QUINN MCGANNON WRITES — Recent years have seen an explosion of protests across Asia, most stemming from a frustration with oppressive governments and lack of freedoms. An increasing number of young people in Asia are participating in their countries’ affairs, and they’re not being subtle about it. While protests generally evoke a strong sense of division, these show a growing unity across country lines.
In 2012, the first “Hunger Games” film was released. Based on a book of that name by Suzanne Collins, it told the story of a young woman fighting for her life in a cruel game of survival, organized by an oppressive and all-powerful government regime. The film was highly anticipated and set box office records. But what no one anticipated was how the movie would serve to symbolize protest movements to come.
For example: Hong Kong has seen its fair share of protests in recent years, but 2014’s Umbrella Movement was the first in which protesters used a three-finger salute—the one displayed by the main character in “Hunger Games,” after a fellow-participant in the game of survival dies in her arms.
Later in 2014, when a military coup ended with General Prayut seizing power, Thai citizens took to the streets of Bangkok armed with signs and the three-finger salute. The junta announced, with little success, that the symbol was banned. Students watching the second installment of the “Hunger Games” movie in theatres were actually escorted out by undercover police— for flashing the sign while watching. When protests against the government erupted again in 2020, the salute was still an ever-present symbol of resistance and hope.
Inspired by their Thai neighbors, this same symbol found its way to protests in Myanmar. In February 2021, a military coup led to the overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who led the country’s first democratically elected government after decades of military rule. Outraged, citizens flocked to the streets to protest, culminating in pot-banging movement labor strikes and a red-ribbon campaign. Leaders of the coup have attempted social media blackouts, media blackouts and have ordered the arrest of all who flash the three-finger salute.
Clearly, this salute has transcended national borders and has become a universal sign to manyfighting government forces that seek to undermine civil rights. Or, as put forth by Min Than, 23, a university student at a San Francisco-based solidarity protest in Myanmar: “We see you and we care. We will not let you suffer alone.”