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(en) (A)N(A)RKISt(A)N: Three Months of Insurrection -- An Anarchist Collective in Hong Kong Appraises the Achievements and Limits of the Revolt

Date Wed, 25 Sep 2019 09:13:21 +0300

Adventure Analysis Current Events ---- In the following timeline and interview, an anarchist collective in Hong Kong presents a complete overview of the months-long uprising, reviewing its achievements, identifying its limits, celebrating the inspiring moments of mutual aid and defiance, and critiquing the ways that it has yet to pass beyond a framework based in the appeal to authority and the outrage of the citizen. This is a follow-up to the interview we published with the same group in June. ---- The struggle in Hong Kong has been polarizing on an international level. Some conspiracy theorists are determined to read any form of protest against the Chinese government merely as the machinations of the US state department, as if it were impossible for protesters to set their own agenda apart from state oversight. Others cheerlead for the movement without concern about the nationalist and neoliberal myths that still hold sway within it.

The events in Hong Kong show how a movement can actively reject the legitimacy of one government and its laws and police while still retaining a naïve faith in other governments, other laws, other police. As long as this faith remains in some form, the cycle is bound to repeat. Yet the past months of insurrection in Hong Kong can help us to imagine what a worldwide struggle against all forms of capitalism, nationalism, and the state might look like-and help us identify the obstacles that still remain to the emergence of such a struggle.

Graffiti on the wall of the Bank of China headquarters, central Hong Kong. From a set of photos by kjbb, ttbb, hybb of tclc.
Timeline of Events

You can find a more detailed timeline here. If you are already familiar with the events of the past three months, skip directly to the interview below.
June 2019

In spring 2019, the government of Hong Kong introduced a bill allowing for people to be extradited from Hong Kong to other countries, including mainland China.

A massive peaceful demonstration against the extradition bill took place on June 9, attended by millions of people. During the following week, some people on the online forum LIHKG proposed that the movement utilize economic protest tactics-for example, the comprehensive withdrawal of cash from savings accounts and general strikes. This did not occur on a visible scale until much later.

On June 12, when a meeting was scheduled in the legislative council about the extradition bill, protesters and police clashed around the government headquarters and the CITIC Tower. The meeting was adjourned. Police fired over 150 tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at protesters, injuring many people; they arrested five people, charging them with rioting.

Although the government announced on June 15 that the extradition bill would be suspended, a protester fell to his death later that day. In the will that he left, he called for the "complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, the retraction of the riot charge, the unconditional release of injured students; the resignation of Carrie Lam." From that point on, most of these were counted among the demands of the struggle. Two million people participated in street protests the following day, on June 16.
Late June to July 1

On June 21, protesters carried out the first experiments in "guerrilla" action, moving from the government headquarters to the police headquarters, the Revenue Tower, and the Immigration Tower in the adjacent district, blocking entrances and temporarily closing the respective departments. Some went back to the Revenue Tower the next day, June 22, to apologize to users for the inconvenience.

A crowd-funded global advertising campaign calling for G20 leaders to act on the Hong Kong crisis on June 26 generated no discernible response. Two more protesters committed suicide at the end of the month. Desperation intensified, leading many to propose that the struggle was facing an "endgame" situation with the approach of July 1.

That day, July 1, protesters broke into the Legislative Council (LegCo) building. Pacifist demonstrators privately voiced concerns about this action, but ultimately chose not to condemn those who engaged in it. Four protesters who entered the council chambers refused to leave when the riot police arrived, and a dozen protesters went back in to "rescue" them. From that point on, the resolutions "not to split" into factions (???) and "to come (arrive at the demonstration) and go (escape from the riot police) together" defined the collective ethos of the struggle.

Graffiti reading "Revolution will make way for an even more beautiful form of love." From a set of photos by kjbb, ttbb, hybb of tclc.
Early July: The Conflict Spreads

During the Umbrella Movement of 2014, demonstrators had invented the Lennon Wall, an impromptu and unauthorized public bulletin board, as a way for "conscientious citizens" to "peacefully petition the government for redress" in a widely visible way. During June 2019, this model had transcended its strictly pacifist origins to take on the functions of disseminating information and coordinating strategy. On June 30, the police destroyed the Lennon Wall that protesters had set up at the government headquarters. In response, Lennon Walls began to appear in every major district, staffed and guarded around the clock.

