Taking a break from political reform after the LegCo veto, the July 1 Rally this year saw a diverse range of themes. From democracy to workers’ benefits; from LGBT rights to justice for the curious death of a blind footballer. The annual symphony roared once again, albeit at a lower volume.
Political reform was the hottest topic in the past year. As the reform package was vetoed on June 18, the local activism scene could finally take a break from the question of universal suffrage, and other themes took over. HT takes a look at alternative activism.
The July 1 rally is not exclusive to Chinese locals, who make up 94% of the city’s population. Ethnic minorities are no less part of the Hong Kong community on July 1.
Members of Komunitas Buruh Migran Indonesia (KOBUMI), representing the Indonesian migrant workers’ community, joined the march. They were easily recognised in the crowd as they played hand-held bells along the way.
Umi Sudarto, Coordinator of KOBUMI, said they came to urge the government to remove the two-week stay restriction for migrant workers who have yet to find another employer upon finishing the previous contract.
“It is hard for us to adapt to this condition. When we finish a contract, we have to look for another employer. Two weeks’ time is not enough,” she says. “We want the Hong Kong government to abolish that.”
They are also asking for an increase in foreign domestic workers’ minimum wage to HK$4500.
Hong Kong Unison also took part in the rally. They demanded better education support for non-Chinese speaking children.
Quite some in the group were South Asian, but fluent in Cantonese, as exempified by the slogans they chanted:
“EDB discriminates! Eddie Ng fails! Hong Kong is my home, let me take part in policy-making! (育局，最歧視！吳克儉，最唔掂！香港是我家，政策齊參加！)”
In Wan Chai, local pop stars Anthony Wong and Denise Ho stood on stage calling for support. They represented Big Love Alliance, an organisation supporting equal rights for sexual minorities.
Also in Wan Chai, friends of Terry Lam Wing-shun collected signatures in support of the late blind footballer. According to the organisers, Lam passed away under questionable circumstances after a sports accident. Representing Hong Kong in a match against Malaysia in December, Lam allegedly suffered a concussion after clashing heads with an opponent.
Mr Ho, a good friend of Lam, also visually-impaired, said the Hong Kong Blind Sports Federation (HKBSF) handled the incident poorly.
“When Wing-shun’s family asked for an explanation, the HKBSF brought a psychic who ‘invited’ Wing-shun to ‘speak’ to them rather than show the footage of the match.” he says. “That is just so inappropriate.”
He demands the HKBSF to tell the truth by disclosing the footage.
A group of students, mostly in high school or university, recruited volunteers to offer free tutoring services for disadvantaged children on Hennessy Road.
Ivy, a Form 6 student soon graduating from high school, is a recruiter and a former volunteer tutor.
“Disadvantaged kids suffer from low social mobility,” she says. “We help them by providing free tutoring services, so that education resources enjoyed by the middle and upper classes could be diverted to children in need.”
Before becoming a volunteer tutor, she was once a tutee to another volunteer tutor:
“I was benefited by this programme. I want to pass the good on,” she says.
According to the organisers, Civil Human Rights Front, 48,000 participated in the march yesterday. Police numbers, traditionally significantly lower than the organiser’s, claim just 6,240 started from Victoria Park, with peak participation at 19,650. Independent observers from the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme counted 28,000.
The number is significantly smaller than past years, in comparison to six-digit numbers in 2010-14. Last year, around 500,000 attended the annual march that first began in 2003. The high turnout in 2014 was attributed to the white paper released by Beijing in June, which claimed the Central Government has ‘complete jurisdiction’ over the territory and is the source of its autonomy.
Summer heat might explain the plunge, but there is more. As the reform package was voted down on June 18, Hong Kong is experiencing a vacuum of new topics. After the march, Joshua Wong reflected on his Facebook page, “The main reason [for the drop] is that student organisations and activist groups like us failed to decide on a clear agenda ahead of July 1.”
Some have also pointed out that experienced protestors, especially Occupy veterans, simply find the annual march repetitive and pointless, with doubts whether it can instill the same pressure on the Hong Kong Government and Beijing it once did in 2003.