On Saturday (Sep 28) marked the fifth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement, a 79-day sit-in in the city’s central business district that called for universal suffrage and later became known as the Umbrella Movement for the protesters’ use of umbrellas as shields against tear gas and pepper spray.
On December 15, Hong Kong’s leader declared an end to the demonstrations after police cleared the last remaining protest site.
Compared to the current strife, 2014’s protests were softer, with students completing classwork in the camps, recycling their waste, protesters singing songs and the police largely avoiding direct conflict after the initial clashes. Hongkongers were crowned not only the world’s politest protesters but also its most innovative.
The Umbrella Movement was Hong Kong’s first lesson in civic engagement. It was deprogrammed citizens, especially young people, to realize that politics affects them personally.
Occupy Central is the name given to the protests that paralyzed parts of Hong Kong for 79 days in late 2014. Demonstrators demanding that China’s Communist Party leaders allow genuine universal suffrage in three important districts – Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok – drawing more than a million people.
The so-called Occupy Central with Love and Peace civil disobedience campaign was first suggested by Benny Tai, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, in 2013.
Nine defendants were involved in the landmark public nuisance trial, the most explicit attempt by authorities to punish instigators of the protests. Others involved in the protests, including young democracy activist Joshua Wong, have been involved in other cases on charges including unlawful assembly and contempt of court.
We Will Be Back
When protesters left their camps in mid-December 2014 after Beijing successfully waited-out the movement and mainstream opinion tired of the disruption, activists chanted: “We will be back!”. One of the last banners removed read, “We’ll be back.”
But as the years went by, few expected that to happen. Many leaders of the movement were prosecuted, and Beijing tightened the screws on critics.
But then the city’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam tabled a now-scrapped bill proposing extraditions to the mainland, and the new movement was reborn.
“And now we are,” Wong said, “with even stronger determination.”
Many of those taking part this time around say the failure to win concessions from Beijing then has led to the more violent maelstrom now engulfing the city.
“I shifted my position from being rational to become more hardline over these five years,” said Bunny, who participated in both rally, 2014 and 2019.
“If being rational is a way out for Hong Kong, why couldn’t our demands have been met in 2014?” “We are stronger than before,” added Bunny. “We won’t be easily worn down like in 2014.”
“I have no hope towards the government, no hope towards the regime,” Joshua Wong said. “I think there’s no reason for us to step backward and to have any regrets.”
Hong Kong was supposed to be allowed to keep its own economic and legal systems for at least 50 years after control of the territory passed from the British to the Chinese in 1997. But in the two decades since, those promises have been repeatedly broken. China has imposed a growing economic and political influence in Hong Kong.
And A Violence Began…
The character of their peaceful Hong Kong’s protests has changed dramatically in five years, with young demonstrators hardened by the failure Movement Umbrella.
This year’s protests have surpassed in scale, demands, tangible achievements thus far — and violence.
Call it Umbrella 2.0 or Occupy on Steroids. The black shirt protesters, with their signature yellow hard hats, half-face respirator masks and the occasional petrol bomb, have made those tent-dwelling, homework-doing Umbrella Villagers in 2014 look like puppies. The very spark of the occupy movement—87 shots of tear gas—now feels like child’s play.
As the protests continued, tactics — and police responses — escalated, with pitched battles between protesters armed with bricks, bottles, and sometimes petrol bombs on one side, and police forces deploying rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons on the other.
On June 15, after months of escalating protests, Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam announced the suspension of the extradition bill. She withdrew it entirely in September. But that hasn’t stopped the unrest.
Protesters are insisting on the fulfillment of five main demands that include, in addition to withdrawal of the extradition bill: an investigation into police brutality; the declassification of protesters as rioters; amnesty for arrested protesters; and most importantly, universal suffrage.
The day after the withdrawal of the extradition bill, up to 2 million Hong Kongers (out of a total population of 7.5 million) took to the streets with the battle cry, “Five demands, not one less!”
Wong claimed, “We have the majority consensus already.”
As for the use of force on the part of the protesters, Wong also says that this is justified. “For what we experienced in the past three months, I think it’s justified the reason for protesters to use force — to have self-defense.”
He also adds that it’s about tactics: “If peaceful protest is useful, none of us need to continue the protest.”