A year after Occupy Central, are Hong Kong's young people being heard?

Alice Wu asks whether the frustrations and alienation that drove young people to the streets, demanding democracy, have been addressed - by involving them in the decision-making process

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 September, 2015, 10:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 September, 2015, 10:01am

Today marks the first anniversary of the Occupy Central movement - the defining moment for Hong Kong's youths. They carved out "space" on the city's roads. They forced this non-stop city to a standstill. They forced us all to stop - and to listen to their anguish, take their frustrations seriously, and take them seriously.

From feeling alienated and disempowered, they became a new political force to be reckoned with. Have we, as a society, come to terms with that yet?

Whether or not we agree with Occupy Central, we should ask ourselves if we have made any effort to make young people - all of them, not just Occupy protesters - a part of the decision-making process that affects them, in ways that are meaningful to them.

With district council elections soon upon us, we see that even those political parties that have gone out there, and stood side by side with the Occupy protesters, have not truly succeeded in this work. What "space" have they carved out for those who want to take their activism further by running for public office?

The Democratic Party will be fielding fewer candidates. Perhaps that will give the political groups newly formed by the young Occupy protesters some "space". Nonetheless, it is clear that traditional pro-democracy parties are still struggling to engage our youth and accommodate their concerns. Our young people's disenchantment with politicians and traditional political parties remains a key challenge for all parties across the political spectrum.

READ MORE: Pan-democrats to take on Occupy activist groups in 14 constituencies in Hong Kong district council polls

Youth engagement requires more than lip service. It takes a conscious effort and hard work to channel their passion for social causes into civic participation. This requires meaningful steps to remove barriers and create opportunities for them to take part in decision-making and to have actual influence in political institutions.

Consider how the Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan greeted the news of Ronald Chan Ngok-pang's appointment as the youngest undersecretary since the handover. She criticised Chan as "not experienced enough". He may be young, being in his thirties, but he has devoted his entire career, so far, to public service.

He began his political career as an elected member of the district council after graduating from Stanford University. He was recruited to be a special assistant to the office of then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. He was then appointed political assistant to the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs.

We can see the youth of this youngest-ever undersecretary as an asset deserving of an opportunity for him to prove himself in his new post, or we can take Ho's view and use his youth as an excuse to brush him off as "inexperienced". Whatever our choice, we are directly contributing to either making politics more inclusive for young people, or raising the entry bar even higher.

Thanks to the MTR Corporation, which has, in one week, managed to bully three students carrying musical instruments, we now have a perfect illustration of why this city suffers from an undercurrent of youthful discontent. While the MTR may seem to have no qualms about its melophobic (fear of music) and ephebiphobic (fear of youths) image, we as a community must consider where we are failing and do more to create an environment more encouraging of their participation.

Have we merely left them on the streets? Or are we creating opportunities for them to make a difference? These are important questions we must ask ourselves, a year on. They are tomorrow's leaders and decision-makers.

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