Protesters stand off against police during a clash at an anti-government rally in Tsuen Wan district in Hong Kong on August 25, 2019. | Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

“If we don’t win … I don’t think we can win. But I just feel like we should do something, even though there’s a slim chance.”

The protesters in Hong Kong tend to live in the present: this one demonstration, this one act of resistance, this one small victory, this one setback. If they pause, if they let themselves be broken, they might lose everything.

The momentum also helps avoid the question of what comes after. The future could be scary or hopeful or the same as before. They don’t know, so they just have to try and try and try, for something.

Right now, the protesters have five main demands, which include scrapping the extradition bill that started the protests in June, mounting an independent inquiry into police brutality, and gaining universal suffrage for Hong Kong citizens.

They’re also fighting for things that don’t fit neatly on a list: homeland, culture, freedom, democracy, a “one country, two systems” rule that they had no say in creating but want to protect for as long as they can.

Vox has collected six first-person accounts from Hongkongers who have been involved with the protests in some way. Each person we spoke to told us a personal story about how the protests have affected their lives and their city, and what it means to be part of this movement.

Protester in a gas mask points into the distance.Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong, China on June 12, 2019, against a now-suspended bill that would allow for extraditions to mainland China.

Because of fears for their safety and security, some asked to use just their first names or initials, while others asked to remain anonymous. All these accounts were gathered through phone conversations that took place just before and after the airport protests that captured the world’s attention on August 12 and 13.

The testimonials aren’t meant to be a definitive account of the protests, but rather an intimate glimpse into what the people participating in and supporting this movement think, feel, and want.

Their stories, edited for length and clarity, are below.

“There’s so little time left.”

—Chloe, 19, part-time waitress who’s studying in England next year

I don’t go to protests as much as I did in June, because it starts to get exhausting and it’s starting to feel like — you know how some people, they’re getting a bit radical with all the vandalism and just throwing bricks and setting fire? I don’t blame them, but I don’t agree with the message they’re using. Like with July 1, with the [storming of the] Legislative Council. It’s a violent way of getting in somewhere, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily violent because it didn’t really hurt anyone.

The main focus should be the government, but a lot of the noise has shifted onto the police fighting with the citizens. Maybe it’s the government trying to make this whole thing a civilian matter. You know how on July 21 there were these men in white T-shirts who were attacking citizens? I feel like the government might be trying to pit citizens against each other so they can come out and be the good guy and just clear up everything, clear up the whole mess.

It’s just getting out of hand. I don’t really know where this is going because I feel like what we’re doing essentially is trying to just buy more time for Hong Kong so it doesn’t get completely controlled by the Chinese government. So they won’t gain control as quickly.

But I don’t really know what the future holds.

I’ve heard my parents and my cousins and some opposing opinions out there saying, “Oh, you have to be realistic. You know China’s not going to bow down to Hongkongers. China’s not going to listen to you.” Of course we know that. It’s like fighting a giant, and we know the chances are slim. It’s not like we’re dumb. It’s not like we don’t know this is difficult.

It feels impossible to make the Hong Kong government stand down because even though they have suspended the bill, I don’t think they’re going to withdraw it. I think the government thinks they’ve already made a compromise. So with all these further protests, I think the government thinks we’re being crybabies.

The goal is starting to get blurry. I don’t think a lot of Hongkongers have a vision of what the future should look like. We know what we don’t want it to be like — we know we don’t want to become like China. But we also don’t really know what’s possible, what’s the realistic solution to save Hong Kong.

I don’t know what we should do because I feel all these protests, they’re not really working. The government’s not really listening to us. They just think we’re rioters, they think we’re making trouble. Those who just want a normal life — they don’t understand because they think we’re just messing Hong Kong up; they think we’re being too demanding.

Protesters hold red signs saying “no extradition.”Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Protesters hold placards and shout slogans during a rally against the extradition law proposal on June 9, 2019, in Hong Kong.

It makes me worried because every time I think about what Hong Kong will feel like after this 50-year lease, I get scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope China will still give us autonomy, but it’s not very likely. I don’t know how we can get Hong Kong to stay the way it is.

If we don’t win … I don’t think we can win. But I just feel like we should do something, even though there’s a slim chance. At least we’re trying. Maybe sometimes, trying isn’t good enough.

