Don't let Occupy Central occupy all thoughts of democracy

Alice Wu says amid all the focus on Occupy Central, we risk ignoring the many other paths to reach our goal of universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 2:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 2:40am

It seems increasingly difficult for us to reach a consensus on anything these days, especially when that's what we really need. But, there's one thing we can agree on: Occupy Central is already a success. Judging by how much media attention it has grabbed, the movement has to go down as one of Hong Kong's most successful political campaigns.

How often do we see anything making such a big impact in such a short span of time? Within just 48 hours, it has occupied not only Central, but academic, investment banking and sacred ground. It's been a kind of litmus test for the new vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong. It is the subject that prompted the first UBS study trying to quantify the impact of socio-political movements on businesses. It's the sanctified social cause that the secretary general of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui recently unsanctified. And all of this when Central hasn't actually been occupied yet.

It seems the mere thought - or, as others have pointed out, the "threat" - of occupying Central has reached beyond its physical co-ordinates. At the very least, our politicians should be looking at Occupy Central as a textbook case of how to launch and dominate dialogue in public discourse.

While the communications world struggles to keep up with shrinking attention spans, Occupy Central has occupied precious cerebral space. It has been treated synonymously with constitutional reform, partly because the government has taken so long. Because it has laid such a firm and prominent foundation in our political landscape, it's perhaps hard to notice that it is, in fact, just one of the many possible ways for us to achieve our universal suffrage goal. It may be the most prominent but those fasting for universal suffrage represent another way. Lawmakers heading to Shanghai are exploring another way. In fact, those who have decided not to partake in the Shanghai talks are speaking the language of bargaining, which is yet another way.

These are all different ways that different people feel are the best path to take us to our democratic promised land.

Reasonable people still debate the justification, effectiveness, meaningfulness or even legality of each path. It's part of the journey. Perhaps who wins or loses these debates won't matter; getting there would make it a moot point.

Instead of caring so much about who said what about Occupy Central, perhaps it would be more meaningful to turn our attention to what other possible ways are being paved alongside this last resort. We don't need a consensus on Occupy Central to take steps forward in constitutional reform.

When we allow the mere thought of Occupy Central to crowd out other possibilities - when we're so preoccupied with it that it takes over the entire political landscape of the possible - we're doing ourselves a disservice, by tuning out the public dialogue and deliberation that can forge a consensus where it matters.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA