This week marks one month since police threw 87 cannisters of tear gas at unarmed people who were fighting for something quite fundamental: a say in the way their city is governed. The background and development of how #occupycentral turned into #occupyhk and #umbrellarevolution have been well documented and analysed. Here are some personal thoughts, observations and pictures.
“time is on our side”
One thing is clear, the movement has been very polarising within the community and within families. From anecdotal experience the older generation is against the movement; to them it’s foreign-influenced troublemakers stirring the pot, and the students should go back to school and not disrupt traffic. Overheard:
woman in her 70s: I hate them, I can’t go to the wet market
another woman: how about going to another market?
70s woman: [no answer]
70s woman: my bus had to divert around Nathan Road, it’s so annoying and added an hour to my journey
other woman: take the MTR
70s woman: I don’t like the MTR, I have to walk up and down all the stairs
other woman: there are lifts in all stations
70s woman: [no answer]
At the other end of the age spectrum, younger people seem to be more supportive of the movement; they have travelled/studied/lived abroad and are exposed to diverse, global views through social media. Those in their thirties and forties see the changes in society over the past decade and want a better future for their children. In his NYT op-ed, student activist Joshua Wong said:
I would like to remind every member of the ruling class in Hong Kong: Today you are depriving us of our future, but the day will come when we decide your future. No matter what happens to the protest movement, we will reclaim the democracy that belongs to us, because time is on our side.
He’s right. Reminds me of the age divide in issues like marriage equality, religion and gun control in the US. As millennials grow and enter the workplace, their political views, which are more progressive and tolerant, will become more prominent and important. Time is on their side. In 25 years, Joshua Wong will be in his forties and in prime earning and contributing power; the woman in her 70s will hopefully be still be with us and enjoying life but but will have less influence on society as a whole.
“still a very easy place to do business”
Personal experience is positive. Less traffic means less pollution, I have walked more; the first few days when all my local buses were cancelled, I walked further to catch other forms of public transport. I allow more travel time and actually find the MTR less crowded. I am moved to see the discipline and ingenuity of the protesters, from wi-fi ready study areas and free tuition to donations to gardening and recycling.
Although the anti-occupy rhetoric focuses on the effect of disrupted traffic and the perceived effect on the economy, article after article has found that HK is still a very easy place to do business:
Tourism to the city actually increased. Only one of 15 economists surveyed by Bloomberg has lowered their Hong Kong GDP forecast for the year. And Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was world’s second-best performing index in October.
The PRC is outwardly not getting directly involved, their strategy is more clandestine. From blocking all news behind the Great Firewall or only showing one side of the story, to perpetuating the foreign-agitator conspiracy theory, to limiting the number of travel visas. They are “punishing” HK by not letting hordes of tourists come to grocery shop for baby formula, defecate in public and launder money through property purchases. Mayhap that’s not punishment after all.
Ever since the handover, the attitude of mainlanders towards HK is that HK cannot survive without them since they prop up the economy through tourism, water supply and fresh food imports. In actual fact tourism accounts for only 5% of the GDP [pdf]. HK has enough reservoirs and desalination plants to move towards self-sufficiency, the government has not move forward on total water management [pdf] for obvious reasons. Rice is imported from Thailand, and surely China is not the only country exporting meat, fruit and vegetables!
A small poll showed that protesters are willing to occupy for a year if necessary and, from the oganised nature of tent cities, some are digging in. Pragmatically though, blocking three main traffic arteries for a year may not be popular in the long run.
Time to add other activities to spread the message..
The movement’s supporters come from all walks of life. There is plenty of room for ideas and creativity. It is a humbling experience, visiting the sites and seeing all the artwork: the awe-inspiring Lennon Wall with post-it notes of encouragement, the origami umbrellas, the sculptures and artwork make the sites a living museum of civic disobedience.
Recently, a picture of Chinese president Xi Jinping holding an umbrella won a journalism prize. HKers wasted no time in photoshopping the image and co-opting President Xi into the movement. He is everywhere at the protest sites. The support extended to adorning waxworks of Chinese leaders at Madame Tussauds with yellow ribbons.
A large banner demanding universal suffrage appeared on the Lion Rock, an important local spiritual landmark. A group of runners ran 106km around HK, tracing an umbrella shaped route via GPS. Students at the University of Hong Kong graduation ceremony held a sea of yellow umbrellas. Postgraduate students at the University of Science and Technology bought 689 yellow umbrellas to display on the lawn. These are exactly the small, subtle activities that cumulatively keep the movement alive, in the news, and silence the anti-contigent’s cries of “traffic disruption.”
Hong Kong has been forced to change for the worst in the past 17 years. It took the actions and bravery of 17 year olds to shake the community out of lethargy. Change must happen, and it must be for the better.
More pics on flickr: occupyhk