By Yanni Chow
HONG KONG (Reuters) – When Hong Kong’s largely peaceful pro-democracy protests turned violent last summer, it drove a wedge through every section of society, dividing friends, families and also worshippers at its more than 1,500 churches.
The majority of people in Hong Kong follow some form of Buddhist, Taoist or other traditional Chinese religion, but the former British colony has about 900,000 practicing Christians, about 12% of the population according to government figures, split almost evenly between Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths. There is no consensus among them about the protests or China’s tightening grip on the city.
Canaan Wong, Blesson Chan and Kristy Chan, all in their mid-20s, are part of a group of about 40 people who in late June quit their positions as mentors and teachers at the evangelical Tung Fook Church, because they said they felt pressure from senior church leaders to keep quiet about political matters.
They said several pastors were told by church leaders to remove their names from public statements opposing a bill last year that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, the issue which sparked the protests. The bill was eventually withdrawn. The three said they did not know which church leaders, or how many, were telling pastors to remove their names.
“It sends chills down our spine with such self-censoring,” said Wong. “This shows that in this church, politics clearly overrides religion and truth.”
The group wants the church to speak up on political issues, such as the new national security law enacted by China on June 30, which makes anything that Beijing regards as subversion or promoting independence punishable by life in prison.
“We are not asking for a yellow church,” said Blesson Chan, using the local shorthand for pro-democracy. “We just feel that church is a part of the society and should not be hiding up in an ivory tower.”
The group is set to have talks with leaders of the church, which is located next to the headquarters of China’s new national security agency in Hong Kong, about how to resolve their issues. A representative for Tung Fook church said it wanted to “enhance communication and eliminate misunderstanding” with the group.
If the church does not take a stand, the three said they feared it will end up resembling the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a Protestant organization in mainland China that is closely controlled by the state and whose leaders staunchly support the Chinese Communist Party.
The National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China declined to comment.
Although China is an officially atheist state, it does allow certain state-supervised religious organizations, such as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, to operate. However, Beijing has closed down many so-called underground or house churches outside the state-controlled system and has imprisoned worshippers on the grounds that they are more loyal to their religion than to the Chinese state.
Chinese authorities did not respond to a request for comment.
On the other side of the divide is a 49-year-old police officer, who said he left the Christian and Missionary Alliance Tak Tsuen Church after 14 years last June, when he was abused by fellow worshippers who told him the police deserved to be attacked by protesters.
“As Christians, seeing the police bleed and wounded, how can you think it’s good and we deserve it?” said Sing, who asked to be identified by only one name. The church did not reply to a request for comment.
Shortly after, the policeman joined Trinity Theology Baptist Church, set up by former police officer Ricky Wong, 54, as a refuge for police who felt unwelcome elsewhere.
“I want to minimize my brothers’ and sisters’ hatred towards the yellow camp,” Wong told Reuters, referring to the general opposition among police officers to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” said Wong, quoting a passage from the Bible. “These people are also lambs.”
Wong said the 120 or so members of his church, which include many members of the uniformed services plus some doctors and teachers, pray at secret locations for fear of being targeted by pro-democracy activists.
Despite his concern about the yellow camp, Wong said he did not identify as blue, or pro-Beijing. Instead, he described his congregation as “Team Jesus.”
ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD
When China took back control of Hong Kong in 1997, it adopted the principle of “one country, two systems” and agreed to uphold the territory’s Basic Law, its de facto constitution, which includes the freedom of speech and religion.
That principle is now seen to be under threat after China imposed the new national security law, which supporters say will bring stability to the financial hub, but critics say will crush all forms of freedom.
Hong Kong’s government did not reply to a request for comment. It has said previously the new security law preserves “the basic rights and freedom lawfully enjoyed by law-abiding citizens.” The law makes no mention of religious groups.
Nevertheless, church leaders are treading cautiously.
A day before the law was imposed, Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention of Hong Kong, the umbrella group for the city’s 164 Baptist congregations, posted a message critical of the law on the convention’s website, but took it down a day later.
“We expect the government to enact just laws to make society harmonious and stable,” said Lo in the withdrawn post, arguing that the new security law could not achieve long-term stability and that only a truly democratic system would lead to prosperity.
Lo, 68, told Reuters he was unnerved by an anonymous caller who accused him of encouraging violence.
Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper controlled by the Chinese state, singled out Lo for what it called “hijacking the churches.” The newspaper did not reply to a request for comment.
“In churches now, different people, different political stances are constantly fighting,” said Wong. “Right now, I don’t think the rift in our society can be mended.”
(Reporting By Yanni Chow in Hong Kong; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Bill Rigby)
Meet the Socialists Keeping Alive Working-Class Politics in Melbourne – Jacobin magazine
In March 2019, in the outer northern Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows, a crowd of residents gathered outside the Hume City Council meeting, chanting “poison air isn’t fair!”
The snap protest was called by the Victorian Socialists (VS) in response to a factory fire at Bradbury Industrial Service’s chemical handling facility. The fire burned for days, blanketing parts of Campbellfield in toxic smoke. A speaker addressed the crowd, asking: “How many times do the people of the north and the west in the industrial suburbs of Melbourne have to get blasted with toxic waste?”
Almost one year later, residents of the same area won an important victory, blocking a proposed waste incinerator. At a meeting called to celebrate, one local activist commented “when the socialists got involved, the council really started to take notice.”
These scenes of collective action are a far cry from what is usually viewed as the “small-p politics” of local government, characterized by the petty rivalries, corruption, and managerial babble. Yet they demonstrate the class divides that run deep in Melbourne.
Take Stony Creek, a waterway in Melbourne’s working-class west. It’s still poisoned after a fire in an illegal chemical store in Tottenham. As Jorge Jorquera, Victorian Socialists candidate for Yarraville explained, “If this was happening in Toorak it would be a different story.”
Class Struggle Council Elections
The success of socialists such as Seattle’s Kshama Sawant and the democratic socialists on the Chicago City Council shows that efforts in local politics can both serve the needs of working-class constituencies and offer a platform for national interventions.
This was the spirit with which VS launched its municipal elections campaign in July 2020 at an online meeting of 250 supporters. Founded in 2018 as an electoral alliance, VS won close to twenty thousand votes in the 2018 and 2019 state and federal elections. Though the pandemic has made organizing much more difficult, the party has grown steadily. It now claims 520 financial members; with a further 1,200 registered as volunteers.
As a result, VS is standing an ambitious slate of nineteen candidates across five municipalities in Melbourne. Among them are a number of high-profile activists, such as Roz Ward, best known for her role in founding Safe Schools, a sexual and gender diversity program, or Ali Hogg, a key leader of the successful marriage equality campaign.
Despite this promising starting point, the introduction of single-member wards in Darebin, as well as restrictions imposed by Melbourne’s stage-four lockdown will make it an uphill battle, tipping the scales further toward well-heeled major parties and developer-backed dummy candidates. Yet if even a fraction of VS’s council candidates are successful, it will be one of the most significant electoral breakthroughs for socialists in Australia in decades.
Policing the Pandemic
In Victoria, as elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted working-class and migrant communities. This was graphically illustrated when Australian Labor Party (ALP) premier Daniel Andrews imposed a “hard lockdown” on many high-rise public housing estates in Melbourne’s north and west on July 4.
Daniel Nair Dadich, deputy mayor candidate for Melbourne City Council and Flemington local, livestreamed on the night the hard lockdown unfolded: “They’ve sent in the cops to deal with a health crisis … one police officer for every six residents. They’ve blocked the entrances to the flats and they’re harassing the residents.”
As he spoke, hundreds of police flooded the estates, home to approximately three thousand people, largely migrants and refugees working in precarious jobs. Deliveries of food and medical supplies promised to residents were botched, forcing them to rely entirely on volunteer organizations who were actively hindered by police. Victorian Socialists, alongside community organizations, raised funds and campaigned for the police to be immediately withdrawn.
These estates have endured more than their share of racism in recent years. Mexican-Australian Nahui Jimenez, VS candidate for Moreland council, recalls that the Flemington estate was the site of a mobilization against now-discredited far-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos. Memorably, when residents of the flats caught wind of the far-right mobilization, they came down to join the anti-racist protest, helping disrupt Yiannopoulos’s event.
More recently, the Victorian Socialists backed a thriving local Black Lives Matter movement against police racism and Aboriginal deaths in custody. Defying bans on demonstrating, the “Black Lives Matter movement is a reminder that mass solidarity has the power to win,” argued Liz Walsh, VS vice president. “We’re committed to a politics of solidarity that can relate to these movements when they emerge, amplifying the voices of those subject to racism.”
