For years, 42-year-old Alice Chan rarely took part in protests, citing a fatalistic belief that “Hong Kong is already dead”. But that changed when police fired tear gas at Occupy protesters on September 28.
“When the Tiananmen crackdown happened, I was watching television. Images of the tear gas this time reminded me of watching the Beijing crackdown as a student,” the office worker said.
“If I don’t come out and fight for democracy this time, there won’t be a second chance. The students are so young yet they have been at the forefront of the movement. As an adult I must come out too.”
Soon after the Occupy movement started, 17-year-old Ng Kai-man quit her job as a waitress to become a full-time occupier. The secondary school dropout felt there was more to life than making money.
“I still have the rest of my life to make money. I needed to come out and contribute to help the city make democratic progress,” said Ng, who has been helping out at a resource centre for protesters in Admiralty.
As protesters brace themselves for the clearance of their site today, Ng has been visiting Sham Shui Po to give away food donated to protesters to the homeless.
Gregory Lo was easy to spot among the predominantly young Occupy protesters. Now in his 70s, he joined the Occupy movement because of what he called police brutality and due to his discontent with the “incompetent” government.
“Leaving this place [Admiralty] does not mean that the fight for democracy is over. We have planted many seeds in terms of raising awareness. This movement is definitely a success,” he said.
Sam Hui Kai-chun, a final-year nursing student at Polytechnic University, said the spirit shown by protesters during the Occupy movement had lifted his belief in Hongkongers.
“In the first one to two weeks, when there were a lot of people here in Admiralty, I felt like this place was a utopia. Everyone was so friendly and kind in helping each other out,” he said. Hui, who has been working as a first-aider for the movement, said he could not believe police used batons against protesters.
After more than two months supporting the Occupy movement, media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying said he is ready to be arrested.
“The most precious thing that came out of this movement is that Hong Kong discovered and woke up a whole generation that will continue the fight for democracy,” he said. Lai said large-scale sit-ins or similar Occupy protests are not likely in the future. “It’ll be hard to gather enough momentum and have enough organisation to do something this big again,” he said. “I believe future actions will be a lot like the [Mong Kok shopping] movement, or the likes of it … people stopping to tie their shoelaces in the middle of the street, people going shopping – very grass roots and ad hoc.”
Oscar Lai Man-lok, spokesman for Scholarism, has been at the forefront of the Occupy movement. He said: “No matter how tired we have been, we have not given up on our fight for democracy. One of the protesters, Uncle Wong, is already very old and he has been here with us throughout. How can we say we are tired and give up?” he said.
He admitted that some of the group’s strategies had not panned out as hoped, but every mistake they made was a learning process.
“An old protester once encouraged us by saying that we are still young, and that we need to keep learning and have faith in ourselves.”
Since the Occupy movement started, head protest marshal Alex Kwok Siu-kit has not slept at home. But it has been worth it, he said.
“Democracy will not just come after a single campaign. But we have aroused the concern of many people on the matter,” he said.
“I have gained so many happy memories here and have made many friends. Even after this movement ends, we will all stay in touch and remain friends.”
Karen Ho Chui-ying, 28, recalled waking up one chilly morning outside the Legislative Council with somebody else’s shirt laid across her.
“It was so cold that night. I woke up and found that someone had put a shirt on me,” said Ho. “At that moment I felt so warm.”