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Symbols of protest

Hong Kong people are fighting for a real universal suffrage for the next chief executive election Hong Kong people are fighting for a real universal suffrage for the next chief executive election Shutterstock
27 Nov
2014
One of the most visible symbols of the recent Hong Kong protests was the umbrella

Faced with the prospect of having pepper spray, tear gas and high velocity water jets fired into their faces and bodies, the protestors improvised and armed themselves with facemasks and umbrellas. On social media, especially Twitter, the hashtag #umbrellarevolution became hugely popular, and images and videos of the protestors, many of whom were students, began to circulate around the world.

The umbrella became not only a symbol of dissent regarding how Hong Kong is and will be governed but also a practical object deployed by those eager to resist police and security forces.

This was the not first time the umbrella has become a campaigning symbol. In Latvia, there was also a self-styled ‘umbrella revolution’ in November 2007 as protestors gathered in the pouring rain to stand against corruption and, later, austerity politics in the light of the global financial crisis. While not dubbed the ‘umbrella revolution’ at the time, the widespread appearance of the umbrella appeared to epitomize the frustration and anger felt towards political and financial elites. The then government was brought down by the protests.

The umbrella has also featured in the ‘Blockupy’ protest movement, a diverse grouping of anti-globalization, anti-capitalist and other protest groups, who have organized large-scale protests against EU austerity in cities such as Frankfurt. The umbrella not only represented the all-embracing nature of the protest collective, but also provided practical defense against policing measures.

For those geographers interested in social protest, the role of apparently mundane objects such as the umbrella can be extended to think about how other objects such as pots and pans play their part in animating protest. From Argentina and Venezuela to Canada, Hong Kong and Iceland, kitchenware and accessories continue to play a vital role in how people protest in public spaces.

Klaus Dodds is Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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