While Seth and I were in Hong Kong for Halloween, we took the opportunity to stop by the Occupy Central protests. It was an amazing experience. If you get a chance to go to Hong Kong, go see the protesters. The area is clean, orderly, and safe. The protesters are pretty much just down there living their lives.
There are hundreds of small tents set up, many for the use of anyone who needs a spot to crash. There is a study area for students. People were cooking, eating, and singing. Many people had set up little swag booths where they were making pins, posters, and jewelry to give out to people to help spread awareness.
The place has become a huge tourist draw. There were many people who, like us, were just there to look, meet some of the protesters, and take pictures. This is a good thing and is not exploitation. The protesters need support, they need to be seen. The more people see what is happening, the less Beijing will be able to react with violence and will, hopefully, have to negotiate.
When we were there, we weren’t exactly sure where the protest was, so we wandered around Central until we found it (it’s actually closer to Admiralty). We started at the far west end of the protest zone. It was pretty empty, actually. There was a blockade, a few police officers tooling around, a lot of tents, and a few people around, but it wasn’t crowded at all. A friend of mine had just been there a few days before, and he had pictures of thousands of people, so I was surprised at how desolate it seemed.
Well, we took some pictures and walked along the main road, which eventually curved up into a bridge. Once we crested the bridge, we found the people. And there were thousands of them. In the middle of the sea of people, there was a stage where people were giving speeches. Later, the speeches turned into parody songs. They sang “Beijing’s Giving In” to the tune of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Tie a yellow ribbon around CY’s streets,” to the tune of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’round the Old Oak Tree,” and another one that I just can’t recall right now (it will probably come to me in my sleep).
We walked around and were given fliers, stickers, pins, and a few other gifts from protesters. Seth’s highlight was meeting Xi Jinping. Who knew he was a fan of yellow umbrellas? The area has also become a center of art. There are thousands of little origami umbrellas everywhere. There were a couple of statues, one of a man with an umbrella and one of a yellow fist.
What surprised me was how many middle-aged and even elderly people were down there. Most people think of Occupy as a student movement, which it largely is, but students are not the only ones who love Hong Kong and are fighting for its democracy. People of every age are down there, standing their ground.
There is a very relaxed, fun air about the place. Everyone is just so happy to be there, no matter what may come. My husband joked, “now I know what democracy feels like.”
The protesters are such an inspiration to me. They are fighting so hard for something I take for granted every day. Even though I have lived in China for four years and plan to live here for the foreseeable future, I’m still an American. The right to determine my own future is something I have always had, but never had to fight for. It was given to me at birth. But the world is not perfect, especially America. Living in China has helped me to see the problems in my own country. But in America, we have the freedom to fight those problems, to make our voices heard, and to make a difference. Don’t waste the chance so many people in the world are fighting for.