As attendance at Hong Kong’s traditional protest rallies wanes, one pro-democracy group is trying to win hearts and minds in a more pragmatic way — through plumbing, electricity and household repairs.
Calling themselves Fixing Hong Kong, the group’s volunteers mend broken appliances, furniture, pipes and wiring, hoping that forging community spirit would lead to greater political awareness.
The novel approach comes as Hong Kong’s freedoms are under threat from an increasingly assertive Beijing and the territory’s splintered democracy movement struggles for momentum.
Volunteers visit homes in the To Kwa Wan neighborhood each week, making appointments for DIY jobs and offering repair services for free, with residents usually paying for their own replacement materials.
They work in pairs, one fixing, the other chatting. Sometimes the conversation turns to politics, other times not.
“We hope to gather more energy bit by bit through these most simple contacts and bonding,” Fixing Hong Kong member Max Leung said.
A resident surnamed Wong said volunteers from the group fixed his television, and helped him and others write letters to officials over concerns that local people were being rehoused in poor conditions to make way for development projects.
“Just one person’s power is not enough. We need neighbors joining forces for results,” Wong said.
Another resident surnamed Cheng, a wall painter originally from southern China, said he had not discussed politics with the group, but appreciated their help.
A volunteer was fixing a broken strip light in his apartment when reporters visited.
Cheng’s apartment is housed in one of numerous rundown blocks in To Kwa Wan, home to low to middle-income families and refugees.
He said he was too preoccupied with daily struggles to join any of the group’s activities, which range from barbecues to political campaigns, but did not mind the volunteers’ pro-democracy ideas.
“As long as it doesn’t hurt me, that’s fine,” Cheng said.
Fixing Hong Kong was formed by activists who ran a recycling operation at protest camps set up during the 2014 “Umbrella movement” rallies, which called for free and fair leadership elections in Hong Kong.
The rallies failed to win reform and, since then, activists have been prosecuted on protest-related charges and disqualified from the legislature, denting the democracy campaign.
At the same time, pro-democracy politicians have been criticized for losing touch with the grassroots, while some pro-Beijing candidates have become more strategically focused on working-class voters and livelihood issues.
Small groups like Fixing Hong Kong believe that going back to the neighborhood level is the best way to rebuild support.
The approach is a legacy of the rallies and the protests gave a rare opportunity for young Hong Kongers to “become aware of how to communicate and interact with strangers, and to do something together,” researcher Klavier Wong (王潔瑩) said.
Although the protest camps that sprawled over junctions and roadways in major commercial areas angered some residents, others embraced the spontaneous tent communities, which included homework areas for students and art installations.
Fixing Hong Kong is one of the best-known community groups to have grown out of the rallies. Other small-scale projects, from urban rooftop gardens to rural farms, have also been set up by activists.
The trend also taps into young people’s desire to reconnect with their surroundings as private housing estates and shopping malls erode a sense of community living, said Klavier Wong, who researches social movements and identity in Hong Kong.
Group activities such as reclaiming public spaces for community events might not be directly related to the wider political system, but are still “everyday politics,” Leung said.
“This is to regain control in our lives. Ultimately, democracy is like that too, to regain control of the place we live in,” he added.
And while volunteer fixer Leung Chan, an electrician, says it can be hard to engage residents in politics when they have a host of daily struggles, he believes the group should persevere.
“If we don’t make the first step, then nothing is possible,” he said. “First there needs to be trust between people.”
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘SUICIDE’: Media reports said Park Won-soon went missing on Thursday after a staff member filed a sexual harassment claim against him this week Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, viewed as a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential election, was found dead of an apparent suicide hours after he was reported missing, police said, adding that he was the subject of an undisclosed investigation. In a note he is thought to have left behind on his desk, Park offered his apologies. “I thank everyone who was with me in my life. I apologize to my family for only making them suffer from pain,” according to the note that was released by his office yesterday. Park, in his letter, asked to be cremated and have his remains spread
RISKY BUSINESS: The Chinese firm has stockpiled 500,000 pieces of 5G equipment not covered by US sanctions, but fears a wider ban could be announced in the UK Huawei Technologies Co believes it can supply 5G hardware unaffected by US sanctions to the UK for the next five years, sidestepping the expected conclusion of British emergency review on Tuesday. The company has stockpiled 500,000 pieces of kit, but fears a wider ban on its equipment is to be unveiled to placate rebel British Conservative Party lawmakers, who say that the Chinese supplier represents a national security risk. The British government on Friday said that it was “very likely” that British Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden would make a statement to parliament on Tuesday