Dear Subscribers & Friends,
 
It's official - at least 500,000 Hong Kong people took to the streets yesterday to protest against the government's Article 23 national security legislation, which it wants to pass on 9 July. The people are now waiting for an official response and they are tuning in for that today. The people has one key message for the Tung Chee-hwa Administration: "Listen us us".
 
A. "We were there"
 
(a) 1.30 pm: Crowds began to gather at Victoria Park. Christian groups had a massive prayer session to pray for the well being of Hong Kong.
(b) 2.15 pm: Crowds started to swell. In anticipation of large numbers, people met at various corners in and around the park.
(c) 3 pm: The march started on time and by shortly after 4 pm, the front reached Central Government Offices - the end point.
(d) 7.30 pm: The last protesters left Victoria Park.
(e) 9.45 pm: The protest ended with organizers declaring at least 500,000 people had marched. The police has not contradicted that number.
 
B. Significant Aspects
 
(a) Peaceful: To have had 500,000 moving along Hong Kong's narrow streets on a sweltering day, including people having to stand around for hours before being able to move forward, protesters were peaceful, polite and in good cheer. Protesters expected no trouble as many brought their young children.
 
(b) Sea of black: Organziers suggested protesters to wear black. Many people did - a sign that people wanted to show unity of purpose.
 
(c) Official counter strategy: The government organized celebratory events of the 6th anniversary of Hong Kong's reunification with China. For example, the government allowed free entry to public indoor sports facilities e.g. swimming pools and museums; 10,000 people could go to watch movies for free; and free meals were served.
 
(d) Unofficial counter strategy: The political party, DAB, booked space at Victoria Park to have soccer matches and a reunification carnival.
 
(e) Unexpected numbers: No one expected 500,000 protesters. The highest estimate prior to the march was 250,000 but most people stuck to 100,000. By mid-afternoon, CNN reported 200,000; by 6 pm, the organizers thought there were 350,000; but as more people were still starting off and more joined in mid-way, it became clear that the number was going to be much bigger by the end.
 
(f) Parting comments: Premier Wen Jiabao left Hong Kong before the protest started so he would not know how many showed up until evening. His departing words may prove to be precient:
 
" The future of Hong Kong will be created by the people of Hong Kong themselves".
 
"At the moment, the most important requirements are understanding, trust and unity".
 
"We hope our Hong Kong compatriots will treasure the opportunity to become the masters of their homeland."
"The SAR Government has accummulated precious experience over the past 6 years. It has developed its wisdom and capability to tackle complex political situations".
 
"The enactment of Article 23 legislation in Hong Kong will never affect all kinds of rights and freedoms which the Hong Kong people."
 
(g) Deafening official silence: The HKSAR Government and its top officials have yet to say anything about the protest.
 
C. Analysis - "Can you hear us now?"
 
(a) Not a social gathering: The protest was clearly a political event. Hong Kong's secretary for security said a few days ago that marchers were going to a "social" gathering on a public holiday. That statement was a sign of disconnect between those in power and the people.
 
(b) Sign of disconnect: The DAB and the pro-government bodies' attempt to counter the protest by booking a section of Victoria Park knowing that people were going to gather there for a massive protest was also a sign of disconnect between them and a very large number of Hong Kong people. Did they feel a sense of "unreality" about what they were doing? The DAB and the Liberal Party are a part of the ruling coalition with the Tung Administration - when and how will they assess what happened yesterday? 
 
(c) Deep and wide discontent: The 6th year is also the end of the first year of the 2nd term of office of the chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. The protest poses an interesting question for the Central People's Government (CPG) in Beijing: did you properly assess the 1st term of office? The CPG supported Tung for a 2nd term and made it clearly its wishes quite publicly in 2001. Now that there is a new leadership in Beijing, there is urgency for national leaders to better understand Hong Kong.
 
(d) No alternative to protest: Did the Hong Kong's ministers meet last night urgently to discuss how to respond to the protest? If not, they remain politically insensitive. If they did, they decided not to publish a statement last night. So, when will they respond? In Hong Kong, where the government is un-elected, on an issue such as Article 23 legislation when so many people are unhappy, people feel there is no alternative but to protest. The CPG should watch whether the Tung Administration can indeed handle this new crisis with "wisdom".
 
(e) Hong Kong people's character: Hong Kong people have shown themselves to be incredibly mature, patient and well behaved.
These characteristics were displayed during the SARS crisis, and again yesterday. Hong Kong people are not politically passive or politically immature. They could gather and show force in a completely peaceful and orderly manner. They continued to ask for their voices to be heard. The international media must not mistaken the lack of disorderly behaviour as passivity or discount the importance of the protest because it was not a riot.  
 
(f) Political milestone?: The protest was a political milestone, like the protest of June 4, 1989 where a million people took to the street. Such events are defining moments for society because they change the public psyche. Yesterday was a sign of self-empowerment and self- respect for Hong Kong people. It's impact will reach far and wide over time.
 
CHRISTINE LOH
Civic Exchange - Hong Kong's independent think tank
www.civic-exchange.org