The honeymoon is over. After seven days of peaceful public demonstrations, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters are increasingly being confronted with an irritated public and potential divisions within their movement as Chinese and Hong Kong leaders continue to ignore their demands. The question now is how the protesters will move forward without a united front.
“They’ve been here for nearly a week. They need to clear out,” said Joe Lee, a 58-year-old maintenance supervisor. “It’s ruining our economy, they just need to leave.”
The movement is made up of three different organizations and thousands of people, all with different opinions on strategy. The protests as a whole have taken on the name “Occupy Central,” but there are actually three major groups: Scholarism, the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Occupy Central With Love And Peace. So far they’ve acted largely in unison, but cracks are starting to show.
Arguments broke out in Wan Chai about how aggressively to protest a National Day (Oct. 1) flag-raising ceremony and there have been divisions at Admiralty, the movement’s base of operations. One radical democratic group called Civic Passion denounced the Occupy leadership. One Civic Passion member told the South China Morning Post that “we have no organizers” and that they don’t see Occupy organizers “as the authority.”
The Washington Post reported Friday that scuffles broke out Thursday night outside Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s office after he rejected demands to resign. HKFS and Scholarism vowed to occupy government buildings if he didn’t. The crowd was split on whether to occupy a nearby street or remain where they were. Leung Kwok-hung, aka “Longhair,” a pro-democratic lawmaker, told the crowd that anyone who wanted further action should go to Mong Kok. Not long after, Occupy Central leaders told Occupiers in Mong Kok to avoid violence and return to Admiralty.
The protest movement was planned around China’s National Day, which celebrates the 1949 declaration of the communist people's republic by Mao Zedong, for symbolic and practical reasons. Friday marked the first work day following two days off for the holiday. But with people back to work, patience for the protests that have blocked streets, government buildings and commerce centers is wearing thin.
“It's not about whether I support their cause or not. It's about whether what they are doing is legal or not,” said Donald Chan, 45. “It is illegal. It has brought chaos to the city.”
Activists have said they plan to demonstrate indefinitely until their demands are met, but that strategy risks alienating Hong Kong residents who aren’t ready to commit. Michael Chugani of the South China Morning Post called that position the “impossible demands” of “dreamers.” The unrest plays into Beijing’s plan to let the protesters wear themselves out until popular opinion shifts against them.
For one protester at Mong Kok, it was violence and disorganization that broke his spirit:
Dom Leung, 43, tells me as he leaves Mong Kok: "This movement no longer has a leader. I'm not sure if we can succeed without more direction"
â€” Wilfred Chan (@wilfredchan) October 3, 2014