When Ah To, an engineer without a criminal record, joined a peaceful sit-in in central Hong Kong last week demanding that China allow the people to nominate the city's leader, he knew he was risking arrest. He asked himself if it was worth it to risk a good job and his future for what wasn't even a full-scale protest but a rehearsal for a larger demonstration later on.
Then, he heard a girl behind him talking loudly on the phone. He described what happened next on Facebook in a post republished on citizen media platform inmediahk.net with his permission:
咁上下又聽到幾行後嘅果個女仔用爆大聲嘅語氣對住個電話「我又唔係為自己又唔係去玩， 我係為香港呀！！」 之後cut 左線。我見到附近啲人都好似眼濕濕咁。其實係我眼濕濕咁。最怕嘅未必係俾人拉俾人政治檢控，而係怕屋企人擔心難過。
“I am doing this not for myself, I am not having fun, I do this for Hong Kong!!” Then she hung up the phone. People around me had tears in their eyes, actually I had tears in my eyes. What I am afraid most is not getting myself arrested or being politically prosecuted, but letting my family worry about me.
Five hundred and eleven people were arrested in the early morning hours of July 2 during the sit-in, including Ah To. He said he was arrested for participating in an unlawful assembly and causing obstruction in public places.
The sit-in followed a rally of a half a million Hong Kongers on July 1, the anniversary of the handover of former British colony Hong Kong to China in 1997. China has promised Hong Kong a direct vote for the next chief executive in 2017 instead of election via committee, but still insists that a committee approve the candidates.
The group Occupy Central with Love and Peace, which plans to peacefully take over the city's Central District if the Hong Kong government fails to come up with a political reform proposal free of any pre-selection of candidates, considered the sit-in as a rehearsal for what they plan to be a much larger occupation.
All those arrested were released and some remain on bail awaiting further prosecution. Many shared their personal stories on Facebook in the past few days, such as Ah To. In his vivid account, he described those around him. To his left was a father of a 1-year-old son who stated, ”I am here because of my son.” To his right was a 50-year-old who said he had traveled to Hong Kong from Shenzhen, China, to support the protests.
Ah To emphasized that protesters came from all walks of life:
我唔係咩資深社運人士，亦無參加過咩組織。 我只係想講今次俾人拉左嘅，其實好多都唔係啲 超級熱血社運份子。請唔好覺得俾人拉呢班友係怪獸/痴線佬，亦唔好覺得佢哋係英雄。其實大家都係好普通好普通嘅香港市民，可能係學生，可能返緊工，俾人拉完仲要諗辦法打返公司請病假，之後擔心個樣上左電視俾老闆發覺俾人炒。我想講嘅係其實社運並唔係大家想像中咁遙遠嘅。 只要大家有果個心，無需預演，無需準備，一齊坐底，你就已經係一個社運人士。
What I want to say here is that many of those arrested are not enthusiastic activists. Please don't label those arrested as monsters and crazy people, but they aren't heroes either. They are just very ordinary Hