How Yellow Ribbons And Umbrellas Became Prominent In Pro-Democracy Protests

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The first time I experienced seeing yellow ribbons being tied around trees and fences was a few decades ago when Manila was expecting the arrival of Benigno Aquino, a popular critic of the Marcos administration. Benigno Aquino was coming back to his country and the people used yellow ribbons to show their support and love.

The second time I experienced those yellow ribbons was during the non-violent pro-democracy protests in Hongkong. Yellow ribbons adorned trees and railings near the Admiralty and it became the official color of the protests. Supporters all over the world sympathized with Hongkong by wearing yellow ribbons on their shirts and on their personal profiles in Facebook.

Yellow umbrellas were also a common sight as a protection against the sun and rain as well as tear gas. In fact, foreign media referred to the non-violent protests as an Umbrella Revolution. However, how can a flimsy umbrella protect an individual against the powerful tear gas? Protesters blocked the routes to offices and the crowd was so overwhelming that police had to use tear gas to disperse them. Sometimes, the crown numbers would peak at more than one hundred thousand and containment became a challenge for the Hongkong police forces.

On the other hand, not all of Hongkong were seen wearing the yellow ribbons. Some were unsympathetic to the protests and showed their disapproval with blue ribbons. After the disruptions to the financial district of Hongkong, some decided that it was enough. What they wanted was a peaceful Hongkong. They believe in civil rights and the pro-democracy protests but they feared that the peaceful gathering will eventually lead into violence which they did not want to happen in Hongkong.

Most of the streets were closed to traffic because the protesters occupied the major roads and people were unable to report to offices or transact business with the government. However, this is a phenomenon I never imagined for ribbons and umbrellas to become the icons of pro-democracy protests. The umbrella which is a common object used by people all over the world became a symbol and so did ribbons that were traditionally used to adorn clothing.