D.Y. Chang, a photographer and educator living in Hong Kong, gives his take on the Occupy Central protests.
When I first arrived in the Admiralty and Mongkok districts of Hong Kong, I was amazed at how clean, calm and organised the protesters were. People of all ages, socio-economic backgrounds and political stripes were there and it was truly awe-inspiring how peaceful and upbeat people were.
Local Hong Kong residents, mainland Chinese and foreign tourists as well as expats were talking with each other about social injustices in small groups. There was singing and dancing. Passersby were donating food and drinks. Students organised teams to collect rubbish and recyclables. Medical students set up temporary clinics. Professors offered free lectures and tutors helped secondary school students who were missing class. There were even people who would help others climb over the road dividers onto the motorways to join the protesters.
It was really nice being able to talk to strangers, seeing people help each other and not having to breathe the noxious fumes of the cars, lorries and buses that normally monopolise the Occupy districts. I never thought this kind of thing would happen in a city that is known for its cold, often unfriendly efficiency. It made me proud to be a Hong Kong resident for the first time in my nine years of living here.
Being a city of seven million people, there are going to be differing opinions and for the most part discussion is civil. I witnessed two young men who were democracy supporters debating with a pro-government middle-aged man, yet the discussion was upbeat and friendly. "Hong Kong society is sick," an older man kept reiterating when I listened to him and a few strangers discussing the Occupy Central movement.
Occupy Central has its opponents. Passersby sometimes yell at the students to stop blocking the street and to allow people to make a living. There were also anti-Occupy protesters who attacked the stands in Mongkok, although I haven't seen these attacks myself. Every time I've been down to the Admiralty and Mongkok, the protests have been very peaceful and I hope they stay that way.
As a global financial hub, and a first world society, it is a shame that 20 percent of Hong Kong residents live below the poverty line. As a volunteer, I have seen the deplorable conditions in the notorious cage homes, visited people in tiny public housing flats and worked with organisations helping people at the grassroots level. Salaries and living standards have been falling for more than a decade and real estate prices seem to be doubling every two or three years. The government's policies and crony capitalism have failed Hong Kong at every turn.
This Occupy Protest is not a spontaneous outburst against the central government's universal suffrage model but is rooted in socio-economic factors. I think this needs to be stated clearly. The business elites and government clearly do not understand this.
It is not due to foreign government influences or a few 'radical' protest leaders, as Beijing would like everyone to believe. To believe that would be condescending and a misrepresentation of the facts. People are suffering at the grassroots level, and after witnessing the police brutality last Sunday, more and more people are coming out to say 'enough is enough'.
As the protests wind down, and the reality of the long fight for democracy and better governance sets in, the hope is that the protests will bring about meaningful dialogue between Hong Kong people and the local government. We hope that in time the local government can accurately gauge and represent the feelings of the people when engaging with Beijing.
D.Y. Chang is an educator and photographer in Hong Kong. His views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.