“When Hong Kong stands up, the world will follow,” lyrics written by Vietnamese-American Trui He in his song Sea of Black, about Hong Kong’s Extradition Bill protests, are ringing true across Hong Kong.

Millennials in Hong Kong are standing up for their rights using the 21st century’s disruptive technologies and messaging apps in their move against the autocratic ways of the government. They refuse to accept the gradual erosion of democracy, its ideals and values, or the erosion of their economic rights.

Their achievements so far have been impressive. Citizens, young and old, rallied behind them in large numbers whenever they were called out to join peaceful protest marches. They demand that the firewall protecting their civil rights from the communist order in mainland China remain in place. They also call for the rights that have been taken away from them to be restored.     

Repeated protest rallies of up to two million citizens in Hong Kong in June and this month demanding the withdrawal of the extradition bill and the resignation of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the territory’s chief executive in defiance of China’s Communist Party leadership were just the opening volley. The protest rallies of unprecedented size calling for her resignation have become common — all due to her insensitive initiative to railroad an unpopular extradition bill through the legislative chamber — now with a long list of added demands including, but not limited to, an independent panel to investigate the violence and police actions, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and even independence from China.

The events in Hong Kong are clear signs of 21st-century social media-savvy political activists successfully challenging an autocratic-bureaucratic ruler with 20th-century mind-set. Denying citizens-at-large rights such as freedom of expression, press freedom, universal suffrage, the rule of law, as well as quality living and equal economic opportunities could well ignite, in the future, many more protests like what Hong Kong has witnessed. Especially, in China.

Today’s politically active, emotionally invested, young Honkkongers are the agents for real change in the 21st century’s trenches of political warfare in cyberspace and the streets.

The broad-base of protesters in Hong Kong — some of them teenagers marching with their grandparents, some others with babies in prams — is inspiring and has surprised the ruling elites.

Despite all their vulnerability, the protesters have demonstrated the power of principled democratic dissent. They have behaved with polite courage, confidence and with a few exceptions, restraint. These qualities in and of themselves have highlighted the power of democracy.

The scenes of defiance in Hong Kong challenging authoritarian rule and demanding the rule of law as stated in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, are strong reminders to authoritarian rulers everywhere that there are limits to their abuse of power and that they can be overruled — even overthrown — in order to enjoy basic human economic and political rights.

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