The Umbrella Movement (also recognized as the Umbrella Revolution) was a series of sit-in street protests organized by pro-democracy students in Hong Kong from September to December 2014. The Umbrella Movement arose in response to reforms of the Hong Kong electoral system, which were viewed as restrictive.
Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory south of Mainland China that is treated as a Special Administrative Region. Although I personally view the Hong Kong SAR as a unique nation of its own, politics there are influenced by the Communist Party of China. The CPC has exerted control over Hong Kong by pre-screening candidates in the SAR’s political elections, rooting out those who advocate total independence or policies that would disadvantage Mainland China.
Western media outlets and people viewed the Umbrella Movement as heroic, and the group’s activities were widely reported. Umbrella Movement activists had taken over parts of the city – Admiralty in Hong Kong Island’s central business district, Causeway Bay in the built-up Wan Chai district of the island, and Mong Kok across the bay in Kowloon.
I visited the Admiralty protest site on October 29, 2014, the day of the Umbrella Ultra Marathon. The marathon involved 150 runners and covered a total distance of 114.9 kilometers. Seen on a map, the route was in the shape of an umbrella. I captured the following photos during my tour of the Admiralty “campsite.”
Umbrella Movement protesters in Admiralty set-up a sprawling tent city on Harcourt Road and on numerous connecting streets. The protests were peaceful, until police forces began to clear the streets with force in November and December. The coordinated effort among the three Umbrella Movement “areas” was much larger than similar mass demonstrations seen in the United States, notably the 2011-2012 “Occupy Wall Street” movement.
One of the most common posters on display read, “Right of Public Assembly Shall Not Be Infringed.” As an American, I often take my First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly for granted. Those rights do not exist in the same way elsewhere.
Pro-democracy protestors held up umbrellas to protect themselves from the pepper spray used by police. The umbrella thus became the symbol of the movement. The photo above depicts a beautiful piece of art – a collection of umbrellas connected together and strung between two footbridges.
Social media was important to the movement. Pictures and reports shared from the protest sites gained support for the Umbrella Movement around the world. I sent a few tweets myself with the #UmbrellaMovement hashtag.
“A SOCIETY THAT EXCLUDES IT’S OWN CITIZENS THROUGH THE USE OF FORCE IS A SOCIETY HEADING NOWHERE!”
While I was personally supportive of the Umbrella Movement’s cries for freedom, the occupation of major parts of the city had to end at some point. Still, support for the movement had grown substantially, as this wall of post-it notes demonstrates.
Every surface that could be covered with political posters, messages or cartoons was. This drawing was one of the most creative and my favorite. The influence exerted by the Chinese government and thus the national Communist Party was seen by the movement as oppressive.
? “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one” ?
John Lennon’s song “Imagine” was widely quoted on the posters and banners decorating the Umbrella Movement protest sites. The song became one of the anthems of the movement.
The tent city at Admiralty was very much a community. As I toured the area, passionate conversations were occurring all around me. I spotted several “democracy classrooms,” like the one pictured above.
Other community resources included medical tents, bathrooms, showers, charging stations and a food dispensary.
I had followed the #UmbrellaMovement Twitter feeds with interest and curiosity before my trip to Hong Kong. The hashtag #janposuen appeared with photos of this graffiti’d car. I was excited to find it at Admiralty.
One of my favorite messages written on the car was, “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” In my opinion, that statement was very reflective of the Umbrella Movement itself. While they practiced civil disobedience, they did not aim to be destructive of anything but the political status quo.
To prove I was there, I took a selfie with a cardboard cut-out of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was hilariously holding a yellow umbrella and was adorned with Umbrella Movement ribbons.
While the mega demonstrations of the Umbrella Movement are over (for now), they were successful in at least bringing attention to the struggle for democracy – not only in Hong Kong, but in other areas of the world where people do not have a voice.
In an area of the world where accessibility is questionable at best, I was grateful to have an opportunity to move throughout the city of Hong Kong and the Umbrella Movement’s tent city in Admiralty. To learn more about my time in Asia’s very own NYC, read my Hong Kong wheelchair accessible travel guide.