Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests – now in their fifth month – have captured headlines for mass marches and, increasingly, violent clashes with police. Police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed protesters, and shot two teenagers with live ammunition. Some protesters have hurled bricks and petrol bombs, and damaged properties linked to government and pro-Beijing interests. At least 2,000 people have been arrested.
The protests center upon widespread concerns that Beijing is eroding the autonomy promised to Hong Kong when China regained sovereignty over the British colony in 1997. For its part, Beijing has denounced the protests as riots, claiming they are part of a foreign-backed plot.
Often overlooked as tensions rise, however, are the majority of peaceful, creative, and determined citizens who keep turning out, day after day, to call for greater democracy, and greater accountability from police and the government. Young and old, from all walks of life, these nimble protesters aspire to “be water,” as they canvass streets with colorful art and stage ever-changing demonstrations, using symbolism, humor, and wit. Mutually supportive and strong-willed, they back a vanguard of front-line protesters – viewed by many Hong Kongers as heroes – who risk arrest to confront police.
Here’s how it feels to be immersed in a typical protest.