Although no one was arrested on July 1, many people feared that there would be subsequent police reprisals. Some fled to other countries. Necessity compelled everyone in the struggle to memorize, by rote, what they should say-and not say-when captured by the police. The phrase "I have the right to remain silent" became a popular meme, and the repetition of this mantra began to be used as a way to upvote posts on the LIHKG message board.

On July 7, the first rally occurred outside the main protest areas on Hong Kong Island, with slogans and leaflets directed at the Mainland tourists frequenting the area. Protests spread to a variety of other districts over the following weeks, notably occurring in Shatin on July 14. People from the neighborhood showed support by throwing swimming boards out of their windows to protesters, to be used as shields, and yelling at the police who entered their housing estates. Police charged into a shopping mall for the first time, leaving the floor of the Shatin New Town Mall bloody. The train to Shatin was suspended on police orders, while self-organized carpool teams formed to facilitate protesters' escapes.

On July 17, after a few severe clashes, thousands of senior citizens marched to show their support for young protesters, declaring that they were not conservative knaves like so many of their generation, like the apathetic and apolitical ones young people call "old rubbish."
July 21

A march to the Liaison Office of China-the official PR outlet of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong-saw the national emblem of China smeared with a thick coat of ink. For the first time, people chanted the slogan "Restore Hong Kong to Glory, Revolution of Our Times" en masse. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and sponge grenades
without prior notice.

Meanwhile, at Yuen Long station, white-shirted triads
assaulted protesters and civilians on the train. Some believe that pro-Beijing legislator Junius Ho was behind this attack. The assaults took place with the assistance of the police, who sat idly by. Few of the perpetrators were arrested and none were charged. This incident aroused deep popular rage against the police.

Graffiti reading "In the beginning, there was no such thing as the police." From a set of photos by kjbb, ttbb, hybb of tclc.
Late July to Early August: Escalation

For the first time in popular memory, the police refused to issue a permit for the march that was to take place in Yuen Long on July 27, a week after the triad attack. Thousands took defiantly to the street regardless. Marching without permission has since become the norm. A misunderstanding occurred between the protesters on the "agreed" departure time, resulting in long discussions on LIHKG and calls for better communication between the frontlines and the rows of partisans behind them.

On July 28, 49 partisans were arrested; most were charged with rioting. From that day until early August, the protests became more spontaneous and ephemeral, with protesters traveling to different stations via the Hong Kong metro, MTR (Mass Transit Railway), chiefly targeting police stations. For the first time, people began hurling Molotovs and bricks at police stations, as well as using slingshots. More and more people from the neighborhood came out to support the struggle, yelling at the police and driving them back into their stations. Police repeatedly deployed tear gas in residential areas and around homes for the elderly.

People blocked the Cross-Harbor Tunnel on August 3. On August 5, a squad of male officers carried away a female protester in Tin Shui Wai, deliberately lifting her skirt and exposing her. At the same time, reports began to circulate about sexual assault in police stations.

On August 5, thousands participated in a "general strike" in different districts. People blocked the doors of train cars on the MTR early that morning, stopping almost every line of the MTR. (This had been "rehearsed" on July 30, when one station was shut down early in the morning, followed by short and periodic blockages at various important interchange stations on Hong Kong island in the afternoon.) In many districts, the clashes around police stations lasted all day. That night, pro-government gangs dressed in blue or white shirts attacked protesters with iron poles and knives.

Graffiti reading "General strike, August 5." From a set of photos by kjbb, ttbb, hybb of tclc.
Mid-August: An Eye for an Eye

In response to the police arresting a young man for owning 10 laser pointers, describing them as "dangerous weapons," people created their own harbor-front light show with laser pointers outside the Hong Kong Space Museum on August 7. That same day, the first press conference took place on behalf of the struggle, organized by a group of protesters as a counterpart to the daily police press conferences.

Flash-mob blockades appeared in multiple districts the weekend of August 10. On August 11, protesters from Sham Shui Po moved to Tsim Sha Tsui, where the police ruptured the right eye of a female first-aider using beanbag rounds. "An eye for an eye" became a viral meme, and the "Eye for Hong Kong Campaign" started by Kim Ui-Seong, a well-known South Korean actor, spread around the world later in August.

