What happened on 1 July 2014?

I have been busy, so I cannot tell you all the goings-on in the world off the top of my head.  Let me take out my iPad and Google it for you, if that’s alright.

  • In Brazil, it was the end of the road for the American Dream, and Messi was nervous over an early exit.  Fear not Argentinian fans, they edged past the Swiss and hung on in there by a thread.
  • At Wimbledon, Nadal was beaten by Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, leading the teenager to set his sights on the World Number One ranking.  Sorry, Sharapova was knocked out too.
  • Iraqi militants gained ground on rebels, civil war rages on in Syria, and the Ukraine crisis is not letting up.  People are still suffering everywhere.
  • Monty Python return to the stage after several decades’ absence.
  • The European Commission slashes mobile roaming fees by 55%, just in time for the  summer vacation season.

You really want to know what kept my hands full?  I was up at half six and stayed online for the whole day until 2 am this morning, despite my bad left eye complaining constantly. Of course, I left laundry and ironing undone, the carpets need vacuuming, and a husband returning from work sat quietly by himself all evening.

First of July, why is it different from any other day, I hear you ask?  Well, where I come from, it is the day that sovereignty was handed back to China.  Though officially declared a public holiday for celebration, people had other ideas; instead, it has become a day to join forces and voice out opinions, push for democracy or whatever you believe in. We do that by stepping out, occupying the streets from Victoria Park to Central. The numbers over the years have varied, topping 530,000 in 2004.

This year, distant thunder rumbled In June.  Beijing’s White Paper on Hong Kong issued on Tuesday 10 June was considered by many as an erosion of the rights being promised in the practice of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, and an assault on the rule of law of Hong Kong. Reactions? 1800 lawyers silently marched through the city in black. The unofficial referendum organised by Occupy Central, aimed at boosting support for universal suffrage by 2017, garnered nearly 800,000 votes in ten days despite historical cyber attacks on the voting systems and various dirty tricks employed by opponents.

Seventeen years since the handover, the gradual influx from across the border (along with bad habits contaminating the quality of life) has inflated ill feeling among the locals. ‘Appointed’ government officials leaning towards the Mainland; allowing developers hegemony thus widening the disparity of rich and poor; the row over the controversial national education programme…. the list goes on. But in a nutshell, discontent and grievances are growing.  The city is dying, it is being said.

So, do you care about what happened on 1 July 2014?  It seems the world cares.  Read these front page headlines:

  • Hong Kong Protesters lifted kicking and screaming from downtown rally (Reuters)
  • Hugh crowds turn out for Pro-democracy March in Hong Kong, defying Beijing (New York Times)
  • Police arrest 511 after Big Hong Kong Democracy Rally (The Telegraph)

Holding my iPad, I watched people coming out in their tens of thousands, many for the first time, braving the heat and rain and road blocks set up by the police.  The government did not want to make it easy for her people.  It was a long and slow walk, one step at a time.  Starting at 3 o’clock, the last man crossed the finishing line an hour before midnight.  They made it.  Official figures put it at 510,000; the police cut it down to 98,600 and a more scientific calculation estimated 1.3 million, chanting hopeful slogans along the way : We Save Our Hong Kong; We Choose Our Own Government.  History was in the making.

Not wanting to lose the momentum, two student groups had prepared to carry out Civil Disobedience after the rally.  The Federation of Students (from various universities) and Scholarism (formed by high school students) planned to sit-in peacefully until 8 am the next morning.  There were several thousand of them in two locations, overwhelmed by the presence of police and their continuous threats.

I am very sad that the students are here again, fighting for democracy and a better future on our behalf.  I could not stop crying. Where are we? Just sitting here, worried sick.  At 3 o’clock in the morning, the police asked the press to leave.  When they refused, the violent clear out began anyway.  The protesters linked hands and laid down. Each one was unlocked and lifted, their arms and hands twisted by four to six policemen. The scene was ugly and sickening, brought to us by livestream video.  The torture was prolonged, perhaps tactically, by the police to stop, and resume after a few arrests.  The few remaining fighters had a lively countdown to 8 o’clock when they considered their mission accomplished.

There were 511 arrests.  Only one telephone line was made available for them to seek legal help.  Nine lawyers who turned up voluntarily were initially refused any meetings. Food was not available… you would hear their stories after their release.

A lot happened elsewhere in the world on 1 July, but all I care about is witnessing a turning point in the push for democracy in Hong Kong.  It is a long long road, we learn that from history.  It all starts with a group of brilliant young students….

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