Hong Kong protests: Voices of dissent

AFP , Tuesday 30 Sep 2014

Benny Tai, 50, one of the founders of the "Occupy Central" civil disobedience movement, poses during a rally in Hong Kong September 26, 2014 (Photo: reuters)

For the past two nights they have come in their tens of thousands -- students, teenagers, parents, professionals and the elderly alike.

All are demanding a more democratic future for Hong Kong, a city that was once a byword for stability yet has been plunged into its worst unrest since the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.

Student groups are spearheading a civil disobedience campaign alongside a network of pro-democracy groups. And those heeding protest leaders' calls to hit the streets are as varied as the city itself.

When Sonia Man went to her first demonstration three years ago, she never imagined it would lead to her arrest Saturday morning after staging a 16-hour sit in outside the city's government offices.

The night before she was arrested she also dismissed the possibility, saying she wasn't "ready".

But the following evening the 20-year-old cultural studies major with dyed blond hair and braces found herself in a crowd of a hundred students rushing into a government square that had been sealed by the authorities.

"I was scared, at first I didn't want to participate but I knew I had to for the sake of my future," Man told AFP after she was released.

She sent a text message to her mother after she began her sit-in, surrounded by a phalanx of police.

The next time her parents saw their daughter was on TV, hauled away by four policemen as she chanted "Democracy now!"

"I'm worried about my future," she admitted. "If my arrest means I have a government that can fix problems like housing, jobs and education, then I don't care how many times I go to prison."

Jasper Poon, 33, brought his four-year-old son Anthony to the protests in downtown Hong Kong, carrying him past shuttered luxury shops.

While Anthony asked to be taken home, Poon pointed to a group huddled around a loudspeaker listening to updates from across the protest lines.

"I need to teach him about democracy and about the meaning of people power," Poon said.

"These students are fighting for his future so I want him to see what that means firsthand."

A stocky bank teller dressed in the protesters' uniform of a black shirt with a yellow ribbon, Poon said he had never been particularly active in politics, aside from the occasional candlelight vigil in remembrance of those killed in the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 when Beijing violently suppressed student protests.

But he said this time was different, and thought the outcome would directly affect his son's ability to make a better life for himself.

Kwok Kayi has been slipping out at night to join the protesters, defying her mother's wishes that she stay at home.

The 23-year-old curtain designer felt compelled to hit the streets after viewing pictures on Facebook over the weekend of striking students.

"The middle of the night is the only time I can express myself. My parents don't support me," she said during a lull in the demonstrations when many around her had already started sleeping on the street.

"My mother is really worried, but she also doesn't understand how important this is."

Kwok's squabble with her parents highlights a generational divide that many thought would doom the protest movement as it failed to attract support beyond the city's youth.

But as the demonstrations escalated, more and more older people have joined.

Anderson Mike, 60, a former Hong Kong police officer during the British colonial era, recently spent 48 hours straight on the streets. A Hong Kong-native of Pakistani descent, he found himself in a stand-off with a force he used to be a part of.

"Hong Kong people are now second-class citizens to mainland Chinese in their own city," Mike said, shortly after picking up a spent tear gas canister.

"Hong Kongers have been betrayed by politicians, and after 17 years people have woken up and realised it's time for a change," he added.

He lamented what he called the erosion of social justice in the city in recent years and felt the sharp increase in inequality simmered just under the surface of the ongoing protests.

"I'm not here for myself," he said "I'm here for others so the next generation is not a slave to a system that ignores the people."

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