HONG KONG -- There was a tense, nervous energy among pro-democracy protesters in this city's Admiralty and Central districts Thursday, as a protester-declared deadline for the resignation of Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, loomed. The ranks of demonstrators occupying the space in front of the Chief Executive's office grew as protest leaders renewed calls for courage, patience and unity among the numerous factions that have mobilized for the past five days in the heart of Asia's financial capital.
Away from the demonstration's flashpoints, a Dutch exchange student spoke to a circle of protesters by tents in the occupied streets of Admiralty. He had been given a microphone and urged those around him to keep up the fight. "The whole world is watching you," he said, in English. "We are all Hong Kongers."
No matter the outcome of the protests -- which seemed poised on a knife edge on Thursday night -- they have already proved remarkable in terms of the way they have been carried out. Visit any of the city's main protest areas and you'll be struck by the meticulous attention to detail involved in the distribution of provisions, by the feverish conscientiousness of those tasked with collecting trash and recycling waste, and by the generosity shown to befuddled journalists and first-time demonstrators alike.
But one also can't help but be impressed by the degree to which those fighting this local struggle seem aware of the larger global audience that's watching. An orange banner has been draped on an overpass in Admiralty for days, emblazoned with a lyric from the musical "Les Miserables"--"Do you hear the people sing?" Nearby, a Spanish protest slogan was nailed atop a street sign. Other protesters wear t-shirts of Mahatma Gandhi; the rhetoric of non-violent civil disobedience is at the forefront of all discussions here.
2:15am, Hong Kong pic.twitter.com/kKOJNKX46l— Ishaan Tharoor (@ishaantharoor) October 1, 2014
That spirit of cosmopolitanism should not be a surprise. As a vibrant global entrepot, the city boasts well-heeled communities of expats and an endless array of cuisines. Hong Kongers, moreover, are a well-traveled people. Their diaspora has come into play this week, with activists reporting as many as 64 demonstrations abroad in solidarity with Hong Kong's "Umbrella Revolution" so far. Some 3,000 demonstrators rallied outside the Chinese embassy in London. They were not alone.
It's a global connection that some Hong Kong protesters, rallying in the streets, also feel.
On Wednesday, along Connaught Road Central, a key business artery, Janel Yau and a few friends were sticking up dozens of yellow posters along the side of the road, one of the staging grounds of the ongoing occupations. They were written in a host of languages, from Russian to Tamil, but all had the same message: "Support democracy in Hong Kong."
"Democracy is a universal issue and it should translate in many languages, especially in Hong Kong," said Yau, who stressed she was not affiliated with any of the major organizations coordinating the protests.
As uncertainty grows over the course of the protests, what's less in doubt is the commitment of the protesters, who consider their actions a last stand to preserve Hong Kong's unique freedoms. "We are different than the Chinese, we want to protect our local identity," Yau said.
But that's hardly a sign of an inward-looking people. Scanning the throngs filing down Connaught Road, Yau speaks optimistically of how her city has been transformed. "We've protested before," she says. "But this time, we know it's part of something huge."