Where Were You October 1st?

The streets are littered with ‘ghost money’, trash, and burnt dumpsters. Remnants of barricades made of bamboo poles, metal fencing and plastic street barriers remain dispersed on street corners. Messages of “anti-Chinazi” and other protest slogans are splashed against MTR stops amid broken glass and desecrated images of Xi Jinping are seemingly glued to the streets, serving as a reminder of those who stood up against Asia’s most powerful kingpin.

Municipal street cleaners walk in a daze through the destroyed streets, unsure of where to begin in the mass cleanup effort that must take place. Onlookers gaze as some cleaners take to the C exit of Prince Edward MTR station to remove the white flowers and posters that recall the horrific assault on civilians and protesters in the station on the 31st of August, entirely ignoring the pileup of trash and street fencing which protesters used to barricade themselves against police. The MTR station exits throughout Mong Kok are vandalized and shattered glass from handicap elevators reminds me of a modern art piece. Two inches of standing water rests on the floor of the Mong Kok station, undoubtedly from the fire prevention system, triggered by dumpster fires protesters set at the entrances by protesters.

At the Cheung Sha Wan government offices on the northern end of Sham Shui Po, clear evidence depicts the chaos of the night before. Nearly every window is broken or vandalized with red paint from the ground floor to the third floor. Slightly down the street, a Bank of China location has had its glass shattered and red spray paint has been used to write protest slogans on its outer walls. Despite the destruction, no robberies were reported.

These are just the images I witnessed the morning after one of the most widespread and violent protests Hong Kong has yet to experience on National Day, October 1st. The destruction is the long overdue explosion of emotional outpouring from the anger that has gradually been increasing throughout the course of the summer, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to end anytime soon.

What I’ve learned talking with few locals in Mong Kok and conversing with people from Hong Kong Island, the social identity here has clearly changed. Many Hong Kongers used to feel they belonged in China, they considered themselves to be Chinese. No longer. After the numerous weeks of police brutality stretching from the beginning of June and the newly reported police shooting of an 18-year-old student protester on the October 1st protests, many Hong Kong citizens now consider themselves entirely separate from China. This is a precarious ideology given China’s relationship with Tibet, Xinjian Province, and Taiwan. The movement has now shifted as well, the protesters “5 Demands” originally calling for the 1. Full withdrawal of the extradition bill, 2. Commission of inquiry into police brutality, 3. Retracting the label of ‘rioters’, 4. Amnesty for arrested protesters, and 5. Universal suffrage for both the Legislative Council and Chief Executive are now shaping into a single more potent demand: complete democratic autonomy. Furthermore, the protest movement has demonstrated its power in popularity in the thousands of activists who appeared in nearly every part of Hong Kong: from Tuen Mun in the West, Tsuen Wan in the North, Wong Tai Sin and Sha Tin in the East, and Central/Wan Chai/Admiralty in the South on Hong Kong Island.

With such strength in numbers and resolve to resist the encroaching Chinese Dragon, it begs the question to everyone living in Hong Kong: where were you October 1st? But to those fighting for freedom it raises another question: where will you be in the future?