The anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong recently escalated. On 1 July the Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of over 50 grassroots organisations, initiated an anti-extradition demonstration.
It marked the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China.
At least 500,000 people attended. It was the third “anti-extradition” demonstration against a law that would allow extraditions to China.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced a suspension of the proposed amendments, but has continued to deny protesters’ other demands.
On 1 July some protesters began to try and storm the Legislative Council (LegCo), Hong Kong’s legislature.
Amongst the group were shady individuals who were later suspected of having been sent by the government to pretend to be protesters. But there were also genuinely courageous protesters who were ready to face imprisonment and even death.
At 9pm, around 500 protesters successfully stormed the LegCo. They spray-painted the slogans, “Anti-extradition,” and “Carrie Lam Resign,” on the walls, and read aloud a “Declaration of Hong Kong Protestors”. Afterwards, they decided to leave.
The declaration read, “We are protesters from the civic society. If there’s a choice, we wish we didn’t have to protest against tyranny with our own bodies, and didn’t have to occupy the Hong Kong Legislative Council as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Government.
“But the Government has put aside all principles and procedures, ignored the demands of Hong Kong People, and repeated their lame arguments and lied over and over again.
“By facing with this rule and unreasonable government, we will have no choice but to fight back with justice, conscience and love of both Hong Kong and HongKongers.”
There is reason to suspect that police inside the LegCo were ordered to retreat with the intention of allowing protesters to storm the building. The government wanted to frame protesters as rioters, marring the entire movement.
Lam immediately condemned protesters’ actions, and the police and mainstream media described them as “rioters”.
Yet the storming of the LegCo was not just aimless vandalism. Protesters did not destroy any historical artifacts and in fact put up signs to protect them. They even left money before taking soft drinks from the canteen. Protesters were prepared to be martyrs, and they were not rioters engaging in senseless violence.
The Hong Kong government has begun to carry out a wave of arrests. As of early July, at least 71 people had been arrested, five charged with “participating in rioting”.
The government has also pretended to be willing to have open dialogue with the people. Carrie Lam has expressed her wish to meet student unions of various universities.
But student unions have refused to hold closed talks. Instead, they demand that any dialogue be held in an open and transparent manner, and that the government must first stop arresting protesters.
Lam has failed to temper public discontent and anger.
A group of mothers twice held assemblies of more than 6,000 people, in which the spokesperson stated, “We may not completely understand or agree with young protesters’ actions, but they are definitely not rioters.”
In a deeply unfortunate turn of events, there have been four suicides. All were young individuals who took their own lives in protest against the extradition bill.
Protesters now plan wider protests, including establishing a democracy wall (akin to the Lennon Wall set up during the 2014 Umbrella Movement) in every district of the city.
But the month-long leaderless and self-initiated mass movement has also reached a limit.
There are different views regarding the storming of the LegCo.
Mainstream pro-democracy Legislative Councillors refrained from publicly criticising the incident. But they believe that mass movements should always hold to the principles of peaceful, non-violent resistance.
Some protesters support occupying the LegCo. They believe that only an escalation of the movement can force the government to concede.
In my opinion, in the current situation, occupying the LegCo or other government buildings is an extremely dangerous and unwise strategy. Storming government buildings will give the Lam administration the perfect excuse to slander the entire movement, and carry out a violent crackdown.
Fortunately, protesters withdrew just in time, and avoided a confrontation with the police.
Protesters covered the SAR emblem with the British colonial Hong Kong Flag and raised a Union Flag, reflecting confusion with regards to protesters’ political identity.
The movement is correct to resist the increasing reach of the Chinese regime. But it should not agree with the past colonial rule of Britain over Hong Kong.
Some protesters are refusing to show solidarity to an ongoing anti-incinerator and electricity plant movement in Wuhan, China. The reason given was that this would “divide our movement, losing our focus”.
But there are many protesters telling each other not to turn the protest into an anti-Chinese action.
I think the mainstream of the protesters seem to be open to the idea that Hong Kong’s struggle can only succeed if mainland Chinese people support it. I also think they seem to be open to different strategies.
The socialist left supports the anti-extradition movement, and calls on protesters to reflect on the limits of an organisation-less movement.
Organising a coalition committee and employing a general strike and general walkout from schools would be a genuine escalation of the struggle.
We should unite with the workers and others who are defending their rights in China. Only then can we establish democracy for China and Hong Kong.