Calvin students stand in solidarity with Hong Kong protesters

Photo+by+Connor+Schmidt

Photo by Connor Schmidt

Over 100 Calvin students have signed a petition in solidarity with Hong Kong protesters, and like the movement they support, their numbers are growing.

Last month, China announced that Hong Kong would not, as they had been told, be allowed to democratically elect their next leader in 2017, instead stating that only candidates vetted by Beijing would be able to run.

The outcry against this anti-democratic decision culminated in a student protest that took to the streets Saturday night.

“It’s a lot more popular than they thought — unexpectedly,” said James Li, a Calvin junior from Hong Kong who has been closely monitoring the news of the movement. “They thought there might be 10,000, but there are hundreds of thousands [of protesters].”

Symbolized by a yellow ribbon on a black background, the protest movement has been dubbed “The Umbrella Revolution.” Protesters are free of weapons, only carrying an umbrella, goggles and plastic wrap to protect their faces.

“When the police try to spray them, they just hold their umbrellas out,” said Priscilla Lin. “It is the symbol of nonviolence in Hong Kong.”

Police have responded to the protests with pepper spray and tear gas, and have threatened the use of rubber bullets.

“It’s disproportionate,” said Li. “These people were nonviolent.”

Wanting to support the movement, Li began posting about the revolution on social media and recruiting people to help get Calvin involved.  On Tuesday, he and a group of students reserved a table in Johnny’s to spread information and to take action on Calvin’s campus. The table held a live feed of the protests, as well as a petition in solidarity with the student protesters and yellow ribbons to wear in support.

“We had a lot of people asking for ribbons — we ran out.” said first-year Annika VanNoord, whose time living in Hong Kong brought the protests close to home.

“I left Hong Kong with all this going on,” said first-year Jessica Tang. “I hope that this protest will be heard and that China won’t backlash against us.”

Tang is worried about her family and friends back home. “I am constantly in contact,” she said. “Every other post on facebook is about Hong Kong.”

Besides the Calvin students who call Hong Kong their home, at least one Calvin alumnus is currently in the middle of the protests.

Connor Schmidt, who graduated last May, wrote from the front lines: “Looking around me, I realize this is really serious…”

Caught in the middle of the protests, Schmidt was maced and tear gassed by police.

“It is so painful I can’t describe it. Like you just want to stop seeing and stop breathing,” Schmidt wrote. “As I’m writing, I bite my fingernails and taste the bitter spray … How is this happening to such a developed place? Tear gas, mace, rubber bullets. This needs to stop. It must.”

By contrast, Schmidt shared a peaceful picture of the protesters. There are “massive supply stations set up with organized materials,” he said, “lines of people helping protesters over the walls and onto the road, masses of people singing in unison and clapping and moving out of the way whenever an ambulance comes by…There’s no violence but definitely no apathy,” said Schmidt.

For the students and alumni involved, support of the movement is obvious.

“I think it’s a classic case of people overcoming oppression through the use of nonviolence and civil disobedience,” said Li.

“The nonviolent nature of it makes it easy to support without misgiving,” added junior Jared Haverdink.

At Calvin, students will be in Johnny’s every day throughout the week spreading news about the Hong Kong, as well as collecting signatures for the petition.

Another way Calvin students can get involved is “Wear Yellow for Hong Kong on October 1st,” an awareness movement that started on Harvard’s campus and has spread to over 40 schools across North America.

The campaign, according to its facebook page, “is a campaign by overseas students from Hong Kong to spread the word at universities where students cherish common values of democracy and political autonomy to support the democratic movement in Hong Kong.”

Tang requests prayer from the student body. “A lot of people are in danger,” Tang said. “Pray that they [will] keep safe.”

However they respond, VanNoord asks students to do something:

“Being neutral is not neutral, it’s being passive,” she said. “In college we’re moving from observers to people with political opinions. This is our chance to do something.”

Correction: The original article included a quote by Jessica Tang stating that “Hong Kong has always been a free country; we’ve always had our own government.” This quote has been removed as it was incorrect.