WILD Stories: Umbrella Revolution
It’s early evening on a weeknight in Hong Kong. People from every direction pour into the streets. Tents have been erected and volunteers are on standby to distribute food and water. A makeshift study area for students takes up a large chunk of the road. Signs advise against the use of flash photography. Nearby, reminders that protesters should recycle.
For weeks, thousands of dissidents have taken to the streets in the Central district and neighboring Admiralty, where government headquarters stand. We call the campaign Occupy Central, a grassroots movement for universal suffrage. Most Hongkongers braced themselves to hit the streets on October 1, a public holiday marking the founding of the People’s Republic of China. But a few days prior, a student rally led to arrests, igniting the campaign in the early hours of September 28. It all began relatively peacefully, but the atmosphere has taken a decidedly forceful turn. Unable to clear the crowds, police resort to pepper spray, then tear gas. The protesters remain unarmed. They’re also undeterred. When the airborne chemicals subside, we come out of hiding.
We demand universal suffrage—specifically, for Hong Kong to be able to elect its own leader without any interference from China. By bringing the city’s financial center to a standstill, the campaign acts as a bargaining chip in negotiating with Beijing for electoral reform.
True democracy has never been fully implemented throughout the history of Hong Kong. The semi-autonomous region was a British colony for 156 years before sovereignty was transferred to China in 1997.
The campaign has become known as the Umbrella Revolution after protesters used the instruments to protect themselves against pepper spray and tear gas.
Hong Kong’s current chief executive Leung Chun-ying, known as CY Leung, was elected by a select committee of just 1,200 voting elites. Six hundred and eighty-nine votes went to CY Leung, the eventual winner of the race. Hong Kong has 3.5 million registered voters.
Wan Chai district, situated just east of Admiralty, also became an occupied site earlier on in the movement—particularly the roads just outside the Hong Kong Police Headquarters, which saw tense standoffs between the force and protesters.
Almost a month after Occupy Central began, government representatives agreed to sit down with leaders of the Federation of Students for a two-hour-long debate to discuss their demands. The government had previously canceled scheduled talks, leading many to criticize and question their sincerity. After the talks took place, most Hongkongers agreed that nothing concrete had really come out of it.
It’s clear for all to see that the Chinese government is not going to change their stance. Hope is dim, but we won’t stand by idly.
The chance of Hong Kong becoming independent is really quite slim—but at least we’re forcing China to not overly suppress us. At least we can try to fight for room to survive, in terms of democracy.
Whether or not we get universal suffrage, the movement has awoken civic awareness. When it comes to policies that are unfair and unjust, we need to stand up.
Read the full narrative essay by Hong Kong-based correspondent Andrea Lo here.