The most surprising thing about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy campaigners is that they are still there. A month after a small group of students stormed a space outside the government’s head office, the protests now known as the “umbrella movement” have confounded predictions of chaos, apathy or a violent crackdown by China. Though a compromise on democratic reform remains as distant as ever, Hong Kong’s mostly civil activists have changed the city’s political geography for good.
In the months before what was originally known as Occupy Central got underway, Hong Kong politicians and business leaders forecast that civil disobedience would cause disruption and chaos. In fact, apart from the clouds of tear gas at the start of the protests, and subsequent scuffles between protesters, their opponents, and the police, the movement has been overwhelmingly civil.
The three-lane highway that passes in front of Hong Kong’s central government buildings has been transformed into an impromptu city-centre campsite. Wandering between the hundreds of numbered, multicoloured tents on Harcourt Road feels more like attending a nerdy music festival than a hotbed of political agitation. Each evening, scores of students diligently complete their homework at specially-constructed desks, as protest leaders deliver speeches nearby.
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