'Umbrella revolution' not rained out yet

9 October 2014
Sid Zoichi

Sid Zoichi is currently on the ground in Hong Kong reporting for Red Flag. Follow @RedFlag_news on Twitter for updates.

Sid's previous dispatches can be found here, here, and here.


Often a mass movement will develop rapidly. Two weeks ago no one foresaw that a student protest would become a large scale occupy movement in Hong Kong and the most significant democratic struggle in the Chinese cultural sphere since Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Yet by the time I arrived in Hong Kong five days ago, things did not appear very promising. The number of protesters was declining at all the sites; the Hong Kong nationalist right, led by the Civil Passion group, were gaining the control of political discourse; the pro-establishment right had mobilised thugs to attack the occupiers and nearly wiped out all the satellite sites; rumours about police or army crackdown were frequently aired; both the moderate and far left groups were denounced and unwilling to initiate public discussions.

After protesters at Admiralty removed the blockade outside the entrance of the government office building on Monday and the formal negotiation between student leaders and government representatives was announced to be held this Friday, many western media estimated that the movement would further decline. All the major international presses such as BBC and Al Jazeera withdrew their well-equipped live-broadcasting stations from the pedestrian skywalk at Admiralty on Tuesday.

However, I think the situation is still developing. The number of protesters at Causeway Bay and Admiralty has stabilised in recent days. It’s true that many protesters do go to work or school in the daytime, but people come to visit in the evening. Then those who guard the sites during the day go home to have some rest.

At Mong Kok, despite chaos incited by the pro-establishment right and many protesters arguing for a retreat to Central, the numbers have grown from a few hundred to a few thousand this week. I think this is mainly due to the fact that people think they have to come here to protect those who had been attacked. Yet there is no immediate threat from the thugs.

Although the most insistent voice for holding Mong Kok is the Civil Passion group, people staying at the site are varied in outlook: environmentalists, welfare campaign groups, local residents, hoods who have gang backgrounds but hate the establishment and the cops, students and workers without political affiliation, etc. The discourse is not dominated by the nationalist right anymore.

This environment provides space for the far left. Some Hong Kong leftists organised a street discussion group on Wednesday evening. A small number sat in a circle in the middle of the blocked road to talk about what strategies and tactics are needed to push the movement forward. In ten minutes, about 100 people had joined in. Students and workers, men and women, young and old, gathered to listen and express their ideas. The group chat turned into a public meeting.

One person said that this movement is a significant turning point for Hong Kong: a new generation of youth has been radicalised and the 30 years of de-politicisation has ended. However, a defeat would be fatal, he said, because those who have participated would lose hope on social change.

Elder people shared their experiences from the 1989 movement and said the same courage is needed in Hong Kong now. They received applause.

People also debated whether a stage victory has to be accepted if Beijing refuses to grant civil nomination. Someone argued that the movement may need to take more flexible tactics, depending on the circumstances.

Taking about the potential split among the protesters, another explained that the splits based on nationality, age or region are harmful. However, a split based on class should be welcomed.

This argument was in response to recent appeals from the so-called “respectable figures in the society”, including university vice chancellors, barristers and the Cardinal. Those people said they support the movement but urged the youth to retreat from the streets.

Later I found that other discussion groups had appeared. Some were organised by the left, some by the right. People who don’t belong to any established forces also formed small circles to talk politics. At Admiralty, people only talk to their friends or listen to lectures, but here a different atmosphere has emerged.

Student leaders rejected the “going home” appeal from the respectable figures. Instead, they insisted that a big rally should be held at the time of the negotiation. The government is mobilising the anti-occupy forces as well. A taxi drivers’ rally was held this afternoon near the Central site.

It’s hard to predict the outcome of the negotiation, but there is clearly a push for renewed mobilisations tomorrow.

UPDATE: Negotiations,scheduled for Friday were cancelled on Thursday night. The Hong Kong government is refusing to give ground on the question of the direct election of the island's chief executive.

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