Diary From Hong Kong: 24 Hours With A Young Woman Protesting

Young people are spearheading this month's protests which have catapulted Hong Kong into a political crisis and propelled the city into the global spotlight. Around two million people took to the sweltering streets on Sunday to demonstrate against a controversial bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China, which many fear could endanger Hong Kongers' lives by subjecting them to the country's notoriously flawed justice system. A coalition of student groups also gave Hong Kong's Chief Executive, Carrie Law, an ultimatum to scrap the bill, and they're not backing down.
For many young people, the movement is about more than extradition – it's about the deeper question of China's influence over the city, a former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" deal, guaranteeing it a level of autonomy from the country and its ruling Communist Party.
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Though this weekend's protest was largely peaceful, according to reports, previous demonstrations have seen Hong Kongers tear-gassed, fired at with rubber bullets and brutalised by police.
Stephanie Ma, 21, was born and raised in Hong Kong and is currently studying international journalism there. Like so many of her peers, she felt compelled to join the protests.
"I value the freedom and rights granted to us under the law. [We need] the free flow of information and critique online and offline to hold government officials accountable and reflect societal discussions.
As a Hong Kong resident, I wish for a future in my hometown where I don’t have to censor my opinions. As an aspiring journalist, I want to be able to exercise my rights, perform my professional duties and not get punished for it," Stephanie says.
Aside from that, she has been "infuriated" by the Hong Kong police’s use of excessive force against peaceful protestors and journalists, and their categorisation of such protests as "riots".
"Whether or not the ripples of the demonstration have an impact on the government’s decision regarding the bill, I don’t think all hope is lost, which is why I participated in the rally."
We asked Stephanie to keep a diary over 24 hours on the day of Sunday's historic protest. Here's what she wrote...
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11.30am: My alarm goes off. I scroll through social media, online forums and news apps, from both local and international media organisations to get the latest updates, commentary and memes of the ongoing protests. The Chief Executive [Carrie Lam] announced yesterday that she was backing down and suspended plans to amend the bill, but a lot of Hong Kongers, including my friends and family, are still displeased with her and her actions.
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1pm: I dress in black from head to toe and put two large bottles of water, a hat, a power bank, facial tissues and some snacks into my backpack. I was worried that the protest would turn violent if the policemen decide that tear gas and rubber bullets are the sole solutions to get demonstrators to back down – as evident in the clashes last Wednesday, which I saw happening on television. I feel a bit uneasy, but hopeful. Hong Kongers are very united on this issue and I trust in our strength to defend our city and protect our rights.
1.30pm: I leave home and start travelling to Admiralty [one of the busiest neighbourhoods on Hong Kong Island] to meet my friends, where we plan to stop quickly for lunch and then take the Metro to join other protestors at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay for the rally. Like the demonstration that took place the week before, the planned route is set to take protestors from the park to Hong Kong’s Admiralty.
2.30pm: Metro services are delayed from Admiralty to Causeway Bay because of the sheer volume of people clad in black travelling to attend the protest. After a slight change of plans, we decide to walk instead.
3pm: I arrive in Causeway Bay and finally join in the demonstration as the huge crowd passes under the flyover at Canal Road and Russell Street. Protestors are chanting "Withdraw the bill!" and "Step down Carrie Lam" as they march on with their friends and families. Many are holding portable fans with soft gel cooling strips adhered to their forehead or neck. It's a very sunny day, the temperature is around 31C. The air is very still. Although the protestors don't know each other, there is chit-chatting and sharing of political views. Despite what you might think, for the most part the atmosphere feels light and optimistic. Saying that, people are furious at the police because of their use of violence against protestors last week. Many give them the middle finger and shout "black police" as they walk past.
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Unlike the 2014 protests – which mostly students participated in – this time I see protestors from more diverse age groups and different sectors of society. Parents explain to their children the ongoing political turmoil as they march.
5pm: As more people join in, the thick crowd moves very slowly. I am in Wan Chai now, on a street where there are many bars and clubs. Two tourists wave a black flag from an upstairs window in a building to show solidarity with the protestors, and people around me cheer loudly. A couple of Filipino ladies dining in the outdoor area of the bars hold up signs calling Carrie Lam a liar.
6.30pm: I am still stuck in Wan Chai and we’re near the police headquarters. As I walk, I see that there’s a sea of people on the adjacent streets, making their way to the same location as us. Protestors give thumbs down and boo the policemen at the headquarters.
7pm: I am in Admiralty now. Protestors standing on bridges are holding up signs criticising the government, and cheering on people below. Some hold up the flashlights on their phones, illuminating the streets as night envelops the city.
As we near the police HQ, the slogan chanting continues but everyone is exhausted from hours of walking. The crowd parts to let an ambulance through.
8pm: Demonstrators begin to part ways as we approach Pacific Place, a high end shopping mall in Admiralty. Those who have brought flowers and origami pay tributes and mourn 'Raincoat Man', who took his own life by jumping off scaffolding on top of the mall while protesting against the bill. We reach the final destination of the protest. When we get there, there’s a video that shows the consequences our society is likely to face if the extradition law is passed.
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9pm: A notification pops up on my phone, and it says that Chief Executive Carrie Lam has apologised. I am not amused, nor do I feel that her short apology is appropriate – my friends feel the same and we voice our discontent on and offline.
11pm: Organisers announce that around two million people have taken part in this protest, a whopping one million more people than the one that was held last week!
The news is uplifting, but I know this is not the end. As I head home after a long day I think about the five main concerns which we will keep protesting for: To withdraw completely the extradition law bill, to release the arrested protestors, to retract the 'riot' categorisation of the protest held on 12th June, to prosecute police who have used excessive force, and for Carrie Lam to resign.
The fight is not over.
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