Sunday, December 04, 2005


Power to the People
I spent most of Sunday in Hong Kong's Victoria Park shadowing a 19-year-old unversity student who'd been working and waiting for weeks to voice his desire for full sufferage and deomocracy in Hong Kong at a mass march and demonstration.
The current HK chief executive, Donald Tsang, while not as much of a moribund, bumbling slug as his disgraced predecessor, is nonetheless basically a more polished version of a lickspittle lackey for Beijing despite occasionally better PR instincts. He's stalled and waffled with promises to help move the democratic process along but the public -- at least more than 100,000 of them, depending on what crowd count you used -- was fed up and they took to their feet Sunday to protest. What follows is a combination of the story I filed and some personal comments.

After weeks of planning, coordinating, meeting and countless phone calls, 19-year-old Andrew Shum had his pro- democracy banner ready to fly Sunday in Victoria Park.
Tweny feet long, six feet wide, the green, white and yellow vinyl sign proclaimed: "Please save our generation, youth will continue to fight for universal suffrage in '07-'08" and represented not-inconsiderable expense in time and money for a college student.
Shum and about 10 others connected with his Democracy Tutorial School organization at the Chinese University solicited HK$1,500 in donations and had it custom designed in a Mongkok sign shop.
He borrowed a van to pick it up early Sunday morning and with two other friends lugged it through the park as demonstrators and organizations were beginning to filter in and stake out space for banners and booths.
Shum had been there since about 9.30am when he had carefully unrolled the banner and laid it on an athletic court with 10 long bamboo rods stacked beside it to raise it high. It was a focal point for photographers and simple admirers alike as the crowds swelled inside and outside the park.
"I like the message," said Katie Ng, 41, who posed her 11-year-old daughter at the top of it to shoot a quick portrait. "I'm not a `youth' anymore but I remember and I have a good feeling for the message."
"We need about 10 others to help carry it," Shum said, between answering and making mobile phone calls and sprinting back and forth to network with other young pro-democracy activists.
Supportive though they were, his allies were scattered and mostly seemingly unavailable as the masses grew and squeezed around the banner, leaving it untouched as they applauded, chanted and listened to songs, speeches and sloganeering provided by activists and legislators on a small stage.
While a govt surveillance chopper circled and droned overhead, a remixed version of John Lennon's Power to the People on the PA stirred me out of my lethargy between interviewing people with widely varying commands of English; though Hotel California, a song I'm normally too tired to endure for even half a measure took on some new meaning with the "We haven't had that spirit here since 1969" line. Unlike their western counterparts at the demonstrations I recalled in my youth, this was a very peaceful family affair. My favorite sight? An elderly, very thin Chinese guy in the classic wispy white Fu Manchu goatee wearing an Elvis baseball cap and holding several Chinese language handmade signs and a bird cage symbolizing caged freedom. "We're caught in a trap..." I sang softly.
Three friends of Shum's, including Dominic Li, 25, who he met through connections at Hong Kong's pro-democracy Internet radio station, gathered to clown around with three oversized green and silver papier mache turtle shells symbolizing Donald Tsang and the Chinese central government's slow creep toward full democracy.
"To be a youngster in Hong Kong we have to determine our future. For the past three years a lot of people have disagreed with the Hong Kong government and this is our way to express our displeasure with the government's bad policies," Li said. "I've only known Andrew a short time but we both have common ideas."
At that point the common idea was how to raise the banner. Shum kept making calls as demonstrators squeezed tighter, though he remained optimistic by 2.50pm as word spread that the march might begin soon.
"No problem. No worries," he said smiling as he made another call.
We Shall Overcome, remade in Cantonese, began playing and participants clutching their yellow photocopied song leaflets that had been passed through the throngs began singing along.
"We've changed the words," one participant explained to me. "We don't sing about overcoming. Instead we sing that we are partners fighting together and we are using our bodies and feet to march and fight."
Word spread that the march would begin. Shum's banner was in Area 4, one of five on five clay soccer fields, and at 3:44 pm the masses in Area 1 could be seen moving very slowly. Like turtles and the speed of universal suffrage in Hong Kong, some might say.
Five minutes later a sudden surge swept through Area 4 and bodies began to move and Shum scrambled to get his 20-foot message off the ground. The bamboo poles scattered underfoot but suddenly Shum had his carriers.
Twenty-two men, women and children spontaneously grabbed it and hoisted it off the clay court. Shum beamed and put down his phone.
Reports spread through the crowd that the cops had sealed three of the six exits out of the park, making it difficult for marchers to join others outside. At this point I'm thinking a US group would've stormed the fences, trampled some slower, smaller folks and gone at the cops. "Up against the wall, motherfuckers!" I sang doing my best bad Grace Slick/Marty Balin under my breath, echoing Jefferson Airplane's long dated Volunteers.
Not in Hong Kong. "Be patient. Just be patient," one marcher counseled me after sensing my discomfort to get out. "We we made any trouble (Beijing) would use that as an excuse to stop any other marches." He's right and besides he lives here for life. I don't.
It would take another hour for Area 4 to eventually and patiently squeeze out of Victoria Park, past the right side of the stern, regal cast iron statue of its namesake, but when their feet hit the street the banner wasn't exactly flying high but its message was moving.
My wife and I marched yesterday. We arrived late (at 3:30) and stood on the playground for about an hour before we noticed that, here and there in the crowd, people were flitering out and going somewhere else - to the march it turned out. We followed them out, walked over a few blocks, and hooked up with the procession.

The weather was really great and the only reason that I was able to persuade my HK-native wife to come out. She passed on the big demo this past summer b/c of the heat.

The most gratifying aspect of walking yesterday, for me, was seeing stranded passengers in buses, minibuses, and trams leaning out of the vehicle windows and waving pro-democracy flags / handfans / etc.

It was also nice to see Sir Bowtie visibly flushed and seemingly on the verge of tears during his televised press conference last night after we got home.

Btw, I've been reading your blog for years and really enjoy it.

Brian Donovan
Many thanks, Brian. Very nice to hear from someone else who was there.
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