It has now been a full month since student action first began, targeting Government House on Sept. 24. Officially, the Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) movement has held its mainstay in Admiralty for 27 days, although it’s difficult to ascertain how much sway the group really has anymore over the people on the streets.
Excluded from the recent talks, OCLP worked closely with the Hong Kong Federation of Students to plan a vote among protesters tomorrow. Yet it is uncertain if any result would make any difference. OCLP organiser Benny Tai was quoted saying, “We cannot force them to leave with the poll.”
Beyond Admiralty, the levels of violence ripple and undulate from day to day following now numerous scuffles between triads, police and protesters. Yip, a 14-year-old student of Tsoi Kung Po secondary school, speaks of the darker elements of the protests. “Some people attacked me”, he says, showing me his fresh bandage. He did not know his attacker, offering that they “may be” triad or Pro-Beijing.
Still in his school uniform, he pins a warning notice to Gong Guan Yu shrine at the Shantung Street barricade. On it, two males are identified, one recently captured on film dismantling a blockade before jabbing at someone with pliers as they attempted to stop him. With tenacity, Yip says “I’m not afraid. They’ve tried once but I am not afraid to get hurt again.”
Over the last week, objects ranging from hammers to faeces have reportedly been thrown at protesters from a building on Nathan Road. Andrew, a 22-year-old construction worker, was not at the scene but speculates that it was a move by the authorities. “My friend was there at the time”, he claims, “and he thinks it was caused by the cops,” although Andrew does waver, saying, “I’m not sure if he’s right or not.”
Andrew feels that the local triads prose a real threat to protesters, “because they can just charge out from anywhere and they could affect our safety.” He, however, does not feel intimidated by pro-Beijing protesters, saying “They’re just normal folk”. With the triads he admits, “I do worry…because they come with weapons and can cause some harm.”
Views among local people and protesters are split regardless of age and political stance. A staple of the Mong Koo protest site, “Grandpa” Wong has now been out for 25 days, and intends to remain “as long as the students stay here”. He claims to have no issue with anti-Occupy demonstrators, explaining that “They have their reasons, I have mine. We all perceive things differently.” As for triad interaction or violence, Grandpa Wong proffers, “I’m not worried at all.”
Ben, a self-proclaimed bi-partisan, argues that following the recent behaviour of the police, safety is in the hands of the people. “At nighttime the police turn off the lights so that the news reporters cant see what happens,” he relates, “You have to protect yourself. That’s why I wear a helmet, gloves. I’m not going to fight them, just protect myself.”
Tony Lin looks at things from a more practical point of view. “I’m not afraid for myself, just for my children. I’m 71 and have been retired for a long time. My children work in these businesses.”
Many on both sides of the divide feel that they have been unfairly represented by the news. Chinese Flag waivers yesterday found themselves quickly surrounded by Occupy protesters, with the rally descending into verbal slurs. Many were angry over the continued presence of barricades which are torn down and resurrected frequently. However, some of the Pro-Beijing demonstrators were merely trying to get their point across. “You don’t report our side”, yelled a flag-bearer, “We need to calm down, sit down and talk about it, not sit on the streets.”
Throughout the weeks, naysayers in Mong Kok have been allowed a voice in the microphone circles that have become symbolic of the regional occupation, yet voices that were deemed too far right are rarely tolerated for long.
One worker I spoke to came all the way from Lantau to visit Mong Kok, not to protest, but merely to fact-find for himself. Peter told me, “You must invest time in news from around the world to find the truth. Some papers here cannot report the truth.” He explains that some local papers have a pro-Beijing bias, whilst foreign media would stand by anything in the name of democracy. “You must collect news to understand the right things and wrong things.”
Some see the protests going on for weeks. Ben said that he “[doesn’t] see an end”, while Andrew predicts, “It will end when people come from China and trash this place.”
“Sooner or later, someone’s gonna break”, thinks Jeffrey Chan, a 17-year-old from the International Christian School. “It’s obviously starting to calm down a little bit. That’s what the government wants, for this to dissolve. Sooner or later, everything will go back to normal.”
The variety of views and predictions can be overwhelming. Despite the warm sentiments Occupy protesters have for each other and their shared dreams of universal suffrage and “true democracy”, there is little unity among their philosophies and few issues over which they all agree entirely.
The government, although no doubt initially startled by the size and ferocity of the movement, is not conceding much and could well be banking on gradual fatigue of protesters. As leadership is brought into question and the requests of students remain unheard, this tactic may have some potential.
Photos: Adrian O’Sullivan, Coconuts Media