Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in the United States on Sunday in a show of solidarity with the almost 2 million Hongkongers who marched to demand the controversial extradition bill be scrapped, and for the resignation of the city’s leader.
The rallies in New York and Washington were part of 39 planned protests taking place over the weekend around the world, with protests in Britain, Germany, France, South Korea, Australia, and North America, among others.
The global demonstrations came as Hongkongers flooded the streets of the city on Sunday in a stunning repudiation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, calling her to resign over her push for a bill that would allow the city to send residents and visitors to mainland China to face trial.
Despite her initial reluctance to issue a public apology, Lam was finally forced to say sorry amid the historic march, after her partial climbdown on Saturday to suspend, but not fully withdraw, the bill failed to appease the public.
With their distrust of Lam and her government in plain sight, many demonstrators in the US said they were deeply sceptical of her pledge to hit the pause button on the bill. They said they would accept nothing less than a complete withdrawal.
Yip, a Hongkonger in her 30s who moved to the United States 20 years ago, said Lam was just “playing her political gamesmanship”.
“It was just a strategy. She wants to take off the heat first and then sneak in to pass the law later when people are no longer paying attention,” said Yip, as she and some 30 others gathered around the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington.
Others refused to accept Lam’s apology, which was delivered in the form of a written government statement, calling it insincere.
“A lot of people think she was not really sincere in her apology, because she only did it in the middle of the second big march of 2 million people. She only did it as a reaction to the growing anger,” said Kak Wong, a 27-year-old graduate student in Maryland.
Standing before a replica of the Goddess of Democracy that rises above a pile of mourning wreaths, the demonstrators, including foreigners joining in support, chanted slogans demanding the full withdrawal of the bill, Lam’s resignation, the release of detained protesters, and called for the Hong Kong government to revoke its labelling of Wednesday’s protests as a riot.
Many demonstrators were clad in black T-shirts, and some wore face masks, in protest against the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets on young demonstrators surrounding the city’s legislature by the Hong Kong police, which injured around 80 people.
The crowd also included young children, brought by their parents to support their family’s hometown an ocean away.
Wong, a 41-year-old father of two, brought his daughters, aged 11 and 9, to the demonstration as a way of celebrating Father’s Day.
“When I was 11, back in 1989, my father took me to a protest against the Tiananmen crackdown in Washington, which had a profound impact on me,” he said, referring to China’s bloody suppression of pro-democracy protesters in the heart of Beijing 30 years ago.
“I wanted to bring them here to experience the freedom of speaking what you want, and imagine the difference of what it would be like if that freedom is taken away from them,” said Wong, who was born and raised in Washington, but still considers Hong Kong his home.
More than 200 miles away in New York, nearly 1,000 demonstrators crossed the Manhattan Bridge to show their support for Hong Kong, chanting slogans as they marched.
“When Hong Kong is under attack what do we do?” asked protester Joy Ming King.
“Stand up and fight back!” the crowd replied.
King, a university student who was once pessimistic during the low ebb of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement following the Occupy movement in 2014, said that Hongkongers today know the consequences of this particular fight.
“The stakes are very high and people are aware that this may be one of the last opportunities that they have to stand up for their rights and their way of life,” he said.
“And it is a matter of survival. And that awareness has never been so strongly felt by so many people so widespread across Hong Kong society.
“It’s like the last chance to stop the advancing encroachment of Beijing.”
Some demonstrators had travelled far from out of town. Frances Hui, a junior from Emerson College in Boston, came to New York to join the rally and was one of the speakers.
“I want to contribute to the path of pursuing democracy,” she said. “I know people in Hong Kong are paying much more effort for this, compared to us.
“But at least we can step forward to tell other people, especially Americans and other foreigners, what is going on in Hong Kong.”
Hui said she also came to mourn the Hong Kong demonstrator who fell to his death on Saturday from the top of a building, where he had hung banners protesting against the bill and police brutality.
Protesters in New York and Washington observed a minute’s silence in commemoration of his death, with one person in the crowd wearing a yellow raincoat, the same colour as one the demonstrator had worn before he fell.
“He sacrificed himself yesterday for the future of Hong Kong because he felt helpless for the future,” Hui said. “But anyhow we have to take that anger as an incentive to improve, to keep going and pursue the withdrawal of this bill.
“Because Hong Kong is our home and we have to safeguard it.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- ‘Nearly 2 million’ people take to streets, forcing public apology from Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam as suspension of controversial extradition bill fails to appease protesters
- When it’s hard to be humble: Carrie Lam’s harsh style even when backing down on Hong Kong extradition bill fuels public anger
- As it happened: Carrie Lam backs down and 'suspends' Hong Kong extradition bill, sets no new time frame