Hong Kong Marks Protest Anniversary as Pro-Democracy Camp Feels 'Hope'

2016-09-28
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Hong Kong citizens and activists gather under yellow umbrellas to mark the second anniversary of a 79-day civil disobedience campaign for fully democratic elections, Sept. 28, 2016.
Hong Kong citizens and activists gather under yellow umbrellas to mark the second anniversary of a 79-day civil disobedience campaign for fully democratic elections, Sept. 28, 2016.
RFA

Hundreds of people gathered under yellow umbrellas in Hong Kong on Wednesday to mark the second anniversary of clashes with riot police that kicked off a 79-day civil disobedience campaign for fully democratic elections in the former British colony.

The umbrellas were coordinated to open simultaneously at 5.59 p.m., when the first tear gas canister was fired on crowds of protesters who came out onto the city's streets in rejection of Beijing's proposals for pre-approved slates of electoral candidates on Sept. 28, 2014.

The Occupy Central protesters, many of whom were teenagers and university students, protected themselves from pepper spray with umbrellas, giving the Umbrella Movement its nickname.

As the protests unfolded in the weeks that followed, large areas of the city center were occupied by campaigners living in tents, while hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens poured onto Hong Kong's streets in anger after watching footage of police treatment of protesters.

The movement ended with no political victory, and amid accusations from the ruling Chinese Communist Party that the protests were being orchestrated by "hostile foreign forces" behind the scenes.

But former student icon Joshua Wong told Wednesday's rally that the spirit of the movement has lived on in a new generation of pro-democracy politicians and "localist" activists.

"We had a saying during the Occupy Central movement: don't forget the original plan, and this is how the spirit of the Umbrella Movement endures," Wong said. "The spirit of the Umbrella Movement is all about how you pick yourself up after a fall."

"We shouldn't underestimate any of the achievements of the Umbrella Movement," Wong said. "We will face much harder times to come, and we must use that hope, that confidence and the courage we had at the outset to fight all those future battles."

"We will rise again," he said.

'We want universal suffrage'

By the time Wednesday's event started, activists had once more scaled a peak overlooking Hong Kong to hang a yellow banner proclaiming: "We want universal suffrage," only to have it removed by police, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

A similar banner once hung from the iconic Lion Rock above Kowloon during the 2014 protests. It, too, was removed, but not before the block characters of the slogan hanging from the ear of the "lion" had become a key image of the movement around the world.

Law professor and co-founder of the Occupy Central movement Benny Tai told the rally that the pan-democratic camp is more upbeat now than it would have been one year after the pro-democracy movement.

"I think you were probably all in a much darker place this time last year," Tai told the crowd. "For me, it was like being in a dark tunnel, without being able to find the way out."

"But I think we are all feeling now that we have seen some light, some hope, at the end of that tunnel."

A rally participant surnamed Koo appeared to agree, saying that she didn't feel that the pro-democracy movement had failed.

"It was a starting point rather than a failure," she said. "A lot of people now look back on it as a part of Hong Kong's history, when we all stood shoulder-to-shoulder, en masse."

"We stood up, held our heads high, and we are proud of the people we were then," Koo said. "And that's a kind of success."

New generation engages

Political commentators say the movement also ensured that a whole new generation has become closely engaged with the city's political life.

Elections to the Legislative Council (LegCo) earlier this month saw a record voter turnout, and the emergence of several new "localist" faces on the political scene, including 23-year-old former Occupy Central leader Nathan Law.

The movement has also sparked lively political debate on topics that were seldom mentioned before 2014, including a "localist" focus on Hong Kong's domestic concerns rather than on its participation in the People's Republic of China.

While Chinese officials and chief executive Leung Chun-ying have been keen to quash talk of independence for the city, banning pro-independence candidates and calling for such talk to be penalized in schools, the next generation have fought back for the right to say what they are now thinking.

Law and Wong have also formed Demosisto, a new political party that advocates "self-determination" for the city, without specifying independence as a concrete goal.

Overall, democratic politicians held onto their power to veto key political changes in the legislature, winning 29 out of 70 seats in LegCo. Six of those were won by "localists."

In the past, pan-democrats have succeeded in blocking unpopular national security legislation as well as the 2014 proposals for electoral reforms that were slammed as "fake universal suffrage" by the Occupy Central movement.

Leung's administration will likely face a more confrontational legislature than before, amid wider social tensions over the erosion of Hong Kong's traditional freedoms.

Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Chen Pan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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Anonymous Reader

The Communist Party is stupid, only think for themselves, not the people and country. With the Communist Party in control, only the Communist Party alone wins, the people and China lose. And this makes China weak. They need to disband the Communist Party and work with the people to make China stronger. China is weak beyond its border. It really doesn't matter how many tens of $billions of public money they spend to strengthening its position. The bottom line is China, the Communist Party, needs to think outside the box. Right now, China is obsessed with control, which is a lose lose for China. If China can't work with Hong Kong how is it going to work with Taiwan?

Sep 29, 2016 10:46 AM

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