It is the eleventh day of Occupying Action in Hong Kong. We have faced violence, threats from the government, and plots between the police and the gangs. The crowds are smaller this week than last, but still, every day, especially in the evening, there are thousands of protesters at the three occupied areas. We are more determined than ever to continue to stand firm for our citizens’ rights to experience a true democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong, our home and a place in China where we still have freedom of speech and expression.
The protests began when the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism demonstrated outside of the government headquarters on September 22 in response to the government’s proposed plan to take away our right to nominate the candidates for Chief Executive Election in 2017, effectively silencing our voices and opinions.
From there, the movement grew and by September 28, the police initiated their first major crackdown against protestors.The armed police used tear gas and pepper spray and threatened the protesters with even more violent action to clear the crowd. I was there that day as my organization HER Fund, which works with grassroots women’s groups, was one of the organizations supporting the students’ demonstration.
When the police came, we had no time to fear, our determination to resist and to struggle for our future moved us to occupy the space that we know belongs to us and to take a stand for the freedom that we want and the rights that we deserve. Peacefully, we sat down as conscientious citizens, as did people in Mongkok and Causeway By, other parts of the city. The protesters sustained the occupation by blocking the road, stopping the buses, and setting up road blocks with wooden racks, garbage bins, and anything they could get on the street.
For days, I stayed in the occupied area of the Mongkok district. Many people stopped by to support the efforts. They donated water, food, yellow ribbons, free mobile charging services and more. Some helped us make yellow ribbon to distribute to the people visiting the area. We cheered for each other and shared our views in the open street forum. It was so peaceful and empowering to us, the togetherness and solidarity as we struggled for a better Hong Kong with true democracy.
Then came more violence. On October 3, we were threatened with brutality by the oppositions. They swore at us, yelled at us to clear the stage of the occupied area, tore down the cover, sexually assaulted some of the women protesters, and beat the protesters who resisted and tried to protect the occupying space.
Women’s groups spoke out against these act of violence but there has been no response from the government; even the Equal Opportunities Commission and Women’s Commission has not said a word. Instead, every day, the authorities say threatening and distorted statements about our occupying action. We have to struggle on our own. Just today, the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition, one of HER Funds’ past grantees, began setting up a hotline for women protesters who need help if they experience sexual harassment or assault.
Women’s groups have played an essential role in the occupation on the streets. HER Fund grantee partners have mobilized more women to join in the movement and have helped them have a voice during this important time. For example, some created street forums to tell everyone in Hong Kong and the world that we, as women, and as citizens in Hong Kong, want to defend our human rights and social justice. There have been story-sharing sessions, where women have shared stories about using umbrellas to protect themselves from the pepper spray and expressed their fear and anger and their wishes for true democracy in Hong Kong.
One young woman said, “I can’t believe this could happen in Hong Kong, we are very peaceful protesters and we have not been violent at all. When the tear gas hit us, we are so frightened yet our conscience told us that we should not withdraw.”
I am with her. We love Hong Kong and we know our resistance is the only way to fight for our dreams: A better place with freedom and human rights protection! We also know the road toward sustained democracy is long with real harsh challenges ahead, but we will never give up. Our struggle will prevail. We will persist in our occupying action until the government withdraws the political reform proposal.
Fortunately, the government is now willing to open dialogue with the students’ representatives and a meeting will be held on October 10. We will see what happens. But come what may, we, the people in Hong Kong, will continue to persist our demands for true democracy.
Linda To is the Executive Director of HER Fund and a participant in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.