This was the aim of the livestreamed public forum, coordinated by Jimenez at the height of the hard lockdown, where public housing residents gave firsthand accounts of failures of cleaning and infection control. Given the long history of police harassment of residents, residents were appalled at the use of police to contain a health crisis. In response, Jimenez and Dadich are proposing to establish elected public housing residents committees to strengthen residents’ voices
Insecure Work Is a Disease
A special emphasis, of course, has been placed by local socialist candidates on working conditions, particularly the insecure work that has spread in Victoria in recent years. The chemical factory that burned in Broadmeadows was staffed by a predominately Tamil migrant workforce, who were routinely exposed to dangerous chemicals and afraid of speaking out for fear of employer retaliation.
Similarly, Dadich points out that the source of the public housing outbreak was lax infection control at the “quarantine hotels,” where overseas travelers are isolated for fourteen days:
Andrews (the Victorian premier) gave money to dodgy security contractors to deal with quarantine in hotels — the workers didn’t get proper training, didn’t get protective equipment, and they’ve gone on to spread the virus. Meanwhile people here in the flats were locked in, uncertain of what’s going to happen to their jobs or livelihoods. Don’t get it twisted — only poor and migrant communities would be treated with such contempt.
Indeed, COVID-19 has focused attention on the prevalence and danger of insecure work — the virus spreads readily in industries where precarious work prevails. Liz Walsh, running for office in the western suburbs, organized VS solidarity for meat industry staff in Brooklyn who refused to return to work until their virus safety concerns were dealt with. Walsh argues that local government can bolster these practical solidarity efforts: she is calling for the creation of a council committee to provide food, supplies, and free childcare for striking workers.
On the other side of the Maribyrnong River, Kath Larkin, a frontline public transport worker and union delegate with the Australian Rail Tram and Bus Industry Union, is running for “Lord Mayor.” She is arguing that the Melbourne City Council should directly represent city workers — and that “Lord” should be stripped from the mayor’s title.
“Workers run our city: stacking shelves in the supermarket, cleaning offices, and transporting health care workers to their jobs” says Larkin, “yet we get no say in how our city is run. City workers don’t get a vote, unless you live in the city. Soaring rents and property prices make that next to impossible for us.” To remedy this, Kath is campaigning to end the bizarre, plutocratic voting system that gives business and nonresident landlords two votes — instead arguing that city workers should be given voting rights, regardless of where they reside.
Councils are themselves major employers who have, in lockstep with neoliberalism, long privatized services while casualizing and outsourcing their workforces. Just this year, despite a budget surplus, Maribyrnong Council sacked a hundred and fifty workers from libraries, pools, and community centers as a cost-saving response to the pandemic. The Australian Services Union, representing council employees, is calling on local government candidates to pledge support for secure jobs and pandemic leave for council workers. All Victorian Socialists candidates have signed on to this pledge.
The consequences of privatization have been most disastrous in aged care — COVID-19 has taken a shocking toll on run-down, underfunded aged care services, leading to thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths.
Jorquera is scathing about Maribyrnong Council’s recent decision to permanently privatize its in-home aged care service and relinquish its oversight of the sector. VS is also resisting a similar move underway in the inner north municipality of Darebin.
Local socialist campaigns on aged care have already encouraged several whistleblowers to come forward with stories of inadequate training and personal protective equipment (PPE). Jorquera argues that as a first step, the council must investigate every aged care service in the municipality, and systematically expose cost cutting and underpayment. This should be followed by moves to reverse privatization. It’s an ambitious program, but a very feasible one, especially compared to the human cost of the current arrangement.
Our City, Our Housing, Our Communities
It is likely that rent deferrals, income insecurity, and mortgage stress will result in a wave of evictions and foreclosures in Melbourne’s expensive inner north and west. Banks are set to end payment deferrals just as the federal government winds back unemployment payments and wage subsidies.
As Jorquera and other VS candidates argue, councils can support impacted residents by offering full rate relief to households suffering financial hardship. Without measures such as these, working-class people will be forced to seek cheaper rent and housing prices in outer suburbs.