I’m just a normal citizen, I don’t really have that much power. We thought with the G20 conference [in June,] we could get help from the United States or the United Kingdom, but obviously they’re not going to help us. [President Donald] Trump has said he was hoping China and Hong Kong could work it out. That’s an obvious “no” to Hong Kong.

Trump and Xi on opposite sides of a table with flags in the background.Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping attend a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29, 2019.

It just feels like we’re abandoned. We’ve always been.

I used to think that I could build a family here, and maybe my kids could have a future here. I can grow old in Hong Kong. But I don’t think I can still do that because it wouldn’t be the Hong Kong I used to know. It wouldn’t be the Hong Kong I love. I don’t think I can stay here.

A lot of people I know, they’re thinking the same way. Whenever I tell people I’m studying in England soon, they’ll be like, “Oh, good for you, you should leave as soon as you can.” Everyone says that.

Most of my friends, and even my parents, they don’t like the protests at all. They think we’re just making trouble. They think Hong Kong is fine as it is. They don’t really mind China taking over.

One of my grandmothers grew up in mainland China, and the other one, she grew up in Hong Kong. The one who grew up in Hong Kong thinks all these protesters are just mobs and gangs because she’s always thought Hong Kong was a good place and we’re ruining it.

But my grandmother from the mainland, she knows how awful the [ruling Chinese] Communist Party was because she lived through the Cultural Revolution. So she supports me going to the protests, but she doesn’t agree with the violence.

It was really touching when she told me she supports me, because almost all of my family doesn’t support me going to the protests. She’s the only one who does. But she still worries because of how violent this has become, like all those people getting hurt by the police.

It’s just sad to see. The police used to be okay, but now it’s just a clear divide because most citizens hate the police, and the police hate citizens too. There’s a mutual hatred. I’m sure that some of the police, they’re just doing their jobs. Some of them just want order; they just want to protect the city.

But some of them definitely have bad intentions. There’s this hatred being built up within the police force and they just think, “Oh, you all hate us, then fine, we can use our power to suppress it,” or something.

I hope it doesn’t end with the People’s Liberation Army [China’s military]. I don’t think it will happen. Hong Kong is still pretty international. But if China wants us to be ruined, I think there’s no stopping them.

The protests really made me love Hong Kong even more. It can never go back to the way it was, so I’m really going to miss how it used to be. I see how China is slowly taking control and the culture is slowly seeping in.

It’s scary. I never really realized how scary the situation is. I never really thought about the expiration date. I thought, “I’m going to be so old by then.” But I’m not going to be that old! I’m going to be, like, 40 or 50. Now it just hits me. There’s so little time left.

“The city is sick now.”

—C.K., 39, counselor at a nongovernmental organization

How do I see the future of Hong Kong? Horrible! But I still have hope.

The extradition bill was ridiculous, and it was the triggering point for everyone. Suddenly, people, we are like, “We have to stick together and use this chance to unfold our needs, our wounds, to the government.”

There is a lot of arguing. There are a lot of brainwashed people, and the city is sick now. People are blaming each other. There are lots of family fights. It may not be physical, but verbal. There are lots of families in crisis.

I am supporting the protesters by giving to a support group because there are so many people who seem depressed. The participants in the group, they may not be protesters themselves, but they are supporting the protesters. Some of them are on the front lines, though. We have a small group, and they can express what they are concerned about, and how they deal with the difficulties over this recent situation in Hong Kong.

Generally, there are some common elements among the participants. First, depression. Second, family conflict. Third, hopelessness. The hopelessness was so strong recently. I think you know that 1 million people took to the street. Then 2 million people. And yet there’s no result.

Protesters in the streets in Hong Kong.Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Protesters occupy a street demanding Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam step down after a rally against the now-suspended extradition bill outside of the Chief Executive Office on June 17, 2019, in Hong Kong.

Most of them are suffering. People on the front lines, they are suffering by not getting support from others, or being named rioters. There are those who say, “I am supporting the government, and you guys, you’re like children. You are naughty, ridiculous. Not willing to take any responsibility.” Blaming the protesters.

But they are also worried about their children; they think the younger generation is getting brainwashed by overseas governments. There are lots of rumors.

For some people like me, who are not working on the front lines but are supporting the protesters, they may not have a space to talk about it, or are hiding lots of things that a group of peers can talk about.

“Political views are tearing the city, this society, apart.”

