About 50 people gathered in front of the Chinese Embassy on Glenmore St in Wellington Wednesday to support the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Wearing black clothes and yellow ribbon pins, the group held signs calling for “Democracy”, “Proper Elections” and to “Stop Violence on HK Students”. Many signs included images of umbrellas as this has become a symbol of the movement in Hong Kong. Police forces in HK having been attacking protesters with tear gas and pepper spray, so umbrellas have been used as a way to offer some protection for the large numbers who will not be deterred. On Glenmore St there were two umbrellas, adorned with messages written on yellow postit notes, to show support from afar.
The Embassy protest was organised spontaneously over a two day period by a young international student from Hong Kong named Kiki. She had never organised anything like it before, yet, with some help from a few friends, she managed to pull together a core group of about 40 people who stayed for the full two hours as planned. Her helpers included other international students, some from Vietnam, some from mainland China as well as others from Hong Kong. Most of the protesters were young – late teens, early 20s, with a few from an older generation.
Kiki lead chants both in Cantonese and English. The chants called for democracy and to give encouragement to the people of Hong Kong. We were each given lyrics (in Cantonese) to two popular Chinese protest songs. The first rendition of “Under A Vast Sky”, a popular ballad about hope and freedom, brought some to tears. The second song was a Cantonese reworking of “Do you hear the people sing” from Les Miserable.
For two hours we alternated between chants, songs and passionate speeches from organisers. The atmosphere overall was friendly and joyful. There were moving moments when comparisons were made to the events in Tiananmen Square by people who had lived in Beijing at the time. It was the fact that protesters in Hong Kong had been attacked with tear gas that had motivated many to make a show of support. The hope was that the situation would not escalate and ultimately that universal suffrage would be granted.
[For analysis and background to the movement in Hong Kong, see this interview with Sophia Chan, an activist in Left21, a socialist group in Hong Kong. Au Loong Yu asks what next for the democracy movement here. Kevin Lin’s “Occupying Hong Kong” is also useful.]
Daniel Simpson Beck