong Kong has brought heavy sacrifices. Too much blood has been spilled, some friends have even lost their lives; hundreds of comrades are locked behind bars, while those of us who aren’t still live under chilly censorship and repression. With the enactment of the National Security Law and the non-stop prosecutions and arrests by the police, the path ahead of us seems too bleak and daunting to bear. But as famous US labour organizer and songwriter Joe Hill said before he died: “Don’t waste time in mourning – organize!”
Joe Hill was an immigrant labourer in the US who was martyred more than a hundred years ago, but we can draw inspiration from his unfailing compassion for overexploited fellow workers and commitment to struggling for their rights, defiant for their sake until his last moments. For his uncompromising militancy, he made enemies with the government and company bosses. Hill was arrested in Utah in 1914. He was framed for a murder charge and sentenced to death. Before his death, he sent out a simple message to his fellow workers and comrades:
Don’t waste time in mourning. Organize!
Back in present-day Hong Kong, we too remember our martyrs. On 15th June 2019, fellow protester Marco Leung Ling-kit took his own life as a show of defiance against oppression; on 19th September 2019, 15 year-old Chan Yin-lam died under mysterious circumstances, while authorities disturbingly refused to investigate the cause of death; and on 8th November 2019, exactly one year ago, Alex Chow Tsz-lok fell to his death while resisting the government’s crackdown. And of course, we will also not forget those who were injured, like Veby Indah, the Indonesian journalist who lost an eye to police’s unrestrained barbarity or Tsang Chi-kin the Form 5 student who got shot point-blank; nor those who have been locked up for their actions in pursuit of freedom and democracy, including the 12 who are still under detention in China, being denied even basic human rights.
During this season that represents reunion and community, it seems that we can only commemorate those who are no longer with us and express our care for those who are still behind bars, separated from their loved ones. While it is important to honour their sacrifices and strive for their vindication and release, we can ask further, though: how can we ensure they had not suffered those trials in vain? How do we avoid getting stuck at the stage of condemning injustice? Because simply pointing out the wrong cannot bring about change.
We must organize to build our power. As Joe Hill said: don’t waste time in mourning – organize! With the memory of our martyrs, we need to continue building our forces – we need to develop our power, the power of those united in a common understanding of the wrongs in society, until the day we overcome our oppressors.
8th November 2020