Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"Hello world and hello freedom"

People have been taking to the streets of Hong Kong over the past 10 days forcing the city's pro-China leadership to shelve a proposed extradition bill. Unlike the 2014 Umbrella Movement, the protesters appear more willing to take direct action and risk retaliation by the police.

On June 9, an estimated one million people marched in opposition to the controversial bill that would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial, sending a powerful message. Three days later, tens of thousands were once again on the streets, surrounding the government complex where the bill was due to be debated. Chief Executive Carrie Lam bowed to public pressure and said she would postpone the bill. But the protersters want it withdrawn completely and Lam to resign and so an estimated 2 million Hong Kongers crowded the streets - the third big rally within a week.

Isaac Cheng, vice chairperson of pro-democracy group Demosisto described Hong Kong's new movement as one fuelled by "independent protesters" who were not linked to any organisation. His own group believes in non-violent resistance.

Kong Tsung-gan, author of two books on the Umbrella Movement and its aftermath who had spent time with the student protesters, watched as the scene unfolded.
"They're not interested in sitting in the streets for 79 days with no outcome in sight," Kong said. "I think they're angrier too. They're fed up."

Alex Chow, a student leader during the Umbrella Movement, explained that the protesers were "...definitely leaderless. They communicate through social media." Still, the protesters seemed well-organised. Volunteers distributed umbrellas, masks and hard hats. The bravest among them chased down tear gas canisters, dousing them with water. "Because of events like the Umbrella Movement, people are more prepared for direct action," Chow said. "They are also prepared for the consequences."

Among protesters, the app of choice was Telegram. Police arrested Ivan Ip, the administrator of the chat group with some 20,000 members. But there were dozens of groups like Ip's on Telegram and across the internet. If a chat is shut down, users easily take their discussion elsewhere. They also used Airdrop, a file-sharing function on Apple devices, to share messages and memes, sometimes with random strangers.

Demosisto's co-founder, Joshua Wong, was released from prison, but Hong Kong's best-known activist had missed two record-breaking marches. Today, he's likely to be less influential than in 2014 when he the face of Hong Kong's protest. Now, he is one of many in a movement without leaders.

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