Photo via Flickr user Mario Madrona
Today marks China’s National Day and the 65th anniversary of the Chinese communist party. In Hong Kong, however, the mood was anything but celebratory—the student-led protests against Beijing’s control over local elections have brought tens of thousands out to the streets.
The heart of these protests is outside the government offices in the Admiralty neighborhood , but they’ve spread to surrounding areas like Wan Chai and Causeway Bay and even across the harbor to Mongkok.
Officially, the protesters have two goals: Get the government to agree to allow Hong Kongers to choose the candidates they can vote for, and force current chief executive CY Leung—who is viewed as a puppet of the central government—to step down. Organizers announced today that they may expand the demonstration further and block other government offices on Friday if CY Leung does not respond to their requests.
I was at the protests today—like seemingly everyone else in the city—and took the opportunity to ask some of the participants why they were there and what they expected to happen.
VICE: How many days have you been here?
Beryl (far right): Since last Friday, and I came back every single night. We slept on the streets on Sunday. It was so hot. In the morning, I went home to take a shower.
I see that you have some homework. Are you a student?
I study at Hong Kong University. I skipped class last week and then on Monday and Tuesday this week. I’ve been informing my tutors about the make-up assignments, and the school has arranged some video-recorded lectures so we can catch up. The situation is less tense now. Last Friday and Sunday it was like a war, but now we can take our readings to the street.
What do your parents think of you doing this?
My parents encourage me to do it because we’ve been striving for democracy for many years and it still hasn’t come about.
What do you want to happen as a result of these protests?
We would like to have the NPCSC [the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress] reopen the gate for 2017 democratic reform. The primary goal for this strike is not that CY Leung has to step back from the political stage, but we would like to have a genuine democratic election in 2017.
Do you think Beijing will listen?
If this strike lasts a long time, Beijing has to respond.
What’s a long time?
At least two weeks or a month.
What brings you here today?
Rusty: We wanted to see the people here and see if it really was peaceful, and I see it is. We are from the Philippines, but we have lived here for 20 years, so we feel the sentiments of the Hong Kong people. We were here last night as well.
Alma: Our children were born here. It's why I sympathize with them. I see my children in them.
What are your impressions of the protest?
Alma: It’s good and impressive because the people are very well disciplined and orderly. It’s very different to what the police are trying to project.
Rusty: The young people have this determination you can really see. Even if it means they have to bring their homework here, they’re still here. The young people here are extremely knowledgeable about what’s going on here politically and are educated enough to decide for themselves.
Why are you here today?
Ray (right): I want to fight for democracy and our right to choose candidates.
Francis (left): The same. This is our third day. The first day we were at Admiralty, we stayed in Wan Chai yesterday, and today we’re here.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve seen at the protest?
Francis: Everybody is so warm. People keep on asking us if we need water or food.
[As if on cue, someone comes up to us and asks if we want any water.]
Ray: Usually people say Hong Kong people are selfish, but after today, I think they’re not so selfish.
Do you want CY Leung to step down?
Francis: Not necessarily. If he steps down, it doesn’t really help anything. I want to fight for a real election process.
Ray: I agree. Whoever has his role would still be a puppet. What we demand is a genuine choice [of candidates].
Do you think it will change Beijing’s mind?
Ray: I don’t think they care, but we still need to let them know we want a choice.
Francis: They don’t care.
How long have you been at the protest?
Alim: I came today for the first time. I was sick before or else I’d have come earlier. I think I’ll come back every day.
Why did you make this sign and come here today?
I want to support Hong Kongers. I’m a refugee from Bangladesh and came here in 1999. I love Hong Kong. I don’t want to go to any other country. Bangladesh [laughs] is even worse. In Bangladesh you would have no free speech. Hong Kong has freedom and peace and the right to expression. In Bangladesh, that’d be impossible.
What do you think will happen?
I think the Chinese government will not change their mind. They don’t care about anything. They only want one party to have the power.
If you think it’s not going to change anything, what’s the point?
Even if there’s no change, we need to show them. If today there’s no change, then maybe tomorrow. If tomorrow there’s no change, then in the future there’ll be change.
Can you understand everything in the speeches that the organizers are giving in Cantonese?
Even if I can’t understand everything the organizers are saying, understanding 50 percent is enough for me.