Around 25 Harvard affiliates braved steady rain on Wednesday to hand out yellow ribbons in a sign of support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong—a demonstration of solidarity replicated by students at more than 50 schools around the world.
The action was originally conceived by Heather L. Pickerell ’15 as a chance for those on Harvard’s campus to raise awareness about the protests, which have raised objections to the Chinese government's infringement on free speech and and free elections in Hong Kong.
But a Facebook event for the demonstration, created by Pickerell, quickly went viral, prompting the creation of parallel demonstrations, including at Yale, Brown, and the University of Toronto. In each, students were encouraged to wear yellow, a color traditionally associated with suffrage movements, on Oct. 1.
At Harvard, Pickerell, a Crimson editorial editor from Hong Kong, and other demonstrators held umbrellas and signs invoking the symbolism of the Hong Kong protests. After about two hours, the group marched from the Science Center Plaza to the John Harvard statue, where they took a group photograph.
In addition to showing solidarity with the Hong Kongese, Pickerell said she hoped the event would spark self-reflection among Harvard students.
“In countries like [the U.S.], it’s very easy to take for granted the ability to go to a voting booth. When you see someone get tear gas in the face, it should prompt you to think about how much you value your own political freedom,” Pickerell said, referring to the tear gas reportedly used by police against protesters.
“The tenacity of the Hong Kong demonstrators should prompt people to think about how much they would sacrifice for their own freedoms and rights,” Pickerell added.
Visiting Sociology fellow Tuen Yi “Jenny” Chiu said she participated in the action because she hoped the international support would protect students protesting in Hong Kong.
“Then it won’t turn into a tragedy like many years ago,” she said, referring to the Tiananmen Square student protests.
While some are calling Pickerell the “leader” of the international solidarity campaign, she said that the title isn’t an accurate description of her role.
“It has really been other students showing support and mobilizing students themselves on the Facebook page and spreading it across the country,” she said, adding that she was only responsible for the original Facebook event.
Jeffrey C. H. Ngo, a student at New York University and a student leader of the national organization U.S. Association for Democracy in Hong Kong, stressed the role of social media in bringing attention to events such as Pickerell’s.
Ngo also said that although demonstrations like the one at Harvard on Wednesday may individually seem small, collectively they amount to an international show of support for protesters.
“Any help is good help,” he said.
Though Harvard’s demonstration has gained support from many on and off-campus, it was not affiliated with any student organization.
The Harvard Hong Kong Society has released on its website a statement relating the facts of the protests and various activism opportunities for its members, but it has not chosen to take a political stance on the issue.
According to HHKS co-President Siyi “Ryan” Lee ’15, while the majority of the board of the Harvard Hong Kong Student Society supports Wednesday’s demonstration at Harvard as well as the views expressed by the Hong Kongese student protestors, the decision was made in order to respect the diverse views of the organization’s members and to preserve the educational and non-political mission of HHKS.
—Staff writer Quynh-Nhu Le can be reached at email@example.com.
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