12 December 2019
Some moderate democrats are advising the protesters to retreat but the younger generation are not persuaded. Photo: HKEJ
Some moderate democrats are advising the protesters to retreat but the younger generation are not persuaded. Photo: HKEJ

Let demonstrators lead the campaign, please

There is no doubt religious and political leaders have a role to play in the student-led Umbrella Movement. They can try their best to protect the protesters from a potential bloody crackdown ordered by the government to clear the streets.

But speaking in a negative tone and dampening the students’ desire for true democracy is not the way to go. They should give due respect to the students. 

With student leaders and top government officials set to have their first talks on political reform on Friday, Cardinal Joseph Zen criticized the demonstrators for not playing safe by retreating from the protest sites in order to maintain the momentum of the civil disobedience campaign.

Zen called the students foolish, for the government is giving them the cold shoulder and they could get nothing from the talks. The goalless campaign should be put to an end to avoid further violence, he said.

Zen may have a point. But whether to retreat or not is up to the student leaders and the demonstrators occupying the sites. After all, people joined the campaign on a voluntary basis and no single organization can take full responsibility for it.

This is not the first time Zen called on students to pull back. On Sunday, he urged them to quit amid speculation the government was ready to clear the streets.

The Occupy campaign is into its 12th day, and protesters are showing no signs of pulling out completely although their numbers have dwindled.

Working class people are still going to the three sites after work to share their views on fighting for democracy as well as to discuss the future of Hong Kong under Beijing rule. Some scholars give public lectures outside the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, expounding on political theory and democratic movements around the world.

All these events show that the public, not the organizers, are preparing themselves for a long fight for true democracy. They don’t just shout slogans and go home.

What Zen and other politicians do not understand, or accept, is that the so-called Occupy Central with Love and Peace campaign, led by scholars Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, did not occurred because Tai announced its kick-off on September 28.

Rather, it is the class boycott that started it all. That’s why the public, especially students, are critical of Tai for hijacking the class boycott campaign.

It is worth noting that the occupied sites in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay appear to be more organized by the participants themselves rather than by student groups. It is the public driving the campaign on the street to change the government, and not echoing any political party’s slogan.

The public won’t listen to any political leader about pulling out, for they don’t trust politicians any more. For 30 years, the pan-democrats have failed to secure anything in the city’s political reform, content with just keeping their seats in the Legislative Council.

Whether the demonstrators should retreat or not can wait until the students meet the government officials on Friday. Should the meeting fail to deliver, more people will take to the streets to voice their discontent.

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EJ Insight writer