26 May 2019
Occupy protesters wrap themselves with aluminum sheets to keep warm. Photo: Bloomberg
Occupy protesters wrap themselves with aluminum sheets to keep warm. Photo: Bloomberg

Students left in the lurch as Occupy campaign reaches endgame

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy campaign has reached the endgame, and the student leaders find themselves with very little room for maneuver.

Full of passion and idealism, their followers remain strong and determined to pursue the fight for genuine universal suffrage, regardless of Beijing’s intransigence. But left to their own devices, they gain nothing as they fritter away whatever is left of the enormous public support they used to enjoy.

The move by the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism to lay siege to the government headquarters in Admiralty on Sunday night and early Monday not only failed miserably, but also gave Leung Chun-ying’s administration the upper hand in the long-drawn-out struggle.

Now the police force appears to have abandoned any semblance of restraint and is using all means at their disposal to dismantle the protest sites that prevented the city from returning to its normal course of business. Their singular focus is to return the streets to vehicular traffic, which is what the majority of the people want, as borne out by the latest public opinion surveys, and they are doing so without regard to criticisms about their use of excessive force and the collateral damage to uninvolved passersby and journalists who get caught in their sweeping operations.

On Monday night, Joshua Wong, the leader of Scholarism, and two comrades from his group, began a hunger strike that is meant to force the government to resume the dialogue with protest leaders on electoral reform.

As it stands now, CY Leung wants the students to end their street occupation before government representatives return to the negotiating table. But that condition could change, of course, as long as the students show sincerity that they are willing to talk.

“Living in these troubled times, there is a duty. Today we are willing to pay the price,” the students declared on Facebook, after announcing their hunger strike at the main protest camp in Admiralty.

It is obvious that the students, by staging a hunger strike, are seeking to bring back the support of the public to their cause. But that is hardly what the public wants from the young activists. They have had enough of the images of violence, hatred and disorder being shown on primetime TV and across the social network. For them what is important is for all this to stop right now.

In a sense, the move to stage a hunger strike shows that the students are running out of options to pursue the democracy struggle. They could continue to play the cat-and-mouse routine with the police, but that would only further alienate them from the public.

Their elder comrades have all but abandoned them. The leaders of the original Occupy Central movement have returned to their teaching duties in the university. The pan-democrat lawmakers prefer the airconditioned halls of Legco to the dangers and chaos in the protest zones. Besides, being politicians, they are concerned that the declining support for the Occupy movement may affect their chances in the district council election in 2015 and the Legislative Council poll in 2016.

The students have been left in the lurch. They who started the Umbrella Movement have been left alone to finish it.

But they have nothing to be ashamed of. Their brand of peaceful political action has won the admiration of the world, and is likely to inspire other freedom-loving youths from other parts of the globe. Even in practical terms, they have gained points in their pursuit of democratic elections. The CY Leung administration, through Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, had earlier invited them to look into ways for the membership of the nominating committee to be expanded and make it more representative of the Hong Kong populace. That is far from their demand for public nomination, but it is already a major victory if it is implemented.

The struggle for genuine universal suffrage does not stop when the last tent or barricade on the streets is dismantled. The movement will continue if the students and other activists shift their campaign to the community where the ground is fertile for the seeds of democracy to take root. 

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EJ Insight writer

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