Unplanned Umbrella Movement Is Hong Kong’s New Normal

Albert Ho's Letter to Hong Kong
By Albert Ho
Albert Ho
Albert Ho
November 4, 2014 Updated: November 6, 2014

Editor’s note: The following letter was written by Hong Kong legislator and former chairman of the Democratic Party, Albert Ho, for Radio Television Hong Kong. It is reproduced here with permission. It addresses Hong Kong’s ongoing Umbrella Movement, its origins, and its implications for governance and democracy in Hong Kong into the future.

The Occupy Central Action did not take place according to the original plan of its leaders and organizers.  It turned out to be an Umbrella Movement precipitating an occupation of several main streets in Kowloon and Hong Kong.  In essence, the Umbrella Movement is still an action of civil obedience by the unlawful occupation of public areas, having broken out and been sustained in such a form and on such a scale that was totally beyond anyone’s anticipation or even imagination.

No doubt the Umbrella Movement has caught the attention not only of everyone in Hong Kong, but also the international community.  This event is not only affecting the daily lives of many, but also the passion and emotions of many who have kept a close watch over the development of the political situation in Hong Kong.

Whilst there are still thousands of protestors directly participating in the occupation of the various sites in Causeway Bay, Admiralty and Mongkok, there are even more supporters who are closely watching and ready to come out to support the continued occupation of the sites. At present the Police are reluctant to take action to clear the barricades and the occupants in these various sites for two reasons.  First, the protestors are simply not scared by tear gas and police batons, and are always prepared to group together in great numbers to form human barricades to resist any act of clearance by the police.  That was exactly what happened in Mongkok.  Second, the administration and the police, for the time being, do not appear to be willing to escalate the use of physical force including using rubber bullets to crackdown on the protestors and the Occupy Action, because the political price is too high to pay, at least before holding of the APEC in Beijing from 10th to 11th November 2014.

During the past many days, I have frequently stayed in the occupied sites, particularly, at Harcourt Road and Tin Mei Road of Admiralty and exchanged views with different groups of occupiers.  I find that although not many of them are veteran political activists, most of them (be they students, professionals, workers or housewives) have a clear conception of why they are taking part in this movement and why they are quite determined to stay on until they achieve certain concrete progress in political reform.  The commitment of these occupiers has deeply impressed and moved me.  I have begun to feel that the occupation may last for a much longer period than we initially expected.

Recently, there has been increasing concern, especially from those middle-aged supporters, as to whether there can be a planned end-game, which will allow the occupiers to withdraw peacefully and with dignity.  This concern has probably arisen because of the public nuisance caused to the general public and particularly to those who have suffered economic losses due to the occupation, such as taxi drivers, mini-buses operators and nearby shop-owners.  The injunction proceedings commenced by these aggrieved parties have generated further weight on the side of that public opinion which is against the Movement.  Many pro-democracy supporters and activists are themselves concerned that a prolonged occupation may exacerbate public antagonism and cause collateral damage to the democracy movement in the long run.  While C. Y. Leung’s regime has already lost its legitimacy to govern and hence has nothing further to lose, some critics suggest that if the occupation continues without a withdrawal plan, the tide of public opinion will gradually turn and run against the pro-democracy parties and their supporters.

Whilst the whole community has become more intensely divided by the Occupy Movement, there is a rising difference in sentiment between the students and young occupiers on the one hand and the relatively older occupiers or supporters (being 40 or above in age) of the Movement on the other hand.  The former seldom concern themselves with discussing any plan for ending the Movement, while the latter, particularly,  the 3 Occupy Central Leaders are very concerned about the safety of the occupiers in case a crackdown occurs. Any decision to work out a withdrawal plan at this junction is certainly against the strong sentiment of the occupiers to resolutely remain in the occupied areas.  This is so even though there is apparently no prospect of the resumption of the dialogue between the government and the students or the occupiers’ representatives!  Similarly, the possibility of realizing the demands of the occupiers, namely the resignation of C. Y. Leung as Chief Executive and the promise of the Central Government to review the NPCSC Decision made on 31st August 2014, is practically nil.

In most other countries where there have been gatherings of such large crowds of protestors in a business district, we have seen scenes of chaos and conflicts that have caused serious injuries to persons, damage to properties, and even looting in shops and department stores. As a fervent participant in the Movement, notwithstanding there are tremendous difficulties and uncertainties ahead of us, I can see the bright side of this historical event.  I strongly believe that Hong Kong People have written an amazing chapter in the human history of the non-violent struggle for democracy.  During the more than 30 days of occupation, leaving aside a few isolated incidents of relatively minor conflicts, the Movement has generally been peaceful and non-violent; the occupiers have been calm, restrained and always conscious of the need to prevent violence.  After 28th September this year, after the Occupation Movement has blossomed all over Hong Kong, Hong Kong has changed and somehow rediscovered its spirit and identity. 

I believe that the protestors and occupiers in the Movement will continue to abide by the golden principle of civil disobedience namely non-violence.  In that case, even if the police are ordered to clear the occupied sites they can in no way be induced or driven to use excessive or disproportionate physical force.  After all, most of the leaders and occupiers realize the legal consequences of their civil disobedience and are prepared to subject themselves to a sentence by the Court.  As there is no intent or plan for forceful resistance, we do not anticipate that the sites will be cleared by way of a bloody crackdown. 

In the future, the Occupy Movement may re-emerge at any time, at any place and on any scale, with or without leaders or planning.  That is the new Hong Kong that the government has to face if the government continues to deny true democracy to the People of Hong Kong.

Albert Ho