Wong says the end of the Occupy Movement has left some young people disorientated. Youth leaders who were once put on a pedestal have been knocked down and individual participants are left wondering how to seek a way out from the division and stalemate hanging over the city.
However, Wong believes the divisions can be overcome as they involve misunderstandings between people with different views rather than entrenched divisions between, for instance, racial and religious groups.
Dominic Ho Ka-ki and Yoyo Jiu Wai-man, students of government and law at the University of Hong Kong, share this view. Both of them are acutely aware of the polarisation in society but instead of taking sides like many young people, they believe it is better to make space for rational debate, so that people can agree to disagree.
“I dare not say that I can guard the room for rational discussion, but at this moment, I hope to be involved in this and create more room or at least slow down the rate of decline, because we should reserve room for discussion,” says Jiu.
With this in mind, the pair co-founded Policy Desk, a youth-led policy research institute focused on public policy issues, or as they describe it, a think tank belonging to young people. Their work includes creating reader-friendly digests that simplify details of ongoing government consultations or important public policy issues, and presenting different views. These are posted on their website and social media pages as well as sent to schools.
After getting feedback from their readers, who are mainly secondary school and university students, the group will collect and publish their ideas and pass them onto the government.
Ho thinks that although there are already lots of heavyweight think tanks, such as the Central Policy Unit and Civic Exchange, there are not sufficient channels for young people to thoroughly approach or comprehend important social issues, let alone for them to express their ideas. In post-Occupy Hong Kong. Ho says the government will eventually have to take public opinion into account, otherwise people will continue to take radical action and hinder the implementation of public policy.
This is why he engages in this work. “You can join demonstrations, you can protest online, but you can also stay behind and do research,” says Ho.
Alan Lam Ka-leung, a member of another young people’s think tank called GeNext, also prefers to work on research and policy instead of charging on the frontline. Besides spending time on his own organisation, he also writes articles for various political groupings. These include Path of Democracy, the think tank newly-established by lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who quit the Civic Party earlier this year.
Lam self-consciously refers to his choices as “abnormal” compared to his peers. He says the things he writes for various political groups may not reflect what he really thinks but he regularly attends their meetings and works as a volunteer for them. “I think sometimes when you observe and learn more, you can hold fast to your values, even in environments you don’t like,” Lam says.