Through Day 50 of the Umbrella Movement

2014-11-09 15.19.05November 9 – Day 43

The Civil Human Rights Front 民間人權陣線, the organization that has organized the annual July 1 marches in protest of Hong Kong’s return to China, held a march up from Central to the Liaison Office in Sheung Wan. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this was the office they were going to, so Henry and I ended up following the march only partway. As we walked on a roped-off lane in Central, a number of pro-Beijing supporters stood on the sidewalk waving red Chinese and Hong Kong flags, their signs reading things like “Stop Color Revolution,” which is one of the terms the PRC has been using to describe the Umbrella Movement.

Tons of rumors have been circulating lately that the police are training for a mass crackdown and a clearance of the protests; some were saying that there were 1000+ officers being prepared at Wong Chuk Hang Police Academy (though it looks like these rumors were circulating for quite a while, looking at these articles).

  • Henry shared with me this essay by Chai Ling, one of the main student leaders at Tiananmen in 1989, who has since moved to the United States and found God – which you can see in this essay.
  • Here’s a great video of why a group of people concerned about land developers in the northeastern New Territories have joined in the demonstrations – it’s a great view into another aspect of how strong the economic inequality really is here. In early June of this year, actually, a number of protesters “stormed” the Legislative Council in protest of the proposed development – an overlooked forerunner, you could say, to the Occupy protests.
  • There’s a new center set up called the Quality Education Development Centre, which people are afraid is another attempt to advocate for the National Education legislation that groups like Scholarism so strongly protested two years ago. (For some reason, a quick Google search isn’t pulling up an official website.)
  • I’m loving this photo from the HK Pride Parade. The banner has since been moved to a semi-permanent home in Admiralty. More accurately, it should be translated as “Stop Discriminating [against LGBTQ rights] or we will pretend to be straight when we marry, and HeHe in the dark corner (referring to HeHe/Alexter as the action of having LGBTQ relationships, while also referring to the “dark corner” where Ken Tsang was beaten several weeks ago by police).”
November 10 – Day 44

I think the HSBC near the center of the protests in Mong Kok reopened this day, which is why the glass walls outside – which had been home to a sort of public news wall where posters, essays, and announcements were posted for weeks – were cleared off. The MTR entrances were also cleaned of all papers. Of course, by that afternoon, people were posting things again.

I also heard about what’s now being called the “Big Stage Incident.” This refers to what happened on November 8, when protesters tried to block the overhead bridge leading to Tamar Park. Apparently this group of protesters wanted to use the Big Stage (大台), the makeshift stage constructed of ladders and boards in the center of Admiralty, to rally support for their actions – but those running the Big Stage apparently refused to allow them up. Since that incident, things have only gotten worse in relations with the Big Stage, as those who feel that the movement ought to be leaderless feel resentment at student, political, and activist organizations for “controlling” what they believe should be a truly democratic, people’s movement.

  • Check out the Umbrella Census, which has its gaps but still counted an amazing 2238 tents as of November 8
  • Benny Mok, who was doing a single-person hunger strike, decided to end the hunger strike after 40 days
  • People started offering haircuts at Admiralty!
  • Apparently there was a talk at Mong Kok about overseas Hong Kongers and their involvement in the movement, which I missed! 😦
November 11 – Day 45

A statement written by the EM group was published today, condemning police and protester violence and supporting the movement. It’s called, “同根同生 少數族裔要真普選:譴責暴力、拒絕操控、不要種族偏見” or “Ethnic Minorities: Hong Kong is Our Home – Condemn violence! Oppose manipulation! No racial prejudice!” In the interest of full disclosure, I did help in proofreading the English version of the statement. After the group members discussed the content of the statement, it was drafted in English, which I then edited for grammar, seeking to leave the content as untouched as possible; afterwards, I helped set up a Google form by which people could contribute their signatures to the statement.

However, the statement hasn’t gotten much traction – I think it’s largely because of the timing. It’d already been quite a while since the South Asian man was filmed jabbing at the other protester, and the focus now was on when the police would clear out the protests. This tweet, for instance, points to an RTHK report suggesting they would take action by the end of the week. Similarly, Bloomberg reported that the government would not have any more talks with the protesters, instead seeking to act upon the court injunctions to clear them out. Benny Tai, the most visible founder of the Occupy Central group, argued that clearance wouldn’t solve anything.

November 12 – Day 46

Jimmy Lai 黎智英, the founder of the pro-democracy paper Apple Daily, has been a regular at the protests – I mentioned his newspaper was besieged for a while by soy sauce-wielding anti-Occupy protesters a while back. This afternoon, three anti-Occupy men stormed into Admiralty and slung offal at him.

Lai said it wasn’t a big deterrent, just the smell, and that he’d return. Almost immediately after the attack, people cornered the three men and held them until the police came to take them away – but two of the Occupy Central stewards, volunteers who have taken semi-formal positions to help ensure the demonstrations adhere to the movement’s nonviolent stance, were arrested as well. One of the stewards arrested was Alex Kwok Siu-Kit, whom SCMP had just recently profiled in videos and news stories. In response, the Civil Human Rights Front organized another protest the next day at 2pm in front of the police headquarters. Occupy Central also released a statement (expand the photo description for an English translation) explaining what had happened, pointing out that the two stewards “went to the police station in the capacity of witnesses, to assist the police with their investigation. Yet, the police arrested them later that evening for fighting in a public place.”

