If Occupy Central is not a civil disobedience movement, it is nothing. The only reason why it has gathered an unstoppable momentum and gained a mass following - and provoked Beijing's ire - is because of its threat to occupy the city's business district sometime next year.
Sure, it has organised lectures, seminars, and deliberation meetings on how to design a fully democratic system. But above and beyond these civic - and perfectly legal - activities, it is driven by the rationale of civil disobedience, which, by definition, is illegal. I was at one of those deliberation meetings and everyone assumed it was the threat of civil disobedience that gives it real power and influence. Right or wrong, that is its raison d'être. So why deny it?
Responding to their failure to register Occupy Central as a company, Dr Chan Kin-man, one of the organisers, said: "Civil disobedience was never the purpose of this company or this campaign. What we want to do is to promote human rights and to achieve universal suffrage. Our seminars, lectures and deliberation meetings are all lawful civic education activities."
If education is all the movement is about, then it is perfectly redundant. Many pan-democratic groups have been doing all those activities already. Dr Chan does not seem to recognise a fundamental point: he is trying to register a company that plans to break the law.
Civil disobedience either breaches specific laws because they are considered unjust or challenges the very unjust system on which those laws are based - such as slavery in 19th century America or South African apartheid. Socrates, Thoreau, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela all accepted that when they breached the law of their land, however unjust, no quarter would be given. The full weight of the law and its severe penalty would fall on them.
If you protest and disrupt traffic or public order, you should expect to be arrested. But like Chan, who blames the Companies Registry for harassment, many protesters today seem to think because they have right on their side, they should have immunity. They think it's the police interfering with their rightful activities, even though police often treat them with kid gloves. That's self-importance bordering on moral infantilism.