—Tim, 26, finance professional

The whole movement has evolved. It’s about democracy and the corruption between gangsters and police. It’s not only the extradition bill now.

With the five demands, there’s short-term and long-term goals. Short-term is, of course, withdraw the bill completely. But I don’t think that if [Hong Kong] chief executive [Carrie Lam] said she’d withdraw the bill tomorrow, we will cooperate. It’s not going to happen. We are now saying she has to agree on all five demands.

The chief executive still has not responded to any of our demands. She keeps saying she won’t promise anything to us and we have to stop our protests or stop the violence.

Personally, I would say if she launched an independent investigation into the police, I think some of the crowd will just go away. The distrust between police and citizens has never been this bad before. During one of the airport protests, the slogan was “Don’t trust Hong Kong police,” because of the way the police handled recent protests, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds.

 Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images
Police fire tear gas during clashes with protesters at Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong on August 24, 2019.

Universal suffrage is one of the most important demands. It’s the root cause of everything, and it’s for the long-term benefits for the whole Hong Kong society. I think that is the most important demand, even more than starting an independent investigation into the police.

Hong Kong deserves democracy. Before these two months of protests, I felt like no one wanted to sacrifice. No one wanted to go out and fight against the government. But now I think Hong Kong people actually care about the city. They love the city, and they are not selfish.

Protesters are also helping each other. They buy food and they buy gear and medical supplies for the front lines. They share like they are families, though we don’t always show many parts of our face and we don’t even know each other. After a night, we may never meet again, but we still help each other, because we share the same goal. We love this city.

Some of the protesters, they don’t have much money; they’re actually starving all the time. Most of them need to buy defensive gear. In restaurants, they’ll order a tiny portion, the cheapest food. Or white bread to get full when they’re not having a proper meal.

They give up all of their savings and their summers, and they actually said they’re ready to die or ready to get arrested and put in jail for years. … I am touched because they are ready to give up their lives.

I heard from others that some of the protesters are putting letters in their backpack for their families, in case something happens.

Most of the 1990s and 1980s generations know the value of freedom and democracy. However, the older generations like my mom and dad — those in their 50s or 60s — they will focus more on the economy, so they can feed their families and they can have shelter and they can earn money. Getting enough money to live is the most important thing to them.

But for the younger generation, of course, we are affected by the British government system. Democracy and freedom, freedom of speech, are the basic values of society. We value that more than money or security because we know that money’s not everything. We’re really thinking longer term, and we want our generation to have a better society.

For my mom and dad’s generation, they think eventually China will take over. But for the younger generation, we think we can at least fight for what we deserve and what is stated in the law. We will try as hard as possible to at least make it to 2047. Some are saying that we can bargain to expand the “one country, two systems” rule forever, or at least extend it for another 50 years.

No one knows what Beijing will do after 2047. But at least we are strongly against them accelerating to one country, one system rules. We want to keep what we have — and what is stated in the law.

But his [President Xi Jinping’s] whole movement has divided the society into two opposing sides. The pro-democracy part and the pro-Beijing part is fighting more aggressively than before. Political views are tearing the city, this society, apart.

My mom and dad are actually more accepting of the idea that freedom and democracy are important. But my girlfriend and her family are pro-China, and we often have political arguments. She actually disagrees, and she gets mad when I’m going out to protest. She said, “The people going to protest are harming the economy, and harming the retail sales in Hong Kong.” And she said, “Even if everyone goes out to the street to protest, the government won’t listen to you; you can’t do anything.”

She thinks that if people have the time to go to the protest, why don’t they think [about] how to earn more money or contribute to society, or even get rest? Those who are pro-China think democracy will slow down the development of their society. They don’t believe in democracy, so they think what the government does is usually correct.

They just care about what they have now, and that it won’t affect them. From now [until] 2047, we still have, like, 30 years. And my girlfriend will probably retire after 30 years. And her father will probably die, not even be alive after 30 years. So I think they are more — I don’t want to use the word selfish, but I can’t find another word.

They think this even for the extradition bill. They will say, “If you are a perfect citizen, or you obey the law, then the extradition bill doesn’t matter for you.” That you just be a perfect citizen and it’s fine.

But China is not following the rules, and they often lock up people who have different political views, people who are against the government, not listening to them, who slightly disagree.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my situation. I actually saw some articles online, on forums, people having the same issue. Actually, one of my good friends, his girlfriend is also pro-China. I think 90 percent of my friends are pro-democracy. But of course, there are some in the younger generation, like my girlfriend, who are pro-China. It is actually tearing us apart.

