After 12 weeks, Hong Kong’s Occupy protesters were finally cleared from all sites by the police last week. Hundreds gave themselves up and were arrested as the last tents and barricades were removed from the main site in Admiralty last week. While the Umbrella Movement may have been stopped for now, the grievances will still go on. Student leaders have called for more civil disobedience in the form of refusing to pay taxes and delaying rents. It sounds a little desperate but for the time being, they do not have much choice. They’ve also said they will not launch any public protests in the near future, which seems a wise choice. They’ve endured much longer than anyone had expected, and it’s time to retreat and regroup.
On the surface, it may seem like the protesters didn’t accomplish much other than generate positive press and sympathy, but in reality they’ve done some significant things. They were able to rally people in public, and generate passion and awareness about politics and social issues, things that many HKers didn’t appear to care about more. They challenged the HK government, made them pay attention and eventually meet for talks. Most importantly the protesters pushed the political issue of democracy to the forefront of the public’s consciousness, and so instead of just grumbling about it amongst friends or holding annual marches, many HKers know they have and can take action in future. This time, the protests did not result in the intended change, but it can be built upon.
There are two main challenges the government needs to address, exemplified by the two main different sets of protesters. Political change is obviously what the movement came out for (and what attracted the most headlines), but as the protests and clashes in Mongkok showed, social problems are another serious issue facing HK. And this is something that cannot and hasn’t been successfully dealt with by the current political system.
Whatever the case, this was a turning point in Hong Kong and things cannot just go back to normal. The authorities can blame the protesters but they would be fools to ignore the very real grievances.