Occupy Central Hong Kong One Year Later
The bridge is simple and nondescript made of concrete and built sometime in the 1980’s. It is something many people had walked over many times but never noticed but a year ago it was the perfect location to see a change in Hong Kong. Below police would shoot off canisters of tear gas, move in and try to disperse the crowd. The crowd would run down side alleyways and then come back behind the police. The police would shoot off more canisters and it would repeat.
On the footbridge reporters, student journalists and average people would take pictures and try to record what was going on below. The crowds would swell and the chants of “Hong Kong ga yao” (Hong Kong keep working) could be heard. It has been over a year since the beginning of pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong began and the use of teargas by the police.
The protests would occupy the roads in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay for 75 days before being cleared by a court order. The protest began when the Beijing government released a report on how the election of the next Chief Executive of Hong Kong in 2017. It will be through a nominating committee with a majority of Beijing supporters not through a direct election from the people. Most agree the protests were a failure because they get the Chinese Government to change its mind but something did grow out of the occupation.
On September 28, 2014, when the tear gas flew and it was unknown how the government was going to clear the area a unique community was born which ran differently than the normal day-to-day routines of Hong Kong. On that night a cleanly shaven headed Legislative Council Member T. Chan was walking from group to group telling groups of people the latest news, where and how to stay safe and dispelling any rumours such as the sightings of Chinese Army Tanks heading to the area to clear out the protesters. She would walk area to area to gather and speak.
“I really liked the way it was done. It was not like someone who would send out texts. She was actually moving from group to group,” said Francois Xavier Pasquier a student journalist at the University of Hong Kong who was covering the protests that night. “I am happy to have witnessed it. The way is very organic. It is very human. It is something that technology can’t achieve.”
The police had pulled back and left the protestors with the streets to occupy. Tent communities would start to grow around the Legislative Council building in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. Study areas would be built complete with places to recharge phones, lap-tops, and other electronic devises all placed in the middle of what was a busy roadway. The community was made up of a majority of students from both University and Secondary Schools. Professors would go down to the protest sights to talk about democracy but also to give some of their students a lecture on what they have missed and help them with their homework.
Being close to Mainland China Hong Kong is a major shopping centre. Over the past number of years there has been a significant growth in jewellery stores selling expensive watches and items mostly targeted to the Mainland Chinese Tourists who flock to Hong Kong every day who make up the $HK24.8 Billion worth of goods flowing from Hong Kong into China in 2013. It makes Hong Kong, China’s second largest trading partner next to the Untied States. The rush to help Mainland shoppers have driven retail rent up so high in some areas even McDonalds has found it too expensive to rent space. All of this is driven by trying to attract more rich Mainland Chinese to come and spend money at the expensive of making rents out of reach for anyone who wishes to start up a small retail store.
“In Hong Kong we’ve lost our communities to malls,” said Lester Shum one of the student leaders of the pro-democracy movement in a tweet on October 10, 2014. “Here we’ve made a community, a home, our Hardcourt (referring to the road where the protesters were staying) family.”
Around the protest sights tents continued to pop up. Artist started creating pieces remembering the events leading up to the protests. Some would come down to the areas and offer hot food from the local eateries. Water was donated by people around the city. People would give unused camping equipment to the protesters. Strangers became friends. Crops were being planted in the grass by the Legislative Council. People would be walking around in a half sleepy state after sleeping on the hard concrete.
Jason Y Ng is a lawyer and a writer for the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Free Press. During the protest time he would go to a local restaurant and buy food for the students. He would find space on the road and put up a small sign offering to teach English or help with homework. He said he was drawn by the movement but ended up sitting out to help people and just talk.
“The line between helping students and just talking to people is very blurred. Most people come by and ask about the movement. They want to understand what it is for,” said Ng at the time. “A girl, from an international school, had to write an essay about Occupy Central and she came by with a list of 25 questions and I sat with her and helped her go through the questions.”
Many people would go to Admiralty because of how comfortable it was and this communal sense. “People really enjoyed going to Admiralty, because they had built a community and reimagined the space,” said student leader Alex Chaw to the Hong Kong Free Press. “I think it unlocked a lot of ideas about what a community could be like. I think these are achievements.”
Since the protesters were cleared, there have been attempts to try and recapture some of the spirit of the protests. All leaders have commented about how there will not be another popular demonstration. “Right now people need to take a rest,” wrote an Apple Daily editorial. “We will put away our umbrellas so that one day we can reopen them again.”
The focus is on the upcoming District Council Elections were a number of the young participants have put their name forward for election. Next year is the elections for the Legislative Council seats. The focus is now more on 2047 when Hong Kong the mini-constitution guaranteeing its unique rights in China runs out.