“Being abroad, I’m aware that Hong Kong has very little space to maneuver.”

—Anonymous, 21, born and raised in Hong Kong but currently based in Europe

I feel exhausted.

I think anyone you talk to is exhausted. I think being abroad is its own kind of heaviness because you are plugged into [the] Hong Kong time zone 24/7. And in my case, I’m just looking at the same live updates as everyone else. I’m just watching what’s happening and trying to support how I can.

Of course, I’m very sad that I can’t be there to participate physically in the protests. But I do feel part of the movement because I can use my skills in other ways and use my time to support the fight on a different front, while also participating in discussions and keeping in contact and caring for the people I do know who are on the front lines, or who are participating in the more peaceful rallies, or who are discussing all of these things.

I feel still a part of it. And I think that’s really incredible.

There’s definitely a feeling of responsibility that comes with the feeling of sadness and anger and even guilt of being away. I mean, you have to contextualize the fact that the reason I’m personally able to be away is because I have the resources to do so. And lots of people who are away are able to be in the diaspora because they have a particular citizenship or they have the particular economic resources.

But I think that makes me feel more responsible for doing some of the outreach work and understanding the different nuances of the political situation in Europe, in the US, in Canada, in order to support people on the ground.

Hongkongers abroad are working really hard to understand the specific ways that Hong Kong fits into their respective governments’ agendas and how they can pursue lobbying efforts in those particular ways.

There’s been really big campaigns crowdfunded on LIHKG — people describe it as the Reddit of Hong Kong, but it’s basically a website of forums. And there’s self-initiated crowdfunding campaigns to put newspaper ads in various global newspapers. So there’s Stand With Hong Kong, which is one of the campaigns. It bought ads in the Guardian, the Evening Standard, and the Telegraph in the UK, for example.

So for me, personally, I’ve been engaged in trying to translate outward and getting the on-the-ground perspective out there.

It’s complicated because Hong Kong is in this very specific historical and geopolitical situation. In general, I think Hongkongers are just trying to appeal to the image that the international community has of Hong Kong, especially since the 2014 Umbrella Movement, of a group of people, a city, that has fought so hard for so long.

But it’s been difficult because it doesn’t fit neatly into any particular geopolitical narrative. It appeals to a lot of US Republicans because it has this kind of anti-China, anti-communist, “Communist with a capital C” narrative. But there are also people in Hong Kong who are not very happy with the way that the US Democrats, or the left, the general left, has responded.

For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted something, and recently Elizabeth Warren has tweeted her support, and Hillary Clinton tweeted her support. But I think there’s some general dissatisfaction with Hong Kong’s position as this card that’s constantly played by different actors whenever it’s convenient for them, whether it’s as a financial power or as the gateway to China in the past, or now as this front against China, when in fact, the real demands of Hongkongers have always been democracy, preservation of our way of life, and self-determination.

I think having the distance allows me to see that Hong Kong is in a very difficult position in terms of geopolitics. When you’re on the ground, as in any political situation, you kind of think that your conflict is at the epicenter of all conflicts. And it makes total sense. Of course that is your preoccupation when you could literally be arrested walking down the street, as has happened to many people. Like if you just happened to have some laser pointers in your bag or you’re just walking past a protest that’s happening.

But being abroad, I’m aware that Hong Kong has very little space to maneuver. The protests have to fit into a very particular narrative in the media. Hongkongers are relying very much on sympathetic foreign media reporting to make their voices heard. Otherwise, there’s this feeling, rightfully so, that no one will care.

So you would see people being like, “Save Hong Kong! Donald Trump, save Hong Kong!” Not because they’re stupid or because they’re naive, but just basically because they’re so desperate and in a position where otherwise, who else would help us in this very precarious situation?

But from abroad, it looks a bit weird. It looks kind of naive and it looks kind of juvenile. It also fuels the fire that China has where it’s like, “Foreign interference. Hong Kong just wants American interference into our affairs,” which is not actually what’s happening.

So I think that’s what I see. Just this disconnect between what Hongkongers expected [from] the international community and what the so-called international community is able to actually give concretely to Hong Kong.

