Hong Kong Braces for Fifth Anniversary of Umbrella Movement

Pro-democracy protesters hold umbrellas and wear protective clothing in front of a police line near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on September 28, 2014. Police fired tear gas as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators brought parts of central Hong Kong to a standstill Sunday, in a dramatic escalation …
Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong police on Thursday gave their approval for a rally on Saturday to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement, until now the most vigorous pro-democracy demonstrations since control of Hong Kong passed to China.

The organizers of the commemorative rally, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), are big players in the current Hong Kong protest movement, which has grown far beyond what the 2014 revolutionaries were able to accomplish.

According to the CHRF, the Umbrella Movement commemoration will only last for two hours on Saturday evening, even though the police “letter of no objection” (effectively a permit) granted them a much larger window of time at their chosen venue, Tamar Park.

Similarities between the Umbrella protests and the current demonstrations are obvious. Some of the same organizers are involved. Younger demonstrators today often point to the Umbrella marchers as inspirations and wave umbrellas to salute them (and also because umbrellas are useful tools for shielding demonstrators from rain, pepper spray, and intrusive state cameras). The core demand of the Umbrella Movement, full representative democracy, is also one of the five key demands of the new demonstrators.

There are also differences, sometimes thanks to lessons learned from the Umbrella experience. The new protesters are more loosely organized and quicker to adjust their plans using social media communications. They have adopted a more somber tone than the relatively upbeat Umbrella demonstrators, preferring anthems and hymns to bouncy pop tunes, donning black clothes and masks, and signaling their unshakable determination in various ways.

The CHRF also obtained clearance for a rally on China National Day, October 1, a date which promises to be a significant milestone in the protest movement. The mainland Chinese government is widely presumed to be very unhappy at the thought of pro-democracy demonstrators filling the streets of Hong Kong on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Hong Kong officials indicated this week that China National Day 2019 will be a rather muted affair in the city, with celebrations toned down, fireworks canceled, and VIPs moved indoors to avoid confrontations with demonstrators. The mainland government is increasingly furious at protesters for desecrating the PRC flag, a gesture of defiance likely to be repeated numerous times on National Day.

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