How to Occupy Central: Essential support and life hacks keeping the protesters comfortable

One of the many charging stations 
Just outside the gates of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council Complex, hundreds of tents, varying in size and colour, amass within the barricades of the long usurped Connaught Road in Admiralty. Despite this week’s upholding of an injunction that gives bailiffs permission to move in and dismantle the camp, it seems almost impossible to imagine something so established being uprooted.
Face masks are in large supply 

Protesters have prepared well for their entrenchment. Shared through social media and online how-to articles, “lifehacks” are being implemented unilaterally. Clothes hangers have become storage for face masks, police tape has become washing lines, students respectfully queue up for free t-shirt printing, and volunteers dole out health and safety tips as recycling teams sweep the streets.

Elevated tents weighed down with water bottles 

Tent maintenance has been a key factor throughout. To protect against water on the ground, wood pallets or packing crates are used to hoist the the unit up, with water bottles weighting down the poles on all sides. Metallic sheets, or indeed umbrellas, cover the roofs, insulating and giving added protection from the rain. The fact that the umbrella also has a symbolic presence at the protests – first used as a shield against pepper spray – gives such setups additional grace and meaning.

The Umbrella Canopy at Umbrella Square

Quilted together across two pedestrian overpasses on Harcourt Road, this patchwork of innovation makes up the renamed Umbrella Square.

“It’s a community”, declares one volunteer at the Occupy Central tent. A former office clerk from Choi Hung, Frankie speaks with pride about the amenities at the protests site. Likening the public toilets to those of a “five-star hotel”, he explains, “You have all the consumer products – whatever you need. There’s no shower, but I’ve seen guys washing their hair.”

Surveying the occupied territory, he points out some more facilities. “Over there is a barber; he’s not here every day, but you can see the fake heads with different hair styles. There’s also a study room, you have to see it!”

The study area

Indeed it is a sight to behold, with almost every necessity seemingly catered for. Beside McDonald’s a group of protesters have set up a mass phone charging station; next-door, two generators provide electricity for after-dark studying. The sheltered area can easily seat 30-40 students on the wooden furniture, much of which has been made on-site by a team of roadside carpenters.

Carpenters build desks 

The study area also provides scheduled helpers on shifts, with timetabled English lessons in a tent nearby. Here, an extensive collection of books are free to borrow from one of three “revolution libraries” along Connaught Road.

The revolution library
Nearby, a reclaimed flowerbed has been turned into a “guerrilla organic farm”, growing vegetables and herbs and equipped with its own compost collection point. However, the Admiralty protest site has yet to be self-sustaining, relying largely on donations from citizens.
Guerrilla compost
“People come here and just say, ‘Do you want an apple, Snickers..?” Frankie reports. “We get many donations from people, lunch boxes, morning congee.” Supply stations are well stocked and are far from running out of food or water, but it is only through public support that the occupation can continue.

But even the pro-Beijing government can be said to be support the protesters in some sense. “I use free internet connection provided by the government, such as government Wi-Fi on the street or in the legal complex,” chimes David Zhang. “Even if we are fighting against their position, the government still provides internet and electricity, cleaning of the toilets, and so on.”

Free screen printing 
David is a foreigner in Hong Kong. As a recent graduate from Guangdong University, this is the third time he has used a seven-day visa to join the Umbrella Movement. Having made many friends since joining the protest community, he asserts, “I’m a real protester – I work as a volunteer.”

David insists never gets bored on Hong Kong’s streets, jamming with other musicians on his bamboo flute. ‘I’ve been playing 海阔天空 (“Under a Vast Sky”) with guitarists a few times. It’s a famous Beyond song being played all over the protests. I think it’s a good idea to encourage other protesters to keep fighting.”

Besides the practical and essential, a broad network of psychological support has also grown in Admiralty. Howard Ho is a social worker, part of a team that provides 24-hour support in shifts. Theirs is one of many camps offering counseling to weary protesters. As Howard explains, “It’s stressful. They don’t know when it will end.” 
“Fresh Air”. Free cigarettes for smokers
There is a wide range of issues affecting occupiers. “There have been some students collapsing, some with parent-child conflicts,” he adds. Howard understands the importance of making the most of the resources at hand, envisaging a long occupation despite the court injunction and clear divides between the various factions of the democracy movement.
Social worker Howard Ho
On Wednesday, founders of the Occupy Central group said they would surrender to police next week, an idea dismissed by some student leaders. “I think there is no more strong voice now to control our minds,” Howard observes. “This is the main reason why we don’t know how to leave; no one has the guts to take authority.”
Dual lane bridges provide crowd control 
Despite a lack of concise leadership, protesters are using their ingenuity to their advantage. From the supply chains and distribution, to art collectives and study groups, the road has fast become a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing abode.

No one is quite sure how long this will continue, but given the protesters’ preparation and organisation, it could potentially be for a while yet.


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