The message they left behind is clear: The city’s young have arrived at the gates, and their anger and desperation cannot easily be quelled.
“Generation by generation, people are getting angrier and angrier. As young people, we don’t see any hope,” said one protester who first entered the Legislative Council building late Monday and then later helped to coax out those who had vowed to stay behind to confront police. He spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested.
“We need to free Hong Kong. This is our home, and we don’t want to leave it, even though we have so many issues,” he said.
Around the government complex Tuesday morning, police officers with handheld video cameras circled the building, filming evidence. They had repeatedly warned protesters that their brief occupation of the building was completely illegal.
Police have not detailed how many were arrested over the action or what their charges were.
Although protesters who had packed streets and entrances around the building were gone by Tuesday, the wreckage remained. City workers in straw hats piled up decorative shrubs torn from the ground, along with discarded shields and broken umbrellas. Others cut through the zip ties protesters had used to link together barricades to slow advancing police and block entry points to the building, which sits against the backdrop of the skyscraper-lined Victoria Harbor.
The president of the legislature, Andrew Leung, said the remaining two Legislative Council meetings before the mid-July recess could not be held in the building, which he described as “extensively damaged.” Leung gave no time frame for repairs. A meeting of the Executive Council, Hong Kong’s cabinet, would be held Tuesday at the residence of the chief executive, Carrie Lam, instead.
“I understand people in Hong Kong and around the world might not 100 percent agree or disagree with all of the behavior of the protesters,” Joshua Wong, an activist and leader of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, told reporters outside the building Tuesday as cleaners swept up glass nearby. “But when more than 25 percent of the population — more than 2 million people — join the rallies, and all of the requests have been ignored, is there any way out?”
It was the outpouring of nearly a month of simmering frustration over the government’s attempt to enact a bill that would allow for extraditions to mainland China and over its handling of the dissent that followed. Protesters were willing to risk arrest, they said, and some, even death.
One 25-year-old protester who was not part of the effort to storm the Legislative Council, but who was participating in a march and occupying roads Monday, said the actions of that group inspired her.
“[We saw] social media posts and live TV coverage about how the very front-line people basically expected years of jail and police violence,” she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “I think emotionally it moved a lot of mainstream protesters in the march.”
One protester, who gave only his last name, Mak, said he had showed up expecting to protest just at the outdoor ceremony marking the handover to China. But the ceremony was moved inside. He ended up helping deliver supplies to those trying to break into the legislature.
“We have nothing to do but try in this way to draw the attention of the Hong Kong government,” he said.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized numerous marches against the extradition bill, including one Monday that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets, urged protesters to support one another. Although demonstrators may have differing opinions about what was done at the legislature, all “love this city,” the group said.
“While we do not wish to see certain actions triggered by tyranny, we fully understand the choice of the protesters,” the front said in a statement. “Last night, some of them chose to fight harder, not calculating their own personal costs. The fact is, they were just taking more courageous steps ahead of us.”
The protests are representative of a broader fury over a number of grievances that boil down to the very legitimacy of their government and the gradual erasure of the Hong Kong identity. Since 2014, protesters have been fighting for universal suffrage in Hong Kong and for their government to be representative — calls that were echoed by those who occupied the legislature.
“We’ve been used to our opinions [being] completely ignored by the government, no matter how loudly we’ve said it,” the 25-year-old protester added, citing a 2009 Legislative Council decision to green-light a high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and Beijing and demolish a village of more than 150 households to make way for it.
She was a 16-year-old student at the time and joined a protest outside the building. The passage of those bills convinced her that “the control people have over this society is extremely minimal.”
Protesters who occupied the legislature were strategic in their use of graffiti and vandalism. They defaced portraits of pro-Beijing lawmakers, raised Hong Kong’s colonial flag from when the territory was a British colony and blacked out the part of the Hong Kong emblem that makes reference to the People’s Republic of China — all of this on the very symbolic anniversary of the handover of the territory to China.
The protests represent a forceful challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has sought to tighten his grip over all of China’s territories while stoking nationalist sentiment.
News of the protests, and especially the violent turn they took Monday night, was largely missing from state media coverage in mainland China on Tuesday. Stories instead focused on the anniversary celebrations.
But in its first statements on the violence, the Chinese government painted the storming of the Hong Kong legislature as the work of “extreme radicals” who behaved in an “extremely violent way.”
Protesters interviewed by The Washington Post say they understand that Beijing and their government hold the cards; many had participated in a 79-day sit-in back in 2014 for universal suffrage, an endeavor that failed. But they are unmoved.
“I will keep fighting for justice as long as I am alive, even though there is only a slim chance for Hong Kong to win,” Mak said. “But the Tang Dynasty only controlled people for more than 200 years. How long will it be for the Communist Party?”
Tiffany Liang in Hong Kong contributed to this report.