I’m 21. I was born in the year that Hong Kong was handed over, so it’s kind of interesting for me because when I turn 50, Hong Kong will no longer be in the current position that it is in now. For me, personally, and some others that I’ve spoken to, it feels like an expiry date, but for something that we’re not sure what the outcome will be.

I think the fact that people are reacting so strongly to the extradition bill, and to increasing amounts of police brutality, is that we are seeing that this could be what lies on the horizon in 2047 happening now.

I think the ability to imagine alternatives is always constrained by this endpoint that we have. I don’t really know what will happen next, and it’s kind of a daunting prospect. There’s a lot of fear that Hong Kong will just cease to exist as it does now. Obviously, that’s not literally going to happen. Hong Kong is still going to exist, but we don’t know what will be left. And politically, it’s changing. Societally, it’s changing.

There’s also an awareness that the political system just doesn’t work. We had lawmakers who were democratically elected be disqualified because they did their oaths [of office] in a way to express their discontent of swearing allegiance to China. Prosecutions are politicized. All of these things indicate that our political system is essentially rigged.

So people are turning to more grassroots, self-initiated protest. And that’s why this movement has in particular been so successful. Because it’s leaderless and people really are just discussing things on the go, in Telegram groups. And because everyone organizes anonymously, no one knows who each other is, really.

This creates security concerns, but it also is an egalitarian, equalizing force. Everyone can participate in the position that they’re in. There’s this incredible solidarity that keeps us going, even though we don’t know who we organize with. If you have the same politics, then we can work together. We can self-criticize and reflect.

It also means that we have to take responsibility for ourselves and reflect. The whole motto that undergirds the movement — the translation is something like, “No division, no blame, no separation.”

People are always saying, you know, I could literally be right next to you right now, talking to you on the internet. You wouldn’t know. I could be in the same office. And we protect each other’s anonymity because it’s something we should do as a part of taking care of each other and taking responsibility for ourselves and our families. Keeping them safe.

It’s really amazing because we are united not by a leader, but by principles that we believe in, demands that we believe in.

“They’re not scared of the things that they used to be.”

—Chan, 21, student studying in the UK and back in Hong Kong for the summer

I started to do first aid on June 12, the first day the police started shooting tear gas at the protesters. I felt like being a first-aider would be more useful. To be honest, though, none of us were really ready. We required gear and things like that so that we could be safe. All of us, even the first-aiders, we only had N95 [surgical] masks, which is useless against tear gas.

So basically all of us were kind of frightened about the incidents, because it was really crazy during that day. The police shot lots of tear gas.

That first day, people were affected by pepper spray or tear gas or other kinds of small injuries. Now things have changed. I don’t know how, but all the protesters got gear. They either bought it or someone gave it to them because some of the people, they buy gear and then just pass it around for the protesters. So people are not that scared of tear gas anymore.

In fact, when the police shot [the tear canisters] at us, the protesters tried to throw it back to them, which is really a significant change. A month ago, everyone was so scared, and the first-aiders were under really big pressure because everyone got hurt. But now people have really gotten used to the situation.

A protester faces a camera while wearing a gas mask.Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Protesters face riot police during an anti-government rally in Wong Tai Sin district on August 24, 2019, in Hong Kong.

Now it’s more like they need the first-aider to deal with accidents. People fall on the ground or get injured when they attempt to run away. We are dealing with that kind of situation more often than we used to. So yeah, things changed. And there are more and more first-aiders now, so it’s more organized, I would say.

We are not an official team. We’re just a group of people that got our certificates and we’re willing to help the injured. We were just a bunch of people who went to the protest and we got to know each other because we told other people that we were the first-aiders. Other people grouped all of us together. But before that, we didn’t know each other.

Most of the time, people don’t really know what the situation is, so they’ll ask for a first-aider when they see an injury. People pass around the message really quickly. When they need something, especially a first-aider, they will shout out, “We need first aid right here!” We just run straight to the person and perform. It’s way quicker now. It’s quite easy.

People are injured by rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray. It happens a lot. But I would say that people are getting braver and braver these days. That’s why we are getting more worried and more worried about the situation, because they’re not scared anymore.

They’re not scared of the things that they used to be, and that’s why there are more chances for them to get injured. It’s really easy now if I’m there and dealing with the situation, because people are always trying to go up [and confront] the police, which is not a good thing for us. More people getting hurt.

