Post-Occupy Series – Leaders Review Key Moments of the Occupy Movement

iCable – News Lancet

22nd December, 2014

Post-Occupy Series – Leaders Review Key Moments of the Occupy Movement

後佔領系列之組織者回看關鍵時刻

i-Cable screen grab (Source: Polymer)

(NOTE: Some direct quotes from the video are included in this article)

The 79-day long Umbrella Revolution came to an end as protest sites were cleared by the police. How do the leading figures of the movement see each of the key moments throughout the movement?

Now TV: Why did you cry?

Alex Chow: What we are fighting for is a system that will benefit both sides (police and protesters), why we are facing in opposite directions? (It was) because of helplessness and a bit of anger.

Joshua Wong from Scholarism recalled the 26th September as the most memorable day to him when scholarism announced over the microphone a march into Civic Square, and climbed over the 3-metre fence outside the square. It was only a few hours between the student group making the decision and executing it. Wong said that the group did not want to create a vacuum period after class boycott started to become a deadlock, in order to demonstrate their determination via direct action.

Benny Tai: We did not know about it (students climbing over the fences outside Government Headquarters).

After the climb, student leaders were arrested, and many other citizens went to support their action. This also disrupted Occupy Central with Love and Peace’s (OCLP) plan. Benny Tai of OCLP said that they did not plan to start Occupy Central earlier than scheduled (originally scheduled to be held on 1/Oct), but around midnight after student leaders were arrested, they changed their mind and launched ‘Occupy Central’. Tai stressed that OCLP had always wanted to kick off Occupy Central on 1st October, but given that many student leaders were arrested and many of the remaining students were tired, they wanted to assist the students by launching Occupy Central.

When the police fired teargas canisters toward the protesters and Alex Chow from Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) was still in custody, OCLP and HKFS called for retreat. However, after Chow was released, he realised that the call for retreat did not work. On the day when police moved plastic bullets to the Government Headquarters, HKFS and Scholarism planned to surround the Chief Executive’s Office, but the action was called off at the last minute.

When the Mong Kok protest site was crashed by anti-occupy individuals and police, student leaders once again called for retreat. Chow said that due to their inexperience, the student leaders frequently got cold feet. OCLP came to the conclusion that neither OCLP nor HKFS could successfully call a retreat, so to minimise injuries they called for a negotiation behind the scenes (the debate between the Government’s Political Reform Consultation Group and HKFS).

After much hard work, the ‘negotiation’ between the student leaders and the Government took place. The Government finally proposed delivering a public opinion evaluation report and establishing multiple platforms on the topic. Benny Tai commented that the student leaders were “neither overbearing nor servile” and the Government had delivered what it promised, and he believed that an opportunity for gradual retreat had been created. However, his belief was wrong as students did not accept “what the Government delivered”.

Benny Tai: A bit disappointed (by the students refusing to accept the Government’s proposal).

Alex Chow said that neither the Government nor the middlemen who arranged the negotiation should have expected a mild approach from the students. The ‘negotiation’ did not bear any fruit, and the referendum in Admiralty proposed by OCLP and HKFS was withdrawn (due to major objection from the other protest sites – particularly the ones in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay as occupiers in those sites would have had to leave those sites to vote in Admiralty which could have resulted in the immediate collapse of both sites). The occupation was in deadlock. After a whole month of occupation, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man of OCLP decided to resume their teaching positions as they could see the limited influence they were having in the movement. Students began to push for pan-democrats to resign to call for a Hong Kong wide referendum.

After many discussions, Albert Ho of the Democratic Party agreed to resign to trigger a referendum. However, his precondition was that student leaders have to call for a full retreat. The student leaders rejected his request.

Benny Tai: A consensus could not be reached, so each of us will have to plan our own next move.

By the end of November, the occupy movement became more radical and student leaders were clearly exhausted. After the Mong Kok site was cleared, the exhausted student leaders announced that they would escalate action (the original proposal was to surround the Government Headquarters by 6pm, but the ‘student leaders’ on the Main Stage spent hours declaiming that the target of their action is the Government: So long did they spend talking that no action was taken until around 9pm, by which time most thought that the escalation was not going ahead – as on previous occasions. Many complained that the Main Stage failed to provide any support, directed protesters to gather outside Government Headquarter even though they had established that no action was possible there. At that point the protesters spontaneously started to occupy Lung Wo Road, leading to major clashes with the Police. Simultaneously HKFS student leaders dissuaded protesters from reinforcing barricades on Lung Wo Road). By this point public support had diminished substantially compared to the beginning of the movement. The aim of proposing an escalation, it turns out, was to prove that escalation may not necessary work. The escalation, in the end, triggered OCLP’s leaders to turn themselves in earlier than scheduled (on 3/Dec they left the police station without any charges after turning themselves in). On the other side, Scholarism began hunger strike (HKFS confirmed that they were not aware of the hunger strike), in order to push for a direct dialogue with the Government.

Alex Chow: In fact, this (the escalation) is to show the people who support escalation that such action will not bring results, as they may have expected. It also highlights the fact that the movement needs to be more diverse, rather than focusing on escalation.

Joshua Wong: I could not swallow the fact that we achieved no result. I was even more indignant that many said we have gained enough attention and have achieved “stage success” and it was time to retreat. Only if you willingly accept the fact that you have achieved nothing, you would continue to fight for your goal.

At the end of the occupy movement, police removed the occupiers – as stipulated in OCLP’s original plan. The experience for the occupiers was not limited to arrest though – in contrast with OCLP’s plan. Indeed, the movement triggered a substantial awakening and debate around democracy and universal suffrage across Hong Kong. Alex Chow believes that after 79 days of occupation Hongkongers are not only more politically enlightened, but that they have also learned from the Movement’s failures, allowing them to reflect on future strategies.

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