However, as student leader Joshua Wong has frequently stated, the occupy camps are the only leverage protesters have and the government has not budged an inch. In a chess game where neither side can be seen to have lost, a more thoughtful solution needs to be considered.
Whether or not the student groups call for retreat next week, there is a minority of hardcore activists who simply will not be moved. Call them ‘localists’. ‘radicals’ or the ‘Mong Kok faction’ – some want the movement to be escalated. A larger group remaining at Admiralty are committed protesters but are not die-hards. They feel their weeks-long efforts and resilience will have been in vain unless some kind of concessions have been won. Pride remains at stake.
Hong Kongers want universal suffrage but also know Beijing will not back down from its insistence on pre-screened election candidates. The door remains closed to meaningful talks and – unfortunately – the longer demonstrators remain, the more public opinion turns against the occupations.
With some planning, students can be perceived to be intensifying the protests whilst also handing back the roads. A call to transfer tents, stages, art works, the study centre and the entire camp north to Tamar Park and the public areas surrounding the legislature could be sold to protesters as an escalation. Those wishing to stay could do so – indefinitely. The area would become a lasting focal point for the democracy movement, a reminder to international observers that the fight continues and – most probably – a tourist hotspot
At the same time, this could be interpreted as a de-escalation by the government side. Complaints of lost business and ‘inconvenience’ would disappear. It would still be an ‘illegal assembly’, which police would have a right to clear – but the government may lack the appetite for photogenic news clips of police tearing through the last vestiges of the student’s pro-democracy camp. Plus, it may only further provoke demonstrators.
In turn, protesters would be wise to ‘bank’ what they have instead of going out in a blaze of pepper spray and batons, which could tarnish the good name of the Umbrella Movement. The symbols, songs, ideas, memories and traction gained from the ‘politest protests in the world’ could be passed down through the democracy movement over the coming months and years. Should there be more unrest, Hong Kongers may be more reluctant to don yellow ribbons – some of the moral high ground may crumble.
In addition to a permanent camp near government headquarters, it is likely protesters in Mong Kok would continue their ‘shopping’ trips – causing a headache for the authorities and offering a further challenge to Hong Kong’s dubious ‘illegal assembly’ laws. Having acquired a taste for civil disobedience, some netizens have already threatened wildcat actions around other areas, such as the airport. Others have suggested targeted boycotts, refusing to pay tax, or paying tax bills in multiple deposits of $68.9 or $6.89 (a reference to the number of votes it took to bring CY Leung to power). The Occupy Central conveners, meanwhile, have promised to take the fight to the courts and the wider community.
With forced clearances due to begin as early as next week, the movement could continue on several fronts under the original umbrella of the occupy movement, albeit with a permanent base near to where it all began.