Combatting gentrification also means defending low-cost and culturally diverse services, and infrastructure. Fresh food markets are an important case in point, providing affordable food and vibrant culture. Darebin candidate George Kanjere criticizes council’s support for plans by private developer Salta to move the Preston Market in order to make way for multistory apartment buildings. So long as this important community space is privately owned, it will be at risk: this is why Kanjere proposes that the land be compulsorily acquired by the state government and the market preserved by extending heritage protection.
The Party Continues
The Victorian Socialists is still a very young party, but the party’s growing activist base means it can field a large ground campaign. The 2018 and 2019 electoral campaigns, both with up to 750 volunteers handing out materials on election day, as well as door knocking efforts that matched local Greens and ALP campaigns. Of course, this advantage has been neutralized by Victoria’s lockdown.
Socialists have pivoted toward more online organizing instead. Two large party meetings, including a June all-member conference, were held totally online, electing a new leadership and introducing a number of structural changes, such as campaign committees, an increased dues rate, and an improved approach to communications.
These efforts have borne fruit — so far VS has drawn in A$20,000 in donations and organized forums and campaign meetings attracting hundreds of attendees. Volunteers have distributed 410,000 leaflets in the last month. Two hundred thousand more will be distributed in coming weeks. A phone-banking campaign has so far made over eleven thousand calls, and it is estimated that volunteers will have contacted at least twenty-five thousand before the election is over. Of those who have answered their phones, 15 percent have indicated support for VS.
Despite these promising achievements, in-person organizing and one-on-one discussions are the lifeblood of socialist organizing. Without these tools, it remains to be seen whether VS members’ resolve can translate into victory.
However, as Liz Walsh notes,
We see elections as a way to connect a socialist message with working people. If we win, it’s going to be because we were upfront about our politics, and because people voted for socialist fighters. And if we don’t win, we’ve forged new connections and put local councils on notice.
NDP candidate Babchuk a fixture in local politics since 2005 – Campbell River Mirror
Michele Babchuk is no stranger to the local political scene having sat on board of school trustees between 2005 and 2014 and then on city council for three terms beginning 2014.
She’s always had an interest in provincial politics and now is pursuing the MLA seat for North Island in the Oct. 24 election as a New Democrat.
“I’ve been interested in provincial politics for a long, long time,” Babchuk said.
In her role as a school trustee, city councillor and as chair of the Strathcona Regional District Board, a position she currently holds, Babchuk has worked her way around provincial ministries for years now. But despite her interest, there hadn’t been an opportunity to get involved at a higher level as outgoing MLA and Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena has held the position since 2005. Trevena announced Sept. 20 she would be stepping down, a day before Premier John Horgan called a snap election.
Later that same day, it was announced that Babchuk had been nominated as the NDP candidate.
“It is something I have been dabbling in for quite a while,” Babchuk said, “but I didn’t know I was going to get the opportunity until quite recently.”
Babchuk sees the top issues for the North Island going into the election campaign are the COVID-19 pandemic and the province’s handling of the crisis, economic recovery, community resilience and connectivity.
Babchuk says she is “extremely happy” with the way the COVID-19 emergency has been handled by the provincial government.
“The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be top of mind for North Islanders for the foreseeable future and I am extremely happy with the way the emergency has been handled by Premier Horgan and his government,” Babchuk said.
But out of that, economic recovery and jobs are going to be an issue moving forward, Babchuk said. Resiliency refers to the community’s ability to keep jobs in the community re-start the local economy.
Community resiliency and the environment are going to be big issues as well. Another issue of importance is connectivity
“I also believe that connectivity is going to be on the list,” Babchuk said. “That’s what people on the North Island keep telling me are important.”
Connectivity more so than ever has become “absolutely imperative” for rural and remote communities because we are finding through the COVID-19 pandemic that people are even more isolated and so we have to do things differently, Babchuk said. The Strathcona Regional District and the Connected Coast project has been developing plans for improving community broadband Internet plans for rural communities like Kyuqyot, Quadra Island, Sayward, Tahsis and Zeballos.
The BC Recovery Plan has contributed $90 million into connectivity and to be able to start delivering the connectivity that those communities and the regional district have been pursuing is “amazing,” Babchuk said.
Homelessness has been a big issue for the City of Campbell River and Babchuk has been in the thick of that as a city councillor. It is technically a provincial responsibility and Babchuk will continue to advocate for housing issues.