But I would say it’s a good thing for the protest itself, because it means there’s no more — I don’t know how to say it. People are doing stuff that’s actually changing the whole situation, because they’re not scared.

A month ago, people realized silence and not taking any action means the government is not going to answer for anything — which, they’re still not answering anything right now. But if you’re forced to make something happen, there can be a chance.

It’s like the incident in the airport. Even though some people may say, “It affected a lot of people and it shouldn’t be like that.” But in terms of making the government or forcing the government to change, it’s probably one of the best options.

I don’t know what the government is trying to do. But in the society of Hong Kong right now, it’s pretty much the police against the citizen. Right now we only have one enemy, which is the government and the police. That’s why people work together really well. The government, they’re still not answering any of our requests, and they’re always trying to avoid answering questions. That’s why people tend to be more — I wouldn’t say aggressive, but be more active with the protest.

For me, I would say Hong Kong deserves to be a place where we can actually have our own democracy. We’re not China yet. We belong to China, but we’re not China. We work differently. How the mainlanders think is different than us. We have our own values of society, and our own points of view, and we want to keep that. We don’t want to lose it.

We don’t want to be like China because we don’t trust the Chinese government. And I think we can actually [succeed] by making our own government.

If you don’t do anything, then it’s impossible to make something happen. But if we are trying, if all of us are trying, there may be a possibility of that kind of future. But we will see. We’re not sure yet, but we just want to work for it. We think there’s a possibility. Even if small, we still want to do it.

It’s going to be really long until we reach some of the goals. But otherwise, we’re not going to stop, I think.

They are two sides, mainly, in Hong Kong right now. One is being called the yellow side, and the other one is blue side. If you are on the blue side, you support the police more than the protesters. If you’re on the yellow side, you support the protesters more than the police.

I think there are more people turning to yellow right now; people are starting to be more supportive.

They used to shout at the people, saying that you shouldn’t be disturbing our society by stopping the MTR [Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway] or things like that. But now people are more supportive about that because they think, “Yeah, they are doing something right for some people.”

I think, first of all, the majority of the protesters, they only want to make the things happen. They don’t care of how we make it happen or who is the leader or who is leading us or anything, because all of us want one same thing, no matter what are we doing. Maybe we’re doing different things, maybe we’re doing opposite things, but when we know we are trying to make one same thing happen, there’s no argument.

Like, for example, if I agree on doing things in the airport, I go to the airport. For some people, if they don’t agree on that, they will help in other ways, and they would just go online; you will just go on media and try to search and see if they can do anything else. That is pretty much why, even if we don’t have a leader, people know what to do.

I think people are kind of used to the protests, after all. People are like, “Oh, yeah, we go protest and then we go back to our normal routine, and then we go protest, and then we go back to our normal routine.” Since it’s a really high-pressure society, every minute matters.

They will go to protest, and then the next day, if they do need to do anything, they will just do their job, do their work, go back to school. And the next day, if they need to come out again, they will just come out. Which may be kind of strange for other countries, but I think it’s getting normal in Hong Kong.

Before the protest happened, I wasn’t proud of being a part of Hong Kong, because I’m not a natural Hong Kong citizen. But now I will say I’m really proud of my homeland, Hong Kong. Where else could you see a peaceful protest by 2 million people? If you have 2 million people protest anywhere else — for example, in the UK or the States — that is going to be a mess. But in Hong Kong, it’s a peaceful one.

And people help each other a lot. A lot. People value money a lot in Hong Kong, and people always expect to be kind of selfish, going to earn more and more money, but from this protest, people will start to think, “Maybe democracy, maybe life, is way more important than just money itself.”

Then you will start to sacrifice more, just for that. Rich people willing to help the poor ones, because they think the poor ones actually attempt to do more, and older people starting to respect the young ones because the young ones actually come out.

Some people connect, [and] they never would have if there isn’t a protest like this. Now, in Hong Kong, people work together. I don’t mean all people. Of course there will be some people against society of it. But most of the people are actually working together, which is amazing.

“I never knew that the police were capable of doing this.”

—Jess, 20, student

It was the 9th of June when I first went out. It was the first protest, ever, in my life.

At first, it was all about the extradition bill, there was no police violence yet. The bill turned Hong Kong into a city that I don’t know. You get me? I studied in the UK for four years, but I was born here, I enjoyed the freedom. Hong Kong people don’t really trust the Chinese government that much, so I thought it’s time to stand up, to stand for the city that I grew up in, that I love, that I have a sense of belonging to.

