HONG KONG—The pro-democracy students, despite seeming to lack direction and momentum over the last week, today made new demands of the Hong Kong government, and hinted at the notion of going over the heads of the city government and directly discussing their concerns with China’s premier, Li Keqiang.
It was a month ago to the day that Hong Kong’s police force made the fateful decision to fire tear gas into a crowd of pro-democracy students and supporters who had taken over a main road, inadvertently pouring gasoline onto the flame of the largest movement of civil disobedience seen in the city’s history.
Now the same roadway has been christened “Umbrella Plaza” and is ground zero for the protests and rallies held by student groups.
Umbrella Plaza was the site for the one-month anniversary of the movement on Tuesday, drawing a crowd of thousands who sang songs, cheered, chanted, and opened their umbrellas together. The umbrella became a symbol of the movement after students used them to block police pepper spray.
Famous Hong Kong figures appeared at the rally, including Deanie Ip, an actress, who sang the anthem of the movement, “Raise Your Umbrellas.” She marveled at Hong Kong’s material progress, and said “but this is a beautiful exterior. What we want is a true, real universal suffrage.” The crowd erupted in applause.
Not long before those festivities, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, a university activist organization that is leading protests, issued a surprising new demand of the government: a request to meet with Chinese premier Li Keqiang, if Hong Kong authorities felt that they couldn’t meet the students demands.
“As Carrie Lam said before the conclusion of our last meeting: ‘Hong Kong’s problems can’t necessarily be resolved by Hong Kong.’ Thus, we sincerely request that the chief secretary arrange for us the soonest meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang… so we can directly convey and express to the central government the Hong Kong people’s true feelings.”
But at the Admiralty occupied zone on Tuesday, not many thought it a particularly likely outcome.
“Impossible,” muttered Brian Chan, 38, who runs a trading business, in between cigarettes. Chan has been coming to the site twice a week since Sept. 28.
“The premier has a prestige issue, he wouldn’t do it.”
His friend, Joe Wong, 37, said “they’re playing poker.”
People like Chan and Wong, while not the hard core student population that began the protests, subsequently became an important force in keeping up the numbers and morale of the original protesters.
Like many, both men were driven to come out by the police use of tear gas on Sept. 28. Wong has been coming five days a week, sleeping overnight several days a week, since then.
The tear gassing episode, given that it remains the most powerful set of images for the protesters, was put to good use during the rally.
A video was shown replaying the afternoon and evening on which it took place, showing protesters pouring water over their eyes after being pepper sprayed, and jousting verbally with the police. “Shameless!” was a favorite phrase, chanted and used repeatedly by protesters. After the short screening, those on site opened their umbrellas and sang together.
Leung Kwok-hung, founder of the League of Social Democrats and a member of the Legislative Council, proposed having an enormous march, “to stop the government spreading more lies… we need to involve the whole society, and make a stand against them face to face.”