Seniors Lend Support Behind the Scenes in Hong Kong Protests

Updated: 2019-12-13 17:30:54

HONG KONG—In the ongoing protest movement, there is an oft-repeated idiom that translates to: “we all have a part to play in this fight.”

Though protesters who are frequently at the frontlines facing off with police are mostly young teens and adults, there is a broad contingent of middle-aged and elderly who support the youngsters on and off the streets.

“Parents,” as they are referred to, drive to the site of protests to pick up those who are being chased by police; pay for meals for protesters without the financial means; donate clothing and other supplies; and organize an upcoming Christmas party to lift their spirits. Others find business owners who are sympathetic to the movement and willing to provide jobs or skills training to young protesters in need of employment.

They contribute in whatever way they can, as if watching over their own children.

Members of the Grey Hair Group, a Hong Kong collective of protest-supporting retirees and elderly, gather at the front gate of San Uk Ling Holding Centre, where accusations of police mistreatment of detained protesters have recently been made by activists and lawyers, in Hong Kong on Aug. 29, 2019. (LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images)

Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that has become a popular platform for Hongkongers to plan and discuss future demonstrations, is also where “parents” spread information about efforts to assist young protesters—some of whom have been kicked out of their homes due to divergent views from their biological parents regarding the political movement.

One Telegram channel administrator recently shared about “parents” who threw a birthday party for two youngsters who were estranged from their family.

The administrator recounts the protesters crying. “Thank you for celebrating my birthday with me, to let me know I’m not alone,” the youngster had said.

One Telegram group recently decided to team up with a local shop in the Kwai Fong neighborhood to sell a special tea, made of osmanthus and pear, “to help soothe during this bout of dry weather, or for those who have breathed in gas they weren’t supposed to breathe in, or as an alternative to soda when you eat fried foods.” Protesters can pay whatever they want; any profits made would be donated to a fund that provides meals to protesters in need.

Mr. Ma, 60, has bought meal vouchers for a few. He says though this movement has “always been an all-of-society movement,” the young protesters at the frontlines play a special role, sacrificing themselves by risking getting arrested and being beaten by police.

The Hong Kong people are like “frogs boiling in the water,” he said, referring to how some may not immediately perceive the threat of Beijing’s encroachment on daily life in the city. The youth have sustained a months-long protest. “The role they play is to awaken the others.”

Ma had attended a rally in late November themed around the “silver-haired” showing solidarity with the youngsters.

In recent days, a growing number of restaurants have also partnered with “parents” to offer meals to youngsters. The “parents” are welcome to pay whatever they want; the restaurants will then donate the revenues to organizations that assist protesters.

Ms. Tam, 63, often goes to protest events and passes out a brand of Japanese cough drops that she says is known to relieve the effects of tear gas on the throat.

She first started buying them when she noticed that protesters who shout slogans during demonstrations would get hoarse voices after constant yelling.

She also carries facial masks for those who need it, and would buy bread or water for protesters who are caught in a long standoff with police.

“I help them so they don’t waste their energy walking around. They need to run to escape [from police],” she said.

Mr. Chan, 64, admits that many in his generation are against the protest movement. Among some of his decades-old friends, for example, they share the view that social stability is more important. With Hong Kong undergoing the largest unrest in its history, they fear that their investments will suffer as a result.

But for him, “I personally would support [the protests] because it concerns the future of Hong Kong,” said Chan, who is retired. He believes it is necessary to stand up against the Chinese regime’s tightening grip on Hong Kong.

He has gotten into many heated arguments with those friends. “It’s a matter of difference in one’s moral values.”

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