Afro-Asian solidarity in Seattle and across the Pacific

From left to right, Dan Berger, Mark Cook,  J.M. Wong, and Jas Z. at Berger's recent book launch in Hillman City Collaboratory. (Photo by Christina Twu)
From left to right, Dan Berger, Mark Cook, J.M. Wong, and Jaz S. at Berger’s recent book launch in Hillman City Collaboratory. (Photo by Christina Twu)

Between #ICan’tBreathe, #HandsUpDontShoot and #BlackLivesMatter, Twitter muscles have been in full flex around the globe these past several weeks.

Online mobilization keeps spreading as movements on the ground crescendo — and reach overseas. Hong Kong is no exception. That state in China calling for true democracy and many in the U.S. are united in the struggle under a militarized police presence that has taken lives and trampled basic human rights.

Seattle activist J.M. Wong and her colleagues will make that connection stronger in Asia — starting first with Hong Kong. Wong and former Black Panther Party leader and political prisoner Mark Cook will travel to Hong Kong on an exchange organized by Pacific Rim Solidarity Network. The organizing body sprouted from a group of young Chinese-American activists who brought Hong Kong dock workers on strike to Seattle in April on a speaking tour.

“We want to facilitate grassroots exchange between resistance movements in Asia and the U.S.,” Wong said during a Dec. 5 book release event at Hillman City Collaboratory featuring author Dan Berger and his new book “Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era.”  Cook was a guest panelist along with Ed Mead, former political prisoner and artist.

It’s about high time for this type of dialogue, Wong noted, particularly with the misconceptions that form as a result of limited exposure across the Pacific.

“Many times, these conversations across the Pacific are dominated by the capitalists that are figuring out how to build coal terminals over here or extract tar sands in Canada, and we just want to push back and be like, ‘These Asian and specifically Chinese capitalists don’t represent the Chinese diaspora.’ There are people in China who are really resisting, and we want to facilitate that dialogue,” Wong said.

In addition to exchanging political histories through their Hong Kong speaking tour, Wong hopes participants will share stories and make deeper connections between U.S., Chinese labor and Hong Kong pro-democracy movements to strengthen international Afro-Asian solidarity. Much can be learned from the Seattle legacy of Black Panther Party members and Asian Pacific Islander (API) community activists building power together in the ’70s, Wong pointed out.

While this solidarity was growing in Seattle, Mark Cook was forming the first Black Panther Party inside the Walla Walla State Penitentiary and studying the party’s original “Ten Point Plan,” as he shared at the recent book release event.

Cook remembered specifically the moments when No. 7 of the plan, the call for an immediate end to police brutality and the murder of black people, was in regular practice.

“That’s where Black Panthers did a police watch,” he said, describing party activities in the Bay Area, where police violence against party members was particularly high.

Hong Kong protesters being tear gassed at a September "Occupy Central" demonstration. (Photo by Pasu Au Yeung via Flickr Creative Commons)
Hong Kong protesters being tear gassed at a September “Occupy Central” demonstration. (Photo by Pasu Au Yeung, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Sharing his story with Hong Kong protestors next month will provide a rare face-to-face opportunity.

The Hong Kong protesters who will soon meet Cook have made the connection between their struggle and the recent protests throughout the United States against police brutality. A Dec. 9 statement on Facebook said:

“[In Hong Kong]… speaking out against injustice and government betrayal of its promise of democracy can lead you to face pepper spray, water cannons, and batons – from our own police! It doesn’t matter if we are students or doctors or journalists. The police have lost their control, boosted by the unconditional support of the government, willing to use maximum force on its own citizens to restore an unjust order.

Just like in Ferguson, we face a police force that has been given the task of basically punishing dissent – while claiming to uphold law. This government and police force have rejected genuine dialogue, denied its obligation to heed the voices of its citizens, and used weapons, threats and even proxy organizations to harass, stigmatize or silence the protesting citizens.

“… [W]e may not have the same struggles, but we share a common situation of government and police falsely claiming authority over us, and abusing their position of authority and of legitimized use of force, to repress our voices and our just demands.

“… Solidarity to Ferguson and to NYC! Black lives matter!

“From Hong Kong to Ferguson and NYC, resist state violence!”

While Pacific Rim Solidarity Network members set their sights on Afro-Asian solidarity globally, API Ferguson demonstrators in Seattle have gone full praxis, balancing an outward visible presence with inward reflection. Dec. 14 marked one of many API community discussions on how to best support Black liberation during these perilous times, in which Black Americans surely suffer the greatest consequences at the highest rates.

One of the rallying cries circulating that weekend was a Race Files blog post by Soya Jung, a longtime Seattle racial justice activist and co-founder of the national think tank ChangeLab.

A growing legion of Asian-American voices are demanding change, not to lift ourselves up at the expense of others, but to link arms with others to take up the long and unfinished project of Black liberation,” she wrote. “Our own freedom and humanity depend on this.”

Against the common narrative that paints the liberation of Black Americans as reliant on White Americans getting their act together, it is a relief to hear APIs and other communities of color stepping up to the plate, singing to a freedom song of many different layers and harmonies.

And also making sure we’re somehow in tune.


  1. “Asian Pacific Islander” is a racist, colonising term. Why don’t Asians show solidarity with black people in the pacific by not calling yourself “Asian Pacific Islanders” when Pacific Islanders have been protesting this racist colonial for decades.

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