Calvin alumnus protests for democracy in Hong Kong


A friend of Tyler Chan

Umbrellas are often used to block projectiles and to hide protestors from surveillance while they create roadblocks.

Editorial note: Tyler Chan is a pseudonym; the alumnus wished to be anonymous because of his participation in “illegal assemblies.”

After graduating from Calvin College last year with a major in social work, Tyler Chan has participated “almost every weekend” in the ongoing Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. He carries his social work license and a notebook with him, so he can record the names of the recently arrested — a common practice for social workers. Chan started carrying the notebook after he noticed middle and high school students were being charged with “participating in illegal assemblies or even riots.” He was worried that the students would be treated unfairly during the detainment process. Stacia Hoeksema, a professor of social work who knew Chan well, said he probably “sees there is a potential for abuse.” 

The 2019 Hong Kong protests, otherwise known as the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill movement, started as a reaction to the Hong Kong government’s new bill. The bill “would have allowed people accused of crimes to be sent to places with which Hong Kong had no extradition treaty — including mainland China, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party,” according to The New York Times. Now the protestors, including Chan, are pushing for the “Five Demands,” which include freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Over the past few months, the protests have escalated with violence becoming more frequent. According to the Associated Press, this past week ended with more violence and tear gas. Chan, on the other hand, considers himself a nonviolent protestor. “My actions and words shouldn’t be driven by hatred,” he said. Instead, “my anger should continue to motivate myself to keep marching for the place that I love in order to seek justice for those who are arrested and beaten unjustly.” 

These values come from “[my] Christian faith that I developed through my years at Calvin,” he said. 

This wasn’t the only way Chan’s Calvin education has influenced his protest activities. He cited one previous reading for his social work major as particularly inspiring, Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” which provides 10 rules for grassroot community organizing. He says the book helped him sustain energy during the movement. Joseph Kuilema, the social work professor who taught a chapter of the book in his macro practice class, teaches Alinsky because he is the “godfather of community organizing.” According to Kuilema, community organizing is about creating “systemic change… particularly to change power balances… and that’s what they’re trying to do in Hong Kong.”

Before trying to change governmental practices in Hong Kong, Chan changed his classrooms. Kuilema remembered his former student’s “strong emphasis on his own cultural background and the role of community,” noting his frequent questions about how to bring justice to his community. “This makes total sense to me that he would be involved [in this] sort of an effort,” Kuilema added. 

Similarly, noting her former student’s protest involvement, Hoeksema said, “If he is involved in this, he must be convinced that this is worth fighting for.” 

Hoeksema wasn’t surprised to hear that he has been protesting for democratic rights in Hong Kong. Hoeksema remembered him as a “peace-loving” person who always wanted to make the ethical choice. She noted that this reflects some of the social work department’s goals. Hoeksema said the social work department tries to teach students “that it may be this person needs to make a change, but maybe there needs to be something in society that needs to be addressed… I see Chan living that.”

Kuilema said, “I think community organizing is a form of prophetic spirituality… speaking truth to power and figuring out how to engage in protests to elevate that truth,” he continued, “I think Tyler is using his prophetic voice.” 

When Chan is not protesting, he likes to play basketball and read international news — Hong Kong news often overwhelms him, he noted. Chan also works for an agency that helps ethnic minorities; specifically, he organizes activities for youth involved with the agency.

Tyler Chan
Former student Tyler Chan protests for democracy weekly in Hong Kong.