On Thursday night, the din of vehicular traffic returned to Harcourt Road, the main artery connecting Admiralty and Central, after police finished clearing the remaining protest sites of the Occupy movement.
It was a laborious task, but, to the credit of the police and protesters, also a peaceful one.
The pro-democracy campaign — or at least, its first chapter — ended after 75 days that laid bare the contradictions in Hong Kong society and left a deep impact on the people.
For the youthful activists who guarded the barricades and slept on cold pavements and inside flimsy tents, those who faced tear gas, pepper spray and truncheons, those who disobeyed their elders and ignored their warnings to fight for what they think is right and good for their future, the last day of the struggle was almost too hard to bear.
Some of them openly cried as cranes demolished the structures and symbols of the Umbrella Movement that was widely covered by international media, and police started hauling them to the waiting paddywagons.
Rather than surrender, the young activists decided to stay on the streets until the bitter end. That’s where it started, that’s where they wanted it to end.
But wait. Look at all those people who claimed the limelight as the news cameras covered the last afternoon of the protest on Harcourt Road.
They’re not the students, they’re not the young people who occupied the streets and confronted the threat of harm and injury through all those days and nights.
They’re the same politicians who spent most of their days in the august halls of the legislature rather than stay with them out there in the cold.
On the last day of the campaign, the pan-democratic stalwarts were in full attendance.
Martin Lee and Emily Lau of the Democratic Party were present, and so were Alan Leong and Audrey Eu of the Civic Party, Long Hair Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, as well as Albert Chan and Ray Chan of People Power.
They all wanted to get arrested, too, and their faces caught by the news cameras. Just to make sure that people know, the website of the Democratic Party also carried pictures of their leaders getting arrested.
This may be a bit confusing for the young activists who had been on Harcourt Road from Day One. They never thought commitment to the pro-democracy struggle was now a PR stunt.
Weren’t these the same people who advised them to retreat and end the street occupation? Weren’t these the people who did not bother to talk to government officials and try to convince them to return to the negotiating table?
Perhaps they were right that after the first month, there was no point in prolonging the agony as Beijing would not reverse itself and withdraw its framework for electoral reform. Perhaps they were right that Hong Kong people now wanted to return to their normal way of life, and prolonging the struggle would only alienate them from the public.
But weren’t they the ones who convinced the students to take to the streets in the first place? Where were they when the going got rough? And on Thursday, on the last bitter day of the campaign, they wanted to be seen again as the leaders of the campaign that they had abandoned?
Their presence on that cold afternoon of Dec. 11, 2014 only made stark the young activists’ feeling of abandonment.
Or perhaps it marked a rude awakening of the students to the realities of politics. Now they know they have no one to depend on in their pursuit of democratic principles — not the politicians they respected and admired and sought for guidance and inspiration — but themselves.
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