The tensions with the police started when the police used excessive force on people who did not have any kind of defensive weapons or anything. The police are well-protected. They have shields, they have everything, they are geared up.

I think one of the first times tear gas was fired on the 12th of June. Then people started to have a conversation about the police firing too much tear gas. Carrie Lam, the chief executive, came out and said that she fully supported the police, and that is when things accelerated. The government did nothing to stop it, and they even supported the acts. That is when the whole people-versus-police thing started.

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A protester is detained by riot police during an anti-government rally in Kowloon Bay district on August 24, 2019, in Hong Kong.

It didn’t surprise me that the movement accelerated. The reaction from the government surprised me. I think it’s ridiculous, their reaction to everything. The 2 million people who protested. That protest, that was peaceful, and I thought that something would change. I thought 2 million protesters would make a change. But actually, it didn’t. I think that was the one which surprised me the most.

Then when the police reaction was so strong and then when the government started justifying their acts, then it becomes ruthless and no rules at all.

The thing is, as more and more people get hurt by the police, that outrages all the people. When the movement calms down for a bit and then there’s new people getting beat up by the police — the police are firing tear gas now, so there are more and more triggers.

The triggers never stop, and the triggers get more and more serious. And that keeps the movement going.

One day, I was in the MTR and there were two policemen on the MTR. Everyone just looked at the policeman with spite, like no one liked them. I think they feel that, I think they feel it, too.

But I’m surprised by the police violence. I never knew the police were capable of doing this. I’m surprised they fired tear gas. I wasn’t involved in the Umbrella Revolution. I didn’t follow it much, but I kind of knew what was going on, and it wasn’t as bad as this time. The police are just using excessive force. I’m just speechless, honestly, on the police acts.

I never knew that there would be so many people who don’t have a conscience at all. I see many comments, and basically they refer to protesters as cockroaches, which outrages me. I study psychology, and I understand so much about the effects of dehumanization and how it affects people.

It affects how the police to treat the protesters because they don’t see them as humans. Even the police themselves use the word cockroaches, and that is not right because they are the government, and they’re supposed to use moderate words. They’re supposed to use appropriate words, even with those who commit crimes.

My mom supported the protest, but she does not support violence. She does the peaceful ones. She thinks that the youngsters are brave, but she doesn’t want them to get hurt. My grandma went to Hong Kong after the Cultural Revolution in China, so all of my mother’s side family hates the Communist Party very much.

My father is a businessman, so he doesn’t really care about what’s going on. He’s British as well, so he’s like “Oh, if anything happens I’ll just go back to the UK. Bye, Hong Kong.”

I think the older generations have a burden. They are — there’s quote from one of the government officers that says it’s their harvest period right now. They work so hard for their life, and they don’t have so many years left in Hong Kong.

But our youngsters, many of our youngsters, we don’t have a choice. We have 80 years left in Hong Kong, and if we don’t do this now, we won’t even have a future, maybe. When it comes to the age when we have to work, it will be all different. Under the Chinese government, they can just take away anything if you don’t please the government.

I think people are scared about this. Our model, what we have learned from a young age, is that if we work hard, we’ll get what we want. If work hard, we’ll be successful. Or if we work hard, we get our money.

But if Hong Kong’s law changes, if political involvement changes, then it’s not the same. It’s the ones who support the government that can earn money and the ones who don’t support it will go to jail. Basically, the youngsters are fighting for their future.

If things keep accelerating like this, Hong Kong as an individual city will disappear before 2047.

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A protester holds a homemade sign that says “Shield of Freedom” as police and demonstrators clash during the demonstration in Hong Kong, August 24, 2019.

I think the best outcome is that the government backs down. If the government backs down, then no further things will happen. I think if the economy is threatened, then the businesspeople, the traders, and the rich people, they will talk to the [Chinese authorities in the] capital [Beijing]. It’s their opinion that has weight; our opinion doesn’t count. But if the economy is threatened, then maybe the government will back down because of the bourgeoisie.

I think it’s very interesting because Hong Kong people’s life goes on, no matter what happened in the previous day. Maybe the previous day police were throwing tear gas, beating up random people in the street. Before, life would go on and nothing would happen. But now, people’s life goes on, they are outraged, but they plan for further movements.

Author: Jen Kirby

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