As Hong Kong welcomed the start of 2019, the town’s professional-democracy movement, made famous around the world after the Umbrella Movement, was in the doldrums.
Activists had been jailed, while others faced prosecution over the 2014 demonstrations, which shut down elements of the city for several months. Professional-democracy lawmakers had been kicked out of an office on a range of grounds, and numbers at events in their support or calling for political reform were dwindling. Polls found that confidence in the city’s future was at 16-12 months’ low.
Then came the extradition bill.
In keeping with organizers, more than a million people took to the streets Sunday to protest new legislation which could allow Hong Kongers to be deported to China on a range of offenses. Critics say the move would make anyone in Hong Kong vulnerable to being grabbed by the Chinese authorities for political reasons or inadvertent business offenses and undermine the city’s semi-autonomous legal system.
Though police put the protest size at closer to 250,000, there’s little doubt that the march was among the many largest since 2003, when 500,000 people protested against sedition law — and successfully blocked it.
That protest was motivated, in part, by fears the city could be subject to a China-type rule of law, or reasonably lack thereof. Fear of China is what drove people to the streets Sunday, too.
Sunday’s protest, however, wasn’t merely remarkable for its size — but additionally its demographics. While the Umbrella Movement galvanized Hong Kong’s youth and was mainly scholar-led, it wasn’t in style with everybody, and a few within the city felt it was disruptive to the enterprise.
Opposition to the extradition bill, however, got here from a broader cross-section of society.
Lawyers, enterprise people, middle-class, middle-aged first-time protesters were all on the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday.
Their presence confirmed that while the fight to extend Hong Kong’s freedoms may have fizzled, the willingness to battle to protect existing rights is as strong as ever.