For months now, I’ve been told that Hong Kong’s protests would end soon. They’ll end when school starts, I heard during the summer. School did start, but the protests wore on, only now I saw high-school students in crisp school uniforms joining the protesters’ ranks. Next, the mask ban of early October was supposed to slow protesters down, but the very first day after that ban, I watched streams of protesters in masks and helmets make their way to their usual haunts on Hong Kong Island.
The government shut down many of the subway lines that day, a practice that has become a de facto curfew, because Hong Kong’s über-efficient subway system is the way most people get around. No matter; the protesters ended up walking, sometimes a lot, and I walked with them, asking some of the same questions I had asked for months: Do you think you will continue protesting? What would it take for you to stop?
One of the most popular chants in Hong Kong is “Five demands, not one less.” These include the full withdrawal of the anti-extradition bill, which originally sparked the protests in June; an independent commission to investigate police misconduct; retracting the riot charges against protesters; amnesty for arrested protesters; and, crucially, universal suffrage.
Nothing animates the Hong Kongers I’ve been talking with as much as that final demand. Yesterday, the police shot one protester in the stomach at point-blank range, and another police officer drove into the protesters with his motorcycle, weaving into the crowd to circle back again. Later in the day, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, gave a press conference and, in chilling language, called the protesters the “enemy of the people.” She was voted into office by 777 people from the 1,200-person “Election Committee,” many of whose members are businesspeople with close ties to mainland China. It’s fair to describe her as handpicked by Beijing. Polls in October showed her popularity around 22 percent, with just over one in 10 Hong Kongers saying that they would vote for her voluntarily. No wonder the protesters want the right to elect their own leaders. [Continue reading…]