It’s 12:03 am. I begin to drift asleep, but then I read the Hong Kong Free Press on my phone.
This year, I spent the entire summer in Hong Kong, hoping to reacquaint myself with my roots after an American-centric junior year. Over the course of a few months, people in Hong Kong have been protesting against an extradition bill. Proposed in early June, the bill allowed the Chinese government to extradite criminals to China for trial – criminals including human rights activists, journalists, and political cartoonists. A few weeks ago, the bill was withdrawn, but the movement had already gained momentum and erupted into a series of violent riots. As a result, many more issues have been brought to light, such as how the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) has failed to investigate police brutality at length or how policemen have sexually assaulted protesters during arrests. If you’re interested, I encourage you to take a closer look.
People have asked me what it’s like in Hong Kong. I tell them that it’s scary. They nod as if they understand. They think — they know — it’s scary to watch a group of five teenagers like me disappear down a deserted road to a rally in the middle of the night, knowing that some of them won’t return home. The events are chilling: people are rioting, police are running rampant, and there’s a well-reasoned paranoia that individuals are being targeted by the authorities; amidst the chaos, it might seem like a relief to be back. The truth is, however, it’s hard to be fully present at Deerfield. I spent the last few months living through history. It was dangerous, yes, but also invigorating. I truly believed that with every minute I spent standing in the middle of a mob before rushing off to make curfew, I was at the very least doing something.
Suddenly, I’m thrust back into the Deerfield bubble, where I spend the next few minutes of my free time wondering what’s for lunch instead of leaving something on the Lennon wall for another hopeful stranger to see. I’m grateful for the right to free expression. I’m grateful that I have the ability to make sweeping statements without fear of totalitarian backlash, but I long to make small, direct changes for a place I love. Writing an op-ed from eight thousand miles away doesn’t carry the same weight as leaving a discreet message for somebody to find. The one emotion that comes to mind as I’m writing this is one of utter powerlessness.
Part of that powerlessness comes from the inability to make judgments firsthand. In an attempt to somehow make up for lost distance or time, I sweep through the news. They point their cameras to the bonfires blazing outside police stations, the PRC flag thrown into the ocean, and the police mummified in riot gear. The media does a great job of conveying different tensions and the level of chaos through these videos, and on a certain level, I almost feel like I’m there. On the other hand, they gloss over the fact that thousands, if not millions, of citizens are deeply traumatized and depressed by the realization that their government does not work to serve them.
The only reason I know this is because I have seen and felt those emotions firsthand. It’s hard to gauge the emotional impact of each and every march, protest, and riot without experiencing the aftermath itself. I don’t feel the same anxiety, despair, hope, or pride that comes with standing in awe of a socio-political revolution, because every one of those emotions is filtered through an article or a screen – but that’s leagues better than being kept in the dark.
The Deerfield bubble – both physical and metaphorical – is a powerful thing. I stay silent for fear of being that one person who just won’t shut up about current events and injustice, let alone events outside the Deerfield bubble. My hopes for better sleep and good grades have overshadowed my yearning for a government that will hold itself accountable. I have no way of forming judgments independent of external influence, and my workload and commitments pull my attention in twenty different directions. Worst of all, I can only be here. That’s what scares me the most.
There’s really nothing to do except to acknowledge that this is something affecting members of our community, silent as they are. It is undeniably difficult to be back. All I ask of the Deerfield community is to have some perspective about events outside of Deerfield; public awareness would benefit not just those affected by the Hong Kong protests but for everyone in the world.