Hong Kong activists mark Occupy protest anniversary and set sights on next battleground
Umbrellas revive memories and focus minds of protesters in both camps
Occupy organisers and protesters vowed yesterday to involve the wider community in their fight for greater democracy, looking to coming elections as the key battleground, as they marked the first anniversary of last year's mass sit-ins.
There was a strong sense of déjà vu near government headquarters in Tamar as hundreds returned to the site they had occupied for 79 days. They formed a sea of yellow umbrellas again, chanting the familiar slogan, "I want genuine universal suffrage".
But the mood was more subdued and reflective than aggressive, while police were out in force to prevent any violence or reoccupation of roads in Admiralty.
On the other side of Tamar and in Causeway Bay, more than 100 anti-Occupy protesters held a counter commemoration, claiming it "was not a day to celebrate", but a date that marked the beginning of Hong Kong's economic decline and deep social divide.
Anti-occupy protester John Chan Siu-yan, 29, said: "I still don't understand why my father, mother and sister supported Occupy. They have a different view and still do. We argue and bang on the dinner table about it."
Familiar-looking booths lined Tim Mei Avenue in Admiralty yesterday, hours before the pro-democracy rally started, as activists distributed T-shirts, leaflets and the ubiquitous yellow ribbons that symbolised the Occupy movement.
"Lots of memories flash back as I come back," said Daniel Tang, a booth volunteer. "It's understandable that many people are still recovering [from the ultimate failure of the movement] but we have to continue the fight."
November's district council polls followed by the Legislative Council elections next year would be the key areas of focus to sustain the pro-democracy drive, he said, looking ahead after exhausting the final resort - illegal occupation - last year.
Tang said: "Another round of occupation would only give the government an excuse that we are affecting the lives of others and it's hard to win support from family members."
Leaflets calling on voters to back pan-democratic candidates in the elections were handed out, while some participants said they were inspired to take up more active new roles in society.
Amy Cho, a social worker in her 30s, said she was inspired by the new pro-democracy groups set up by professionals post-Occupy, and may join one to stand firm on Hong Kong's core values.
Occupy organisers urged Hongkongers supporting democracy to continue the campaign and help foster better understanding to secure wider public support.
Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the trio who launched the campaign a year ago, said: "We can imagine if the central government continues to deny Hong Kong people genuine democracy, the people of Hong Kong will come out again."
There would definitely be "ongoing direct" movements across the city to fight for greater democracy, he added.
Student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung of activist group Scholarism said September 28 should not be marked as a day of celebration or festivity.
"A day that becomes a festival involves only ceremonies, losing focus of what can be done on the 364 other days of the year in civil society," he said.
At 5.58pm, the moment when police fired the first of 87 tear gas canisters at protesters a year ago, participants raised their yellow umbrellas and marked five minutes of silence to reflect on the civil disobedience campaign.
Before the rally, People Power activist Tam Tak-chi vowed to block Harcourt Road for 87 minutes, but there was no one to join him.
A number of civil rights groups also officially launched a new platform - the Anti-Political Prosecution Campaign - which organised yesterday's rally and vowed to help those they said were being "persecuted" for their political beliefs.
Police estimated 920 people took part in the rally yesterday at its peak.
Additional reporting by Ernest Kao, Gloria Chan and Allen Au-yeung