She points out that the province has been investing heavily in social housing in Campbell River with a number of housing projects coming online through BC Housing. She referenced the Makola housing project, the purchase of the Heritage River Inn to provide housing for victims of an apartment fire, the acquisition of the Rose Bowl Restaurant to be converted into transitional housing and also the announcement last month about the construction of a supportive housing facility on Dogwood Street. In addition, Linda’s Place was brought onstream through the Head Injury Support Society and soon we will see an expansion to Rose Harbour, the supportive housing facility for women.
“I am really happy and really excited to take up this challenge to run as the NDP candidate in the North Island,” Babchuk said. “We need to do the policy and relationship building. We don’t do this in silos. It takes the whole community and it takes a whole bunch of collaboration and relationship-building to make all of this happen. So I am excited to be part of that team I am excited to work in caucus with a great premier, Premier Horgan, and I hope the people will consider me on Oct. 24.”
Curley: Conservative millennials wary about talking politics – Boston Herald
Since I started working in the political world, I’ve been asked one question over and over, “What do your friends think about your political leanings?”
The truth is that for the most part I don’t usually discuss politics with my close friends. We talk about “Real Housewives of New York” and wedding planning and celebrity breakups and work stress and podcast recommendations and eyebrow pencils and diets and desserts.
Maintaining my few close friendships trumps (no pun intended) my temptation to talk about Biden’s mental decline or #FillingTheSeat.
But I do understand why the question comes up time and again. Like most movie stars, professional athletes and famous musicians — millennials do tend to lean left. Need proof? Check out social media.
Instagram has changed drastically over the last few years. Formerly used as an app to post pictures of puppies and iced coffee, the “gram” is now heavily focused on politics.
Some people’s posts are more subtle than others. While one of my followers implores people to vote “like their life depends on it,” another just cuts to the chase and posts, “A vote for Trump is a vote for racism.”
Needless to say, when I come across someone who dares share an opinion that is pro-Trump on a public platform, I remember it.
So I decided to reach out to a few of these rare vocally conservative Millennials.
The first person I talked to was … let’s call her “Yvonne.”
Yvonne is a 27-year-old woman from Boston who posts on Twitter about everything from Joe Biden’s teleprompter disasters to the dangers of socialism.
Maybe she could shed some light on the lack of conservative voices on social media, I thought, so I typed in her username on Twitter to message her — but nothing came up. I found her on Instagram and reached out that way.
“Did you delete your Twitter account??” I asked.
She replied, “Yeah. I’m scared to get into trouble or that people will hate me.”
This column was supposed to be about fearless young republicans — and my first example had retreated.
But I was still intrigued.
What did she mean by “getting into trouble”? Was she scared about work?
She immediately responded, “Work, losing friends, guys thinking I’m crazy, etc.”
Yvonne informed me that she would most likely reactivate her account, but that she was taking a break. Her hiatus was brief — she is back (and better than ever) on Twitter.
Next, I reached out to a college acquaintance who occasionally posts his dislike for far-left Democratic policies. We will call him “Danny,” and he currently lives in San Francisco where he works in finance.
He did not mince words, writing, “I will be the first to tell you — Donald Trump certainly has his flaws. By no means am I a staunch ’Trump guy’. But as a conservative, I can’t stand the thought of the Democrats running this country — especially after living through what they have done to a beautiful city like San Francisco.”
Later, I asked the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s constituent if he ever feared any repercussions for sharing his views.
“Yes definitely; I’ve toned it down a little bit for that reason. I think ultimately corporate culture will get so toxic that overly ‘progressive’ companies will experience a brain drain.”
So their answers were similar — two conservative people, confident in their viewpoints, but cautious of the “tolerant” powers that be.
The expression goes that the loudest voice in the room isn’t always the right one. Well, I can assure you that the loudest voices on social media are most certainly the left ones. But that doesn’t mean the opposing voices aren’t speaking up — they just have to be a bit more careful than their friends.
Yvonne told me she received several private replies to her latest post of a Trumptilla boat parade. They were all positive.
Danny acknowledged, “The more I post, the more I have both subtle and overt ‘thumbs-up’ from people whom I’ve never discussed politics with.”
Maybe there is a silent majority — and maybe there are even a few silent Millennials.
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