In September 2014, the Hong Kong police fired tear gas into crowds of protestors fighting for democracy and universal suffrage, starting the Umbrella Movement. Edward Lau Wai-tak was part of the Occupy team manning the barricades at the time. He reflects on the movement and discusses Hong Kong’s current political atmosphere following his run for district councilor of the University district in November 2015.
At the time of the Umbrella Movement, Lau was working for an outdoor education company that led trips into China. Though he’s now considered an “umbrella solider” Lau says he was politically apathetic before the movement. He changed his mind on September 28, when he saw police dragging protestors out of the streets. Following the Umbrella Movement, Lau became increasingly involved in politics and ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for district council in November 2015.
1. The Umbrella Movement showed a new side of Hong Kong
As soon as I went [to Admiralty], I was taken aback. This is a Hong Kong that I’ve never known, obviously the tear gas, smoky streets, the panicking people — that was something that was very weird, but even stranger was this solidarity that we felt. This guy was like, “Bro, you’re hungry,” and gave me a pack of biscuits. It’s something I’ve never experienced in Hong Kong; I’ve always thought Hong Kong was quite a cold , dog-eat-dog kind of society.
2. Hong Kong politics has since become more radical
[Hong Kong] identity is being systematically eroded by China and there is a more radical localist movement where people are taking a more antagonistic view towards China. I think more and more people are resorting to more extreme measures to achieve the autonomy that we feel that we deserve.
3. Young people are more politically active than ever
I’ve never seen so much political discussion amongst Hong Kong’s youth — a lot of them are actually very politically minded. I think a lot of them grew up when the national education campaign [was being discussed] and a lot of them became very politicized from a young age, say 14 or 15.
4. Politics is getting more tech-savvy
We should maximize this democratic value by using technology — things like Loomio, an app from New Zealand that you can download and use to help facilitate consensus decision making.
5. The Umbrella Movement ended but people aren’t over it
[People are] fettered by all these lingering emotions and all these memories from the Umbrella Movement. We really need to move towards solidarity, and the people from the various factions need to start talking to each other again. The Localists versus the “leftards” [a pro democracy group that is seen as pacifist or moderate] debates are just tearing our movement apart.
It’s about how we make a participatory democracy by using technology and mobile applications — things where the government is too slow because of their bureaucratic burden. That’s why [I was] running for district council. The district council has very little power, but it is meant to be the bridge between the government and the people.