PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 September, 2014, 6:29am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 September, 2014, 8:54am
by Jeffie Lam
Sitting in her office at the University of Hong Kong, an outspoken academic made an unexpected decision: not to sign a petition in support of students arrested after a pro-democracy protest.
A month later, Dr Petula Ho Sik-ying decided not to sign another petition, this time expressing disappointment at Beijing’s restrictive framework for the 2017 chief executive election.
Ho said she wanted to do more than just put her name on petitions. “[It’s insufficient to] just sign it and go back to sleep … I would see that as very hypocritical,” Ho, an associate professor at HKU’s social work and social administration department, said.
It was then that the city’s leading academic on gender and sexuality studies decided that she instead had to traverse a field quite foreign to her – politics.
“I feel terribly miserable seeing how society has changed,” Ho said. “I couldn’t continue the life I used to live.”
And so she co-founded the University of Democracy-to-come group with activist Chan King-fai and policy researcher Anthony Wong Kin-wai.
The group plans to offer weekly lectures exploring the relationship between democracy and other aspects of society – including culture and sex – at Talentum Bookshop in Yau Ma Tei. It held its first lecture last Saturday.
Democracy is closely related to people’s everyday lives, Ho said. “Do you have the guts to give birth if you have no future? What kind of education will your children receive? How do you settle disputes [about politics] with your spouse?” she asked.
Ho said Hongkongers needed to learn how to live with the city’s increasingly tense political atmosphere. “We don’t mind being criticised for [touching on] something too difficult or theoretical. It will … equip our souls before the tanks roll in.”
Co-founder Chan, an experienced social activist, hopes the group’s classes will give Hongkongers a more solid theoretical foundation for democracy.
“Many people have lamented that the dark age has come and Hong Kong is dead,” he said. “They either take immediate action [to protest] or are very frustrated. There is less dialogue taking place in society.”
Chan said Hongkongers were too used to following iconic figures – like Democratic Party founder Martin Lee Chu-ming – in the struggle for democracy, but it was now time for the people to take the initiative to infuse the movement with new energy, creativity and perspective.
Aside from founding the group, Ho said she would also join the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement, which plans to rally 10,000 protesters to block Central district to press the authorities for genuine universal suffrage in the 2017 election.
She also supports the students’ one-week school boycott that will begin on September 22. The boycott is being organised to condemn Beijing’s framework.