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Report from Hong Kong - Part 1

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I am struggling to convey the scope of what is happening now in Hong Kong to our friends who are not here and have maybe never been to our city. A few thoughts in the heat of the moment.

Firstly, the geography of the protests is mind-blowing, the distance between Pedder Street/Mandarin Oriental in Central and Yee Wo Street in Causeway Bay (the two extremities of the occupation on Hong Kong Island earlier this night) and between Yaumatei and Prince Edward (the occupation in Kowloon) is arresting for the city, both effectively and symbolically. This area includes the entire financial district (plus the headquarters of the government, Chinese People's Liberation Army main garrisons, etc), one of the two major shopping areas of the city, upper class areas, middle class areas, working class areas, expat playgrounds, very local precincts, red light districts, (former) triad territory and so on. The sheer number of kilometers covered makes it unlike most city-centred movements. The best reference is maybe the 1986 Philippines People Power Revolution which removed the Marcos regime, when crowds spread on a major highway crossing Manila.

Secondly, the situation changed drastically over the past three nights. So much so that on each of these past days we woke up in a different city, whether we went to sleep in our beds or on the streets. Saturday was the culmination of a week, of months, of years of struggle, lead mainly by university and high school students (with support from large parts of society.) The leaders had been arrested the night before. It was major, it was massive, but it was still within the logic of a growing protest movement that had become part of our tense political landscape. Sunday brought the shocking and senseless acts of violence perpetrated by a government that lost any pretense of legitimacy or of semblance to the fantasy of first world democracies. These were possibly the biggest clashes in Hong Kong since the riots of 1967 (excluding the 2005 WTO protests and repression, carried out mainly by and against, respectively, South Korean framers). With the violence came a general mood of danger and defiance, of anger and urgency that all this has to stop, that all this has to change. It was visceral, it was overwhelming, it was exhilarating, it was something to be confronted with one's own body (and makeshift defenses) and together with every one else. Today the police has melted away. The machine that never stops was brought to a halt. The state with all its instruments of fear and control has evaporated on a few good square miles, this metropolis of power has been taken over by youth, running a utopian republic on abandoned streets, moving supplies, organizing, debating and making (politely but firmly) a claim on a space that was in other people's hands for their entire life. Days of being wild. For miles and miles. With friends and strangers. 人山人海. Living something unlike anything that recent decades have allowed to be lived in Hong Kong. Forgetting the parents who have, more often than not, a different idea about how this should be done, if they even think this is worth or justified to be done at all! Living something that, whatever the outcome of this will be, will surely leave a lasting mark on every protester and on the culture of this generation.

Thirdly, this is not anymore about universal suffrage, CY Leung or 2017. It is about affirming that Hong Kong is not "all about business", it is not a soulless temple of capitalism that somehow gets away with not even faking democracy. It is an affirmation that Hong Kong needs to be and soon might be about its citizens (if we succeed with that, we might be at the forefront of a more global change.) About its brave citizens who are being shamelessly offended by its supposed representatives who believe this is the only people in the world who is incapable of making decisions about its own future.

The situation might already change drastically before the crack of dawn. Good night Hong Kong, stay safe, stay strong, and know hope!

30 September 2014

Photo: Chantal Tse Yun Wong.
Posted 01 Oct 2014
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