The Umbrella Revolution as it has been named has besieged the attention of the western media in recent days. What we, at home must take heed from is that this revolution is being led not by established political activists but by students who are seeking a complete overhaul of how their country is governed.
Closer to home, the student-lead Hong Kong protests have shone a light on the fleeting revolutionary spirit of the Irish people and Irish students. Have we become too concerned with our smartphones to be concerned about the turmoil of our society?
On face value, Irish students do not have much to lament. We live in the western world where we are entitled to an education, we have some-what of a democracy in place and in most instances equality tends to reign. It is easy to say that the average Irish student doesn’t feel the need to revolt simply because there is not much for us to revolt about. The majority of us are positively privileged. While umbrellas are being used by protesters in Hong Kong to prevent tear gas and pepper spray from penetrating their eyes, at home the only use we have for umbrellas is to shield ourselves from rain.
However, the reality is that although perhaps not so severe, there is much that we have to resent and much reason for us to revolt. Our generation will inherit the failures of previous governments. Although it was not we who elected them to power, it is we who will be forced to pay for the bank debt as long as we are making a living in this country. In fact our children and their children will too have to carry this debt. When we have obtained our degrees, establish our careers and begin to make a living we look forward to such newly-established additional expenses such as water charges and property tax.
It would be unfair to liken the Irish and Hong Kong state. We, at the very least have the opportunity to elect the leadership that brings our country to its knees. The people of Hong Kong do not have such authority and so they have taken to the streets to demand democracy. The demands of those protesting are simply the right to nominate and elect the leader of their Government -the Chief Executive. The Chinese government, whom assume sovereignty over Hong Kong are opposed to this idea, they wish to screen the candidates that can run for office. The protesters also want the incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign from his position which he is refusing to do.
On a recent assignment last semester, my partner and I had to speak to students on campus to gage their opinion on the Alan Shatter scandal which dominated the Irish press. Earlier in the year, former Justice Minister, Alan Shatter became shrouded in controversy regarding the GSOC and whistleblower revelations. What was utterly startling is that so many of the students we approached were at a loss as to who this Alan Shatter character was and what scandal we were speaking of.
This induced me to question where this political apathy and ignorance has stemmed from. From a country with such a rich political history, it is apparent that much of its youth lack any sort of stance or viewpoint on the goings on of their nation.
Recent years have certainly not inspired much faith in our government and perhaps this is what has incited the disinterest in politics for our youth. Perhaps being privy to our parents fury with the government has left a sour taste for all things political in the mouths of Irish students.
However it is unjustly pessimistic to tarnish Irish students as politically oblivious baboons. There are of course many who are informed and engaged with the state of affairs of our country. There are also many who will take to the streets to demonstrate their opinions- the USI march last week being a testimony to this. For the rest, maybe it is time to let the Hong Kong protests act as a catalyst to enlighten and empower.
Led by two main student groups: Scholarism (spearheaded by 17-year-old Joshua Wong) and The Hong Kong Federation of Students (steered by 24-year-old Alex Chow), the Hong Kong protests exemplify the capabilities of the young to act against injustice. Their peaceful-protests shut down various major parts of the city of Hong Kong and their demonstration have provoked the leaders of Hong Kong to agree to participate in formal dialogue with the leadership of this protest.
It is a misconception of epic proportions that only the rich, powerful and middle-aged can evoke change. If ever we students may question our capabilities we must look over the pond to a few students with their umbrellas standing up and being counted and demanding reform. Viva la revolution.
Katie O’ Neill