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History is made as social issues challenge politics

Removing statues that glorify racists and slavers and bringing in new laws on policing are just symbols of change

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History is made as social issues challenge politics

Statues of Chinese deities are placed under a tree near an altar in Hong Kong on July 5. (Photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP)

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Something has happened that is changing the world besides the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic is changing our lifestyles, our economies and medical practices. But a more significant social movement is underway, as seen in numerous demonstrations by many thousands of protesters around the world. It is a protest against the force of the small elite of ruling oligarchies who dominate economies and political systems that oppress and kill citizens with impunity.

It is not the politicians who are now setting the agenda but the masses of protesting people, as in the United States, who have a democratic space to do so. Although the rulers try to squash, limit, and eradicate people's power by force and erase that democratic right and space in some places, it breaks out anew elsewhere. In Hong Kong, we witness the freedom to protest eradicated as Beijing's draconian national security law, rushed through by the Communist Party, is implemented as an anti-terrorism law to crush free speech and give life sentences to protesters.

This is the end of Hong Kong as it has been since British rule. The "one country, two systems" arrangement has been shattered. Taiwan is taking note, for sure. Despite lifting almost a billion Chinese people from dire poverty through a capitalist-communism system and becoming almost the number one world economic power in only 50 years, China's historic opportunity to be a truly great nation in the world is long gone, too.

China's astonishing economic achievement is tainted by violations of human and political rights and island grabbing in the South China Sea. The Communist Party has, instead of winning glory, earned the ire of nations and less respect and prestige. Today while one social movement in Hong Kong is squashed, other social movements in the United States and other countries are gathering pace and becoming changers of history.

The Black Lives Matter movement is challenging police brutality and indiscriminate killing of African- Americans. They are demanding the equality and respect that is owed and rightfully belongs to all people, especially people of color. Even there, the ruling elite of the right led by Donald Trump are trying to squash the democratic space for many years.

In Washington, Trump used tear gas, flash bombs and police force to disperse peaceful demonstrators in front of the White House, clearing a way for him to walk to a church and hold up a Bible for a photo opportunity.

The police, predominantly white, were militarized, while national guards with armored cars turned their machine guns on the people in a show of intimidation and force. The blatant public killing of unarmed African-American man George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25 showed that racist oppression and repressed anger were still there.

The Black Lives Matter protest is ongoing and has spread around the world as oppressed, exploited indigenous people and people of color join the global protest and demand social justice and human rights.

President Trump has been heavily criticized for tweeting a video in support of a white supremacist shouting "White power!" from a golf cart. The movement, consisting of black and white protesters, can be summed up as a mass protest against that one phase "white power." It is now international. Native Americans, African-Americans, indigenous people and people of color in Canada, Brazil, France, the UK and many other countries are marching.

There is an outrage and a mighty force of people power rising up to challenge the status quo and the oppressive dominant attitudes of the white supremacists and the hatred and racism expressed on social media. Facebook is now challenged by the business community that is withholding advertising until it changes its support for hate speech. It is doing so.

We have to understand that racism is not just a few white supremacist people lording it over the African-American or brown or Asian people and considering them inferior. It is a political and social power issue. For a century, South Africa was ruled by white supremacist leaders until Nelson Mandela came to lead a national protest. The US Congress and Senate have a majority of white politicians.

The American white supremacist ruling elites were shocked and deeply angered by the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American to be president of the United States. Then, in retaliation, it seemed they got Trump elected. Trump, a white supremacist and racist himself, did everything to destroy the Obama legacy and achievements and criminalize the protesters today.

The police killers in the United States and military who kill with impunity have no empathy, compassion and respect for others. They have an animal-like killer instinct. They act on emotion, not reason. So it is they that are less fully human than their victims.

Removing statues that glorify racists and slavers, banning the confederate flag, changing the name on racist skin-bleaching creams, boycotting Facebook, bringing in new laws on policing are just symbols of change.

While social justice, equality and respect for all people has to be an immediate goal, long-term change to eradicate racism has to be in the hearts and minds of the people. It starts in the classroom, where education is the key, and the next generation needs to know, practice and live by the values of community equality and mutual respect, true social and civil justice, and love of their neighbours.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sexual abuse. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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