As night fell on October 2, Hong Kong braced for a major showdown between police and pro-democracy protesters who have maintained a steady and peaceful presence throughout the city for the past few days. But the face-off never took place.
Instead, starting around noon local time on Friday, opponents of Occupy—including aggrieved residents, small business owners, anti-Occupy activists and triad members suspected of colluding with the government—wrought havoc at the pro-democracy sit-ins, while the police turned a blind eye to the violent clashes and incidents of sexual harassment. But some think the conflict that will prove most critical is the one developing among the pro-democracy protesters themselves.
The civil disobedience movement calling for a more open election of Hong Kong’s chief executive captured the world’s attention on Sunday when riot police fired unprecedented rounds of tear gas and beat and pepper-sprayed protesters, who were armed only with umbrellas, goggles and Saran Wrap. The police’s violent strategy to disperse the crowd near the government headquarters enraged protesters and mobilized moderates to join in the growing struggle. After police blocked several roads, the occupation spilled over to other major commercial districts spontaneously, creating what has become today’s leaderless civil disobedience landscape across various urban centers.
Throughout the last few days, after the riot police withdrew, the movement settled into a calm but lively routine. Protesters set up their own first-aid and supplies stations, discussions and voting circles, crowd control and trash sorting systems, and creatively assembled roadblocks without any top-down instructions.
Since then, the movement’s loudest call has been for Hong Kong’s head of government, Leung Chun-ying, to resign. As China’s National Day on October 1 approached, a crowd in one of the Occupy sites in the Mong Kok district roared louder and counted down to midnight, chanting, “Step down, Leung Chun-ying!” “Step down, step down, step down!”
The most widely discussed aspect of Beijing’s electoral reform plan—the spark that ignited the current protests—is the introduction of a highly managed form of universal suffrage to Hong Kong, which only allows the public to vote for Chief Executive candidates vetted by Beijing. But instead of directing their slogans and signs at the motherland or even the Chinese Communist Party, protesters had focused on denouncing Leung Chun-ying.