One day after swaths of Hong Kong were plunged into hours of outright chaos as police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and old fashioned skull-cracking to disperse a demonstration against a controversial extradition bill, scores of protesters returned to the scene today — to pick up trash.
The atmosphere around the Legislative Council complex — which demonstrators had surrounded yesterday to prevent a hearing on legal amendments that would allow renditions to mainland China — was noticeably more subdued this morning. The police presence in the area was beefed up to allow for trucks and cleaners to remove barricades and debris left behind by the thousands-strong crowd, and service to the Admiralty MTR station was also suspended.
But a short two-minute walk away from the station, dozens of protesters, some who had been there since last night, were seen collecting rubbish left behind as thousands hurriedly fled yesterday’s police onslaught.
The scenes of demonstrators clearing up the mess were reminiscent of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, which international media dubbed “the politest protest,” with protesters leaving notes apologizing for traffic delays, organizing makeshift recycling stations, and, again, cleaning up garbage.
Several protesters today — many still wearing the same black T-shirts from the previous night — were seen on all fours tidying up, despite heavy rain earlier in the morning making their job even more difficult.
But unlike the Umbrella Movement — which was imbued with a sense of optimism and hope — the aftermath of yesterday’s protest was marked by a sense of futility and dejection.
A 24-year-old woman, who gave her name as Belle, told Coconuts HK that she didn’t take part in yesterday’s protests, but felt compelled to come out and help with the clean-up effort.
“We still have to look after the environment, and at every large-scale protest like this there’s always trash left over. We don’t want to make lives difficult for cleaners, so we came out here to help them out and make their jobs easier.”
Belle was picking up garbage from some grass on Lung Wo Road, next to Tamar Park, just meters away from Tim Mei Road, where police first fired rounds of tear gas at protesters. Today, the street was heavily fortified with metal barriers manned by about five police officers.
Belle said she wasn’t sure if anything would happen today, and wasn’t entirely sure she would stay.
“No one knows, no one knows what the outcome would be or even if we succeed in getting the bill withdrawn,” she said, “but right now it’s important to look after our city and the people who live in it — that’s our responsibility as Hongkongers.”
Also helping with the clean-up at Tamar Park was a 30-year-old man, surnamed Wong, who was spotted pushing around an abandoned pram full of trash he’d collected.
Wong told Coconuts HK that he had come to Admiralty Tuesday evening, staying there all night and through the first half of yesterday’s protest, but left before police began firing tear gas. He returned to Admiralty this morning bearing supplies, thinking there would still be protesters lingering around.
“I decided to come back at 5am, and I thought there would still be people here, so I brought some water and protective gear, but then I turned up and there was no one here! But I saw it was a mess so I thought I might as well help clean up.”
Wong, who had been collecting trash for five hours straight as of about 10:30am, said he wasn’t sure what would happen later today.
“If there are people here, I’ll stay behind and show my support, but it’s been raining very heavily this morning and I’m completely soaked — who knows?”
He added: “We haven’t won; basically we haven’t really changed anything, but it’s our responsibility as Hongkongers to come out. If we’re not happy about something, we have to come out and make our voices heard.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can change,” he continued. “We still have freedom for now, so we might as well use it.”
Meanwhile, a short distance from Tamar Park, small groups of protesters could be seen salvaging supplies left behind yesterday — including umbrellas, face masks, water bottles, and gloves — just in case protests resumed today, but none of those present seemed to know if there would be another attempt to occupy the streets.
Just outside the Pacific Place Mall — which was shut today after protesters had used it to take shelter from the tear gas — a group of about 10 people were seen loading a trolley with plastic bags full of goggles, face masks, water, and snacks.
One of the people in the group, a business owner who declined to give her name, told Coconuts HK that they were taking the supplies to the Chinese Methodist Church on Hennessy Road in Wan Chai, which was identified on social media as one of the places that would provide shelter for protesters to rest overnight and take part in prayer meetings.
Walking from Admiralty to Wan Chai carrying heavy bags of supplies, the woman said she had been in Admiralty since last night, and that the group she was traveling with was a ragtag group that included both protesters and people heading to work this morning who had decided to lend a hand on their way into the office.
“We’re really tired, it was really frustrating,” she said of the outcome of yesterday’s protest.
“I think most of us were also there on June 9 [the day of a huge anti-extradition bill rally]. A million people came out, and still we got nothing, not even any gesture just to try to appease us. They just said, ‘OK, we know, you guys marched,’ and that’s it. People are asking them to [withdraw] it, but it means nothing to say, ‘OK, I’ll give you two more weeks and you still pass it.’ People are saying that we really object to the amendment.”
She said she was happy that there were people around the world supporting Hong Kong, but at the same time she still felt powerless, adding that she knows the Hong Kong government is determined to push through the extradition bill no matter what.
“So you don’t really have hope to change it, but we still have to do something.”
When asked why she still turned up to help out, she replied: “Most of the protesters this time are really young teenagers. I’m no longer a teenager, so I’m here to support our young generation. I mean, they should be supported, they shouldn’t have to risk their own lives just to ask for something that they deserve.”
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