Friday, 5 December 2014

A Visit to the Umbrella Revolution


I'm a bit of an accidental protest tourist. Last year, during the Gezi Park protests, I attended a dear friend's henna night in Istanbul complete with a big "Occupy Henna" banner. This year, visiting some friends in Hong Kong, I stumbled into one of the pro-democracy camps, the one at Admiralty. Intrigued, I took a stroll around and chatted with the activists.

Christmas at the protest camp

When they heard I was German, they reacted with delight (when does this ever happen?). 
Seriously, they got very excited about that. Several of them said the fall of the Berlin wall was a huge inspiration and proved the power of peaceful protest. Yay.

I for my part always find it moving to see a peaceful pro-democracy campaign, precisely because it reminds me of one of the few good things my country is known for.

I liked the protest art inspired by the humble umbrella, which turned into a revolutionary symbol after demonstrators used it to shield themselves from tear gas. The characters on the yellow sign say: "I want universal suffrage." The Occupy activists are demanding free and fair elections for 2017, with the people choosing their own candidates. Beijing on the other hand insists on vetting any candidates first. After two months of protests, the student leaders are now considering ending the occupation, and activists at the site expected police to come in soon and dismantly the camp anyway. So here are some more photos before it all goes.

How about some Occupy Origami:

And some very orderly Occupy graffiti:


Keeping fit for the revolution:

While studying hard:

Why there are no pictures of people in this post - "Protect student, please don't take photo of the face!"

The protests are student-led, and an older man I spoke to expressed great concern for them.
"I'm old, if I go to jail, it doesn't matter," he said. But many of the students, including the leaders, are only 17 or 18. He pointed out that risking their future in this struggle. Which is why it's so important that the rest of the world doesn't forget about them. In any case, they keep reminding us to listen:

Mini-camp at the British Consulate in Hong Kong, reminding Britain that guarantees for Hong Kong's democracy were part of the handover to China

Also, in case you forget we're in Hong Kong. Occupy tents reflected in a fancy car dealer's window:

Despite their perseverance so far, the people I spoke to at the camp were not very hopeful. China is unlikely to give in, especially since it would probably fuel people-power movements elsewhere. Think how the average Tibetan or even Beijinger would react to the umbrella revolution triumphing over the central government. 

But regardless of who will win this particular stand-off, just the fact that the movement has come this far, gathering global attention and defending the right to protest right under the nose of a dictatorship, should be a point of pride. 

As activist Benny Tai wrote in the New York Times: "The Umbrella Movement has awakened the democratic aspirations of a whole generation of Hong Kong people. In this sense, we have achieved much more than what we could have hoped for."


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