The Umbrella Movement in its Second Week

by Paul Garver

28 year old man brings daughter to occupation

28 year old man brings daughter to occupation

“I am bringing my daughter here so she can see what we are doing for her future.”

I have been following the excellent hour-by-hour live coverage of the events in Hong Kong through the superb international English-language blog edition of the South China Morning Post.

Update (October 9): The Hong Kong Government cancelled Friday’s scheduled talks with the Hong Kong Federation of Students, denouncing the Federation’s call for a mass rally at Harcourt Road (“Umbrella Square”) while the talks were taking place. Protest leaders said that the government’s cancellation of the talks demonstrated the government’s lack of sincerity, and are planning for new non-cooperation actions.

Admiralty rally 1010

Update (October 10): It is Friday evening in Hong Kong, and over 10,000 citizens turned out for a mass rally to demand that the Hong Kong government negotiate with the Federation of Students over political reforms. Others rejoined the smaller occupation sites at Causeway Bay and Mong Kok to reinforce their numbers and show that support for the protests remained strong.

What strikes me as an outsider most about the movement in Hong Kong is the extraordinary patience and long-term perspective of the mainly young protesters. Even as their barricades and banners are slowly coming down, and as the leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students are preparing for the formal opening of discussions with the government over political reforms, the protesters are maintaining a creative and self-disciplined stance.

Some examples stand out. On Monday, as government workers left for the day, protesters handed them flowers and soup. Disruptive counter-demonstrators were surrounded by nonviolent protesters singing Happy Birthday! And protest art is blossoming – see the collection at
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1607587/illustrate-your-opinion-artists-draw-support-hong-kong-protesters

Each evening the remaining occupation sites are flooded with students who were resuming classes and adult supporters returning from work. The smaller number of protesters who remain behind the barricades day and night are becoming exhausted, but have vowed to maintain their protest until the talks with the government yield at least some kind of progress.

The university student leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students will be the direct spokespeople for the movement, but they are consulting with the high school students of Scholarism and the democratic politicians and leaders of Occupy Central. No one expects many of the core political and economic demands of the umbrella movement to be met, since the Hong Kong government and the corporate elite, staunchly based by the Chinese Communist Party and the mainland Chinese government, remain adamantly opposed to any real concessions.

Nonetheless I believe that the Hong Kong movement can be provisionally regarded as successful. It has been perhaps the first global Occupy movement to formulate a clear set of demands and to rally behind spokespeople for those demands. It has dramatically called attention to the failure of the central government to honor its promises to move towards fuller democracy, while simultaneously asserting the need to reverse growing economic inequality in Hong Kong. Its mixture of audacity and pragmatic commonsense has helped build the institutions of civil society in the city-state and reinforced the popular sentiment of the Hong Kong population that they have something precious to preserve and to contribute eventually to China as a whole.

This video captures the spirit of the Umbrella Movement in song and images.

For a century, student movements have played key roles in signalling major changes in Chinese society. Hopefully this generation of Hong Kong students, with its key leaders ranging from 17 to 24 years old now, will be able to survive and gain more traction with other societal classes. From the comments of protesters that I have read in the press and social media this week, increasingly focused on inequality and economic injustice, I believe that a next positive step could involve greater and deeper interaction with young workers and with the independent unions of Hong Kong.

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