News / Asia

Occupy Hong Kong Survives Another Day

Protesters give a concert at the "Occupy" movement campsite area outside the HSBC bank headquarters in Hong Kong on August 27, 2012.Protesters give a concert at the "Occupy" movement campsite area outside the HSBC bank headquarters in Hong Kong on August 27, 2012.
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Protesters give a concert at the "Occupy" movement campsite area outside the HSBC bank headquarters in Hong Kong on August 27, 2012.
Protesters give a concert at the "Occupy" movement campsite area outside the HSBC bank headquarters in Hong Kong on August 27, 2012.
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Ivan Broadhead
HONG KONG — In October 2011, the Occupy Movement was born.  Disillusioned by perceived corporate greed and banker excess, activists around the world demanded a fairer distribution of wealth.  But one-by-one authorities shut the protest sites that sprang up from Abuja to Zurich.  In Hong Kong Monday, the last Occupy camp located in a global financial center was finally threatened with closure.

At the heart of the pedestrian zone beneath the headquarters of the world's second largest banking group, members of Occupy Hong Kong defied a court order for their 9 p.m. eviction and held a music festival instead.

Data released by the government in June reveal income inequality in Hong Kong is the worst in the developed world. Music teacher Judy Hai, 25, explains why she supports the movement.

"To be honest, I don't have enough money to have my own property," Hai explained.  "I want to have my own life, I like - a real life; real and sincere. In this society so many people are greedy and make me frustrated."

What began as a closing-down party late Monday evolved into a celebration of the movement's enduring appeal. Hundreds of activists were joined by casual passers-by, tourists, even the odd banker, as Canto (Cantonese) grunge band Dada Baba belted out their greatest hits.

By midnight the authorities still had not moved in to dismantle the camp.  Lam Wai Man, an analyst of grassroots political activism at the University of Hong Kong predicts officials are not likely to tear it down anytime soon.

People walk past protesters' tents outside the HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong, August. 27, 2012.People walk past protesters' tents outside the HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong, August. 27, 2012.
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People walk past protesters' tents outside the HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong, August. 27, 2012.
People walk past protesters' tents outside the HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong, August. 27, 2012.
"On September 9 there will be the legislative council election in Hong Kong," said Lam.  "The government does not want to cause any confrontation or controversy before the election period."

In a statement, Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank says it will go back to court to reclaim the occupied land.

However, the Occupy movement has been petering out for months, losing support as the protesters became more radical.

A core group in their 20s call themselves "anarchists" and refuse to talk to the media or engage in public debate. Instead, they spend hours surfing the web on Apple computers.

Lam says Hong Kong people are also preoccupied by new issues, particularly a plan devised by the Chinese Communist Party to introduce national identity classes in a city fiercely proud of its unique cultural status within China.

"Different sectors including parents, teachers, social workers and young people are forming activist groups to show their concern about the implementation of national education in secondary and primary schools in Hong Kong," Lam added.

Although protester numbers are falling, the camp is actually becoming more popular. Thanks to the shelter it offers and a constant supply of food, it has evolved into an important refuge for the city's homeless, dispossessed and mentally ill.  

Every night, retired social worker Bonny Jone offers care and support to the vulnerable in a filthy campsite that has been declared a public health hazard. She says there are real concerns about where people will go when the camp does inevitably close.

"The court has ruled that this place is to be emptied; people have to leave," Jone explained.  "So the police have the right to take everything away when the deadline comes. I think the government should send some social workers to try to help."

Long-term help may be on its way. The Hong Kong government recently announced it would reinstate the Poverty Commission to identify areas where the government can help the poor.

The manifestos of political parties contesting next month's election also promise to eradicate the rich-poor divide.

But members of the Occupy campaign say that, when their eviction comes, they will relocate to the city legislature to carry on the fight.

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