A NewPower in Hong Kong’s Social Movement - Inventive Ways in the Fight Against Tyranny

New forms of protests have emerged in the past 3 months since the start of the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement, and they have enlightened and inspired. They are “new” not just because they involve the application of new technology. They represent a NewPower that is sweeping across the globe, and setting off a profound transformation in Hong Kong.

The rise of a global NewPower

The book NewPower, published last year, has analysed in detail how this “NewPower” is hurling up a new wave globally. The two authors pointed out that NewPower is now a leading force in the world that cannot be ignored. NewPower is now influencing all realms of society including business undertaking (like Airbnb and Uber), social and charitable causes (e.g. the ice-bucket challenge), election campaigns (from Obama’s to Trump’s), and social movements. NewPower breaks out in all fields and its influences are immeasurable.

NewPower vs old power

What is the difference between NewPower and old power? In the old power model, the masses usually passively “consume” and “receive instructions”, but NewPower places “mass cooperation and participation” at the top priority. The two authors use currency as an analogy for old power, that it is closed and controlled only by a few, where competition and trade-off is emphasized. NewPower, on the other hand, is like water. It is fluid, and encourages participation, openness and cooperation. 

Platforms, not leaders

The Anti-ELAB Movement has characterised itself as “leaderless”, not being headed by one single group or organization. “Platforms, not leaders” is what the NewPower concept introduces. The “stage” in the past disappears and is replaced by “platforms” that are more open and higher in transparency. The LIHKG discussion form has had a significant role in being a shared platform for participants of the current movement.

On LIHKG, participants are not only able to exchange information, share ideas, and discuss strategies, they can also set common goals and plans. For example, through participants’ positive and  negative comments , a particular topic will make its way onto, or out of,  the “top chart”. This becomes a mechanism in which consensus are made. This decision-making model is different from how an organization functions. Decision-making power is not only in the hands of a few leaders, but it is shared by all participants in the platform. 

Participation Threshold: Up to Your Choice

Another characteristic that the Anti-ELAB Movement has shown is the lowering of participation threshold, so that the masses can gradually increase their participation. Participants in the Movement started from “low-cost” petition signings online, then step by step increased their participation, joining marches, street stalls, fundraising campaigns, non-cooperative movements, strikes and even becoming “valiant fighters” on the frontline. On Telegram, different working groups were set up including publicity and promotion groups, supplies groups strategy groups, doxxing groups, etc. Every participant can choose how and when they participate according to their expertise, interests and availability. These self-initiated working groups shared the different roles and responsibilities that “leaders” usually take up, and they cooperate with each other to make sure needs are met. 

Connection and Expansion Made Easy 

The old power model depends on how much participants identify with a particular organization or leader, but NewPower goes beyond that. NewPower depends not just on the participants’ identification with the cause, it depends on them to spread the cause to more people, groups and networks. That is why NewPower concepts are easily spread and diffused. The “Be Water” concept in the Anti-ELAB Movement is one prime example. “Be Water” does not only describe the flash-mob style protest model, but it also emphasizes that strategies for action need to be flexible and diverse. The concept of “we fight, each in his own way” has helped participants overcome the trap of becoming easily divided. It stresses that every person has their own roles and should be respected and understood, and wasteful discord should be lessened. 

The two authors, however, also reminded readers that since NewPower emphasizes fluidity, openness and decentralization, there are weaknesses that need to be overcome. For example, as the movement continues, one needs to consider how NewPower can work together with the old to create a more sustainable and lively social movement. This will be key to a successful transformation in Hong Kong’s social movement.