Familiar faces in the sea of protesters

Phyllis Tsang - Editorial Board Member, The Journalist

[Oct 2012 - The Journalist] Among the many, many thousands protesting the government's plan to introduce “national education” into the school curriculum were faces that were all too familiar. No, they were not the social activists regularly seen manning the barricades. 

Three electronic media, Commercial Radio, now TV and DBC broadcast live the September 1 carnival and demonstration against national education. (Photo by John Choy)

They were former journalists who had worked with me on the front lines in days gone by. They showed up, one after another, through the summer of protests, to voice aloud their fears for the well-being of our next generation. And, during the tug-of-war with the government, they made the best use of their journalistic skills and experience to help concerned parents to gather public support.

Their efforts helped make the campaign a huge and glorious success, one which every Hong Kong person should be proud of. We interviewed one of the campaign's key spokespersons, Gloria Chan, a veteran political reporter some years ago.

After graduating from the Chinese University’s school of journalism in 1997, Gloria joined Apple Daily as a political reporter, witnessing some of the momentous events that marked the early years under the first Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, including the huge protest against the controversial Article 23.

In 2004, Gloria resigned from journalism to join Médecins Sans Frontières. Then, she had a son. She had just given birth to her second child, a girl, when the mass campaign against the national education plan, exploded over Hong Kong. She decided she could make better use of her maternity leave to help organize the campaign.

Gloria recalled the time she first came across the Parents’ Concern Group on National Education in July. This alliance had been set up by a group of parents who had been sharing their views on the Internet before it was forged into a powerful alliance. “At the time I was thinking of helping the group with simple clerical work,” she said. It was rather unexpected for the mother-of-two to actively liaise with her journalist friends to roll out a city-wide campaign.

Among the core members of this parents’ group were other former journalists, such as spokeswoman Chan Sik-chee, Leung Siu-ling, Amy Lai and So Mei-chi as well as Chu Hon-keung. Chu currently works for Friends of the Earth and Leung Siu-ling who is now a barrister.

With the help of other former journalists with strong journalistic networking ties and experience, the alliance effectively spread its message across the city and drew widespread public attention to this very serious issue.
Parents Concern Group on National Education held a press conference on July 22. This was the first press conference attended by children. (Parents Concern Group on National Education Photo)

The general public gained the impression an organisation with meticulous divisions of work among its members. But Gloria confessed that the division was not as tidy and clear-cut as people thought.

All members had used their initiatives to undertake any new duties whenever there were changes brought about by new developments. For instance, some members had focused on strategic planning while others organized major events such as the rallies and some others managed the networking on facebook.

Through cooperation and coordination, the alliance rolled out a comprehensive and, ultimately, successful plan for the campaign. These efforts included:

# Facilitating the special needs of the media: making proper arrangements for photo-taking and preparing the props to match the theme of the campaign. Gloria said these preparations included arranging the proper venues for photo-taking, designing the campaign stickers, banners and other props to highlight the anti-national education message.

# Staying alert to new developments and responding in time. Gloria said it was vital to clearly inform the media the schedule and the run-downs of events.

# Making use of the networking on facebook to collect views from parents and disseminate details of all upcoming activities. Some parents were very creative by inviting celebrities such as singer Anthony Wong Yiu-ming to make a short film to promote anti-national education to attract public attention. Following Wong Yiu-ming to lend a helping hand were others like Ma Wai-sze and Jimmy who helped in the production of more short films for sharing on facebook.

# Widening the scope of the campaign to reach out to more members of the public, from all walks of life. According to Gloria, the alliance appealed to different TV channels for appearances in a variety of talk shows on both radio and TV to explain to their views against national education.
According to the organisers some 90,000 people joined the march against national education on 29 July. (Parents Concern Group on National Education Photo)

Strategies to handle the government: Besides public promotions of the campaign, the alliance hammered out strategies to handle different scenarios in case the government resorted to devious ploys. One such attempt was the sudden announcement by Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim of a possible meeting between the government and the alliance. As expected, the meeting turned out to be only a government show aimed at cooling public anger, instead of a genuine attempt at negotiation. The alliance stood firm on its stance and cut short the meeting.

During the September 1 carnival & demonstration against national education, protesters crossed to signify their objections to implementation of national education. (Photo by Alex Lee)

Following months of public appearances on TV, many Hong Kong people can now readily identify Gloria in the street. Gloria admitted anyone including a former journalist like her would feel the pressure of speaking before the camera. However, each member of the alliance faced these pressures bravely because they shared a mission to protect the young generation of Hong Kong from the harms of national education.

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