  • The three Occupy Central leaders also declared they would turn themselves in to the police next week if the demonstrations were cleared.
November 13 – Day 47
  • Posters and banners around the protest sites began announcing a public opinion survey that would be held from Nov 14-16, asking participants what the next move of the demonstrations should be to progress toward their goals.
  • Chinese Human Rights Defenders has been maintaining a regularly updated list of individuals detained on the mainland for supporting the protests in Hong Kong. As of November 26, the number of documented cases is at 104.
  • At an event held by the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong, Justice Henry Litton, a non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal, made some observations about what he felt was the strangeness of the court injunction regarding the protests. SCMP quoted him saying, “A civil court process was being invoked for what I feel is a public order issue.”
November 14 – Day 48

The week continued to be defined by this sort of waiting mood – a phase of waiting to see what the police, government, and courts would do next, and trying to figure out who had ideas about what to do next. On the night of November 12, for instance, the Socialist Action group was in Mong Kok handing out flyers calling for a huge general meeting to discuss future options, much like Occupy Central had held public meetings long before the protests had exploded. The public opinion surveys also began. Tables were set up in a corner of the Admiralty protest area for people to sit and fill out survey forms. Standing displays were set up to allow people to post their votes and explanations to various questions.

Henry told me that HKFS student leaders would be going to Beijing the next day, which was a Saturday. SCMP reported the same, noting that although the students had asked Hong Kong legislators with ties to mainland officials to help organize a meeting between the students and Beijing representatives, they had received no help at all. And so for most people in Hong Kong, this trip seemed like just one more attempt to take action that would, in the end, go nowhere. I highly doubt anyone believed they would actually be allowed to exit the Beijing airport, even if they could get on board a plane to go there.

November 15 – Day 49

The HKFS leaders Nathan Law, Eason Chung, and Alex Chow did not even get close to Beijing – they never left Hong Kong’s airport. Cathay Pacific, the airline they would have flown on, told them that their Home Return Permits (港澳居民來往內地通行證) had been revoked. According to SCMP, this was the first time that HKFS activists have ever had their permits revoked in almost three decades of organizing. The Home Return Permit is like a visa for permanent residents of Hong Kong that allows them to travel freely in mainland China. According to Wikipedia, its name comes from its history as a travel document for Chinese migrants in Hong Kong and Macau who wanted to go back to visit their hometowns in the mainland. Non-ethnically Chinese individuals in Hong Kong and Macau can apply for these permits, but they have to become naturalized as PRC citizens (which in itself is a difficult process); foreign-born ethically Chinese individuals can also struggle to get a permit due to the conflict between their ethnicity and their nationality.

The Global Times, an English-language newspaper run by the PRC state, printed an editorial claiming that the attempt to fly to Beijing was just a publicity stunt.

The HKFS activists are clear that their plan is just a show. They know they might not be able to enter Beijing, or if they do enter, they are unlikely to meet the State leaders. But they continue the show just to create an atmosphere of martyrdom. […] These activists may be too naïve. Do they really know who they are and whom they can represent? How can they meet whomever they want in Beijing? The Occupy Central movement has failed. The HKFS has no way to attract attention but to put out alternative or shocking new “creations.”

Personally, I think the Global Times analysis is right on the “show” aspect, though its conclusions aren’t quite as on target. I think the students would have known, or expected, to be either refused entry or to be refused any visits with Beijing leaders. Going to Beijing was a symbolic action showing that the students attempted to speak to the country’s leaders, whether or not they were allowed to get on board that plane. After the HKFS students were turned back, there were reports that they were thinking about sending large numbers of students to the border to raise awareness about the mainland “abusing” their powers over border control. Indeed, so much of the movement is about making displays and shows on both sides, which is how you end up with so many signature campaigns trying to prove whether the pro- or anti-Occupy front has more public support.

But I’m also sure that the students know exactly who they are as students representing the youth and the future – as well as the future leaders – of Hong Kong. Has Occupy Central failed? It seems to me that the movement has been running out of ideas about what to do next – that everyone is trying to figure out what to do next – because each time activists or occupiers made a move, the government has acted like a brick wall, refusing to acknowledge them and allowing other parties like the police and the courts to deal with them instead.

  • Here’s a video of several Voice of Loving Hong Kong members gathered at the airport opposing HKFS students’ attempt to go to Beijing – and the response of HKFS supporters. Voice of Loving Hong Kong 愛港之聲 is a more pro-Beijing group with a few thousand members.
  • An attempt to stall the court injunction also failed today when the Court of Appeal refused to hear an appeal against the injunction. That meant that the clearance was one more step closer to happening.
  • Just after Obama reassured Xi Jinping that the United States was not behind the protests in Hong Kong, the United States Congress decided to put forth a bill called the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” supporting Hong Kong democracy and snubbing their nose at Obama’s pragmatic approach to US-China relations. See the summaries and text of the bills in the House and the Senate, as well as this article by the Heritage Foundation, an American conservative think tank, giving support to the bill. The Senate also held a hearing on November 20 on “The Future of Democracy in Hong Kong,” which you can watch here.
  • Two protesters were married in Mong Kok, marking the first wedding ceremony to be held at the protest sites (though there have been plenty of wedding photos taken at Admiralty).
November 16 – Day 50

SCMP published a more in-depth article on the refusal of the High Court and the Court of Appeals to hear the appeal against the injunction. Action wouldn’t be taken immediately, as order text needed amending and announcements needed to be made, but it was coming.

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