Occupy Hong Kong
Published November 3, 2014
text and photos by Irene Carolina Herrera in Hong Kong
It’s been a little over a month since Occupy Central’s protests and consequent sit-in began. When protestors were hit with tear gas on the eve of the 28th of September, citizens were outraged. The students, lead by Scholarism’s Joshua Wong, had already boycotted classes after learning about Beijing’s decision regarding electoral reform. But tensions had increased when a group of young protestors tried to reclaim Civic Square. Demonstrations and the fight for democracy had begun years back, but citizens in this city were still unaccustomed to these types of confrontations. Although conscious of their civil disobedience strategies, the reaction of the police forces and government was unexpected. Hong Kong residents speak about having completely lost trust in their government and other authority figures.
It’s simple yet complicated: Hong Kongers want to elect their leaders without Beijing’s pre-approval filter. They want their voices to be represented, one-person one-vote, and not be led by those that would rather favor mainland’s political agenda or the business interest of the already rich. But there are other issues they are unhappy about: income inequality, housing bubble, social security, the pension system, development of the New Territories, the funding of higher education, and tax reform.
Despite the fact that little outward concrete results have emerged after a month, Hong Kongers have grown. Community building has become one of the important lessons of dissent. Perhaps the most important lesson the Umbrella Revolution has bred. Admiralty, one of the three main sites of Hong Kong’s occupy movement, is now called ‘Admiralcity’. There are mobile charging stations, make-shift libraries, showers, tent sign up and registration, a study center that offers tutoring in over 15 subjects and has a capacity for 80 pupils. Socially conscious students, young adults, middle agers and the elderly have the opportunity to discuss the future of the territory. The streets are vibrant and dialogues on how to build a better and more equal society are abundant. Ideas are never ending. Even though there are opponents, such as the blue ribbons, owners of affected businesses, other anti-Occupy citizens, or triads, pro-democracy fighters are determined to stick it out until a shift is achieved. Technology and social media tools have played a key role in communication. Social media also serves as an important watchdog to call out and shame those breaking the rule of law or to document the few cases of police brutality that have taken place. Because media has also been compromised due to economic interests, these millennials get their news from Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Reddit and other curated pages that have debuted. This Occupy movement is very sophisticated.
Citizens’ creative manifestations and comradery are on display daily. Those dreaming for a plural democracy have found ways to contribute to the cause in any capacity they can. Naturally doubts still remain and the big questions don’t have easy answers. Will Beijing ever be shaken enough to actually listen to the demands of protestors? The movement has already gained international attention, generated local controversy among politicians and has angered Beijing. Of course all these are achievements but will the government wait it out and let demonstrators grow weary to the point where they will abandon the cause.
Despite sporadic tensions that have emerged those on the streets have made this battle their life’s purpose. They feel this is important for a brighter future and are sticking true to their identities as Hong Kongers more than ever. It’s difficult to talk about a win or a loss, an achievement or failure when already so much has been gained. Having the freedom to create a safe space for protests and dialogue is already a privilege many countries can’t afford. Hong Kongers are leading by example. Even if anger is in the air, the feelings of opposition never escalate enough to create strong violence. While there have been some unfortunate injuries, the Umbrella Movement is still peaceful, it is what a 21st century protest should be. It has been a learning curb and the process that matters. It is an ideal model of civil political participation and we as humankind have a lot to learn. These kids have ignited something, and many have dared to follow! They have gained respect. As Alex Chow, from the Hong Kong Federation of Students, has said “structures have been shaken”.
- Irene HerreraFilmmaker & Educator, Japan
Irene Herrera is a photographer, documentary film-maker and video journalist. She is an avid traveler and Irene’s vast body of work and experiences add substance to mediaforchange.org’s global ambitions. She teaches documentary film-making at Temple University, Japan Campus in Tokyo.