A meme about the woman who lost her eye in the demonstrations. The hashtags read "Blasted out a girl's eye," "Hong Kong awakening," "It's only a beanbag round," and "Being a good person brings peace to the world." The first refers to the HKPF blinding her; the second is a general slogan of the movement; the third is a quote from the chief of HKPF press conference on the incident; and the fourth is a quote from the chief executive, Carrie Lam, at the beginning of the movement, trying to justify the bill: "If you're a good person, you have nothing to worry about."

On the same day, police fired tear gas inside an enclosed space at Kwai Fong station and shot at protesters from close range, pushing them down an already crowded escalator at Tai Koo station. Undercover cops dressed as protesters made arrests without prior notice. This sowed distrust among protesters.

The next day, August 12, thousands gathered at the airport to condemn police brutality, causing hundreds of flights to be cancelled. Rumors that riot squads were about to arrive spread all afternoon; many left early, before 6 pm. Afterwards, feeling deceived, angry protesters returned to the airport on August 13 and actively blocked passengers from boarding. The atmosphere became tenser later in the evening when protesters identified two men disguised as protesters-one a mainland security officer, the other a journalist from Global Times who had close ties with the mainland security department. Both were tied up and beaten by protesters. The incident was widely reported in the mainland, stirring strong opposition to the movement. Disputes raged afterward among protesters regarding how to treat infiltrators, leading to a public show of contrition on August 14. Despite the disagreements, a sense of "unity" persisted, a unity that protesters swore would survive a nuclear explosion (?????).

Defaced MTR ticket machines. From a set of photos by kjbb, ttbb, hybb of tclc.
The End of August

Millions of peaceful protesters attended a march on August 18 despite heavy rain. On August 23, the "Hong Kong Way" action took place across the city. Aviation staff and Cathay Pacific union leaders who assisted the airport blockades or showed sympathy to the movement on social media were fired under pressure from Beijing. Multiple reports circulated about detainees being badly beaten and sexually assaulted, even raped. A #ProtestToo gathering against sexual violence took place on August 28.

On August 24, the MTR closed down several stations and stopped train service at the related districts immediately before a demonstration in Kwun Tong. From that day on, protesters began to refer to the MTR as the "Party Train" (??); it became a target of vandalism. At the Kwun Tong protest, protesters presented what have become known as "the five demands": full withdrawal of the bill, revocation of "riot" charges, unconditional release of all arrestees, establishment of an independent inquiry into the crimes of the police, and universal suffrage. Some also cut down the "smart lampposts" installed in the district, RFID-equipped streetlights that are set to be upgraded with facial recognition technology. They sawed the posts down, disassembled the circuitry, and identified where the component pieces were manufactured.

On August 31, despite the arrests of high-profile activists and councilors, thousands still took to the street. Water cannons had been tested for the first time on August 25; now they were used at full strength to douse the crowd with blue pepper liquid. Protesters set fire to roadblocks around the police headquarters; they also identified and surrounded an undercover policeman.

Later, in Prince Edward station, police indiscriminately beat and pepper-sprayed protesters and commuters in a train cabin. Seven people were seriously injured. At least three people are still unaccounted for at the time of writing; many believe that police murdered them. There has been no response to popular demands for the MTR to release the CCTV footage. After this, hatred against the police and the MTR reached new heights, and people circulated various methods to evade train fares.

Police using water cannons to douse protesters with blue pepper liquid.
Early September

On September 1, thousands gathered at the bus station and on the main road towards the airport, the airport building itself being off-limits since the high court passed a restraining order on protesters following the airport blockades. This action effectively paralyzed traffic towards the airport throughout the afternoon. Universities and secondary school students went on strike on September 2, with many facing assaults from police and supporters of the government in front of their schools. Students and alumni formed multi-school human chains in various districts throughout the week.

Finally, on September 4, the chief executive announced the withdrawal process of the extradition bill-a process that will begin after the end of Parliamentary Recess in October. Yet the movement continues to insist that the government must grant all five demands. As of this writing, vandalism in MTR stations continues, along with inquests regarding the whereabouts of the "disappeared" and demands for the release of the CCTV footage from August 31.

Stencil graffiti on a wall in Hong Kong island: "Four demands unanswered." From a set of photos by kjbb, ttbb, hybb of tclc.

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