Politicizing Businesses, Another Hong Kong Lesson

New Orleans      At six in the morning I found myself opening the gate to our offices on St. Claude recently.  The night before my computer had somehow begun separating the keyboard from the screen, making it unusable.  I had a small ASUS emergency backup in my office so there I was.  Leaving five minutes later, I was surprised to see Ben, a local political activist living in the neighborhood putting out the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse sign and opening the gate.  I laughed and told him that the barista wasn’t here yet.  He told me he often stopped by early on his way to check his post office box fifteen minutes away and helped out.  I thanked him for his support, and he replied by telling me a story that confounded him.  He was on the board of a small local nonprofit and he had been trying to get them to meet in our common space, but, amazingly, he had been unsuccessful, because they continued meeting in the Starbucks one block away instead, because the director said, “he liked it.”  Ben couldn’t get over how anti-political his stance was and got on his bike still shaking his head, as I thanked him.

What’s my point?  Why can’t we make Ben and me happy, and be more like Hong Kong?

As virtually everyone must know, protesters in Hong Kong have been at it for months as they challenge the central government for continued autonomy and democratic rights in the city.  Against repression and long odds, the protestors have been innovators in designing actions and tactics to advance their campaign, and protect their people while continuing to apply pressure.  In this polarization within the city they have now brilliantly refused to allow the business structure, both large and small, to pretend to be above or neutral about the dispute.  For a while their weekend protests have targeted big companies and malls that have sided with the central government and the uproar itself has radically decreased tourism going to the bottom lines of many enterprises.  Now, they have gone a step farther in their targeting businesses by creating apps for that and weaponizing social media even more.

Using apps and social media, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, of course, shoppers and diners can identify businesses by color, yellow or blue, to determine whether or not they are with or against them, and then spend their money accordingly.  Not surprisingly, Starbucks has been one of their targets.  Using Whatsgap, cute, huh, they eat and drink where a business is marked “yellow.”  A Facebook group with over 100,000 members plays a role in this as well. A 37,000 followers Instagram group does the same.

Why don’t we have a Whatsgap or WhereItsAt or something that helps us in our countries and cities identify who is with us and who is against us, so that we can give our money stronger legs to take extra steps to support those who support us?  We need an app for that here and everywhere else?

Ben and I are calling for help!

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The Lust for Personal Power without Popular Support Is Not a Winning Strategy Forever

Amersfoort, Netherlands     In these days, perhaps in all days, when autocracy, as a strategy and set of tactics, seems so attractive to so many politicians and wannabe royals in their lust for power under any terms, there’s some small comfort in seeing such techniques come to wreck and ruin, even if the damage in the meantime is inestimable.

Poor Carrie Lam, the mayor of Hong Kong, is a fair example.  After almost thirteen weeks of escalating protests by pro-democracy adherents both in the streets and behind doors against her Beijing-concocted policy to extradite people to mainland China and its questionable judicial system, she was once again forced to withdraw the extradition proposal.  Of course, having refused to negotiate for weeks while protests went unabated, she has no credibility now, since even conceding seems unilateral, rather than part of a corrective process.  Protests are likely to continue.  Here is the irony.  Reportedly, Lam has been trying to resign in the face of her own impotence before the protests, but has said to associates that Beijing will not allow it.  They have not reported that Beijing told her, you make your bed, you sleep in it, but it’s possible.

Then there’s the tragic case of Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar or Burma, as some still know it, who has gone from the Noble prize-winning ranks to Mandela, King and others to become the stone faced and silent apologist for genocide among the Rohingya people of her country who practice Islam, rather than Buddhism.  Once jailed and quarantined by the country’s military rulers, she has now become their face, rather than their critic, in the midst of unspeakable horrors and the displacement of almost a half-million people.  Is this the price of power?

Globally, British television is more known for its dark crime procedurals than the humor of its comedic farces, which seem tailored more to a local taste, but now we all can witness in real time that the British origin of “House of Cards” is also more likely farcical, than fictional, as we watch the ruthlessness of Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit, once seen as clown, now made the fool.  First, in pure Kevin Spacey fashion, he undermines Theresa May, not that any would really care, but he does so, as she did, heedless to the peril of Great Britain.  Then once he has the Prime Minister’s position, he suspends Parliament creating a constitutional crisis so he can try to ram through Brexit, the withdrawal from the European Union, without debate by running out the clock.  The opposition and some renegades from his own party, vote him down easily, since in his antics he seems to have forgotten that he had only had a one-seat majority.  He then ruthlessly throws twenty-eight nay voters out of his party to try and force an election.  But, like Mayor Lam, having no credibility, there’s no agreement to a snap election without forcing a vote to extend the Brexit deadline.

I flipped channels before collapsing in the Netherlands and got to watch one commentator after another excoriate Johnson in English, French, German, Spanish, and Dutch.  The message was unmistakable in all languages.

How is bypassing the people in your lust for power working out for any politicians today?  Maybe possible in the short run, but perhaps not for long, giving all of us hope still.

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