Sunday, October 5, 2014

Saturday Night Protests - Bigger Than Ever

I hope I am not incorrect when I say that these democracy protests have been the biggest thing to happen in Hong Kong for quite some time now.  More than ever, I felt the energy and humanity of the protests on Saturday night.

First some background, then some pictures:
I would say that Friday was a watershed moment, if there only had to be one, in a sometimes meandering, sometimes disorganized, but sometimes incredibly effective, organic and spontaneous movement.  Basically, the pro-democracy protestors and the government seemed to have reached a consensus for dialogue and discussion late Thursday night just after the stroke of midnight.  By Friday morning, the streets were practically cleared in most parts of Admiralty and Causeway Bay.  I returned to work for the first time in six days.  

At that point I thought, and I believe many others thought, that the protests were over and normalcy was once again descending upon the city.  I admit I was disappointed because I felt that the student protestors (specifically the leaders of the Scholarism group) had been "spun" by the government and their university professors.  Essentially, CY Leung refused to resign, the Chinese government stayed as far away from the brewing crisis as possible, and the only promise delivered to the protestors was their right to dialogue with a three-member panel of the government in the upcoming days.  The university spokespersons urged students to safety and heralded the promise of discussions with the government as a triumph and victory for the movement.  But nowhere in the government's proposal or response was there actually any offer of compromise or concession. 

Well, Friday changed all of that when, instead of protests diminishing and dying down as widely anticipated, the most heated confrontations to date sparked anew in Mongkok.  A previously very mild, polite and non-violent movement turned intensely violent and ugly.  The crowd was clearly lined up into camps of yellow ribbons versus blue ribbons, umbrella revolution young students versus pro-government older people.  The anti-occupy movement consisted of mostly adult to middle aged men, gruff and rather thuggish in demeanor, wearing black and face masks, who started tearing down tents and banners and attacking the pro-democracy protestors.  These anti-occupiers inflicted the first open violence of these protests. 

Suddenly the TV and live feeds were full of students with blood streaming down their faces, men with heads cracked open by viciously wielded umbrellas, and, in one particularly disgusting incident, a woman being groped on camera.  The anti-occupy movement was so singularly coordinated and persistent, seemingly springing up out of nowhere, that immediately suspicions of triad and mob activity abounded.  Many suspected that the government had paid these men to come and make a scene; others accused the police for standing by and not doing anything to protect the non-violent protestors.  As one person said, "If people will take money to stand in line for iPhones, what is to prevent them from taking money to do this?"  As many others pointed out, why did the government unleash tear gas on students on Sunday night but did absolutely nothing to clear out the true signs of a mob on the following Friday night?  The discrepancy in treatment was disturbing and telling.

I for my part doubt we will ever get a clear answer about the genesis of the anti-occupiers, but strongly believe that there is government and/or monetary involvement.  This reeks of the Chinese Communist Party's tactics to create diversions, using people against people to eliminate problems that they do not wish to address.  Another point to consider is the importance of the ties that bind in Chinese society.  The likelihood that these young democracy protestors still live at home, with their parents, siblings, maybe even grandparents, is 99%.  (In Hong Kong, in large part due to the prohibitive costs of housing, it is customary to live at home until you are married).  The parents, even if not present at the protests themselves, are tacitly permitting their children's attendance. I am convinced that no shopkeeper, no matter how concerned he is about money or revenue, will take the time to stand in the street and strike a protestor who could just as likely be his son.

The protests likely would have died down without any fuss if the events had not transpired on Friday.  The government has made two large mistakes in their approach so far: tear gassing students without provocation on the first Sunday night, and then stirring up the crowd by either inciting the anti-occupiers or not doing more to prevent the anti-occupiers from hurting students.  As a result of Friday, the pro-democracy group canceled previously agreed to talks with the government and held a peace rally and sit in on Saturday.  The movement has regained momentum and the surge in numbers proves it.

An unprecedented number of people, really the largest crowd to date, showed up in Admiralty to show support for the peace rally.  The night was cool (in October by Hong Kong standards) and the atmosphere was respectful.  Many people stood silently, holding their phones and listening to the speeches.  Others sat, some on stools or pillows, clearly intending to stay for a while.  There was no pushing.  There was singing and applauding.  There was a clear pathway for egress.  

The whole scene was amazing because the determination and resilience of the attendees was so persistent and clear.  Only one of the hundred thousand (give or take) attendees got to take the loudspeaker at one time, but the spirit that emanated from the audience spoke in volumes tenfold. 

Here are the pictures.

Signs were taped up and cleverly re-named.  The Chinese words on the sign below translate to "Protest Road"  and September 28 to "Success"
 The PLA Building was super lit up, like a Christmas tree.
I mean, what a freaking turnout, am I right?  
People helped each other over the makeshift ladders which constituted the "exit".

Everyone was courteous as they made their way down the makeshift passageway.
Lest you think all the action was happening below ground, the walkways were also thronged with people and media.  This particular walkway contained the words "689 get out of office" threaded in yellow ribbons.
I really liked these two in particular: towels to keep you dry (locals like to wear it rolled up and tucked into the shirt collar) and a head washing and body drying station. 
The cardboard sign next to it is particularly humorous.
Look at what happens when you invoke the power and strength of the masses - a message in sheer numbers alone.  I am very curious (and quite anxious) to see what unfolds next in this wholly unexpected saga.


  1. How amazing. Glad to hear you are staying safe, and so interesting to read your update!

    1. Thanks! It was really cool to be here and get to witness so much of it in real time. We shall see what happens next, as it seems that the protests have lost some momentum in Admiralty (though they seem to continue with ceaseless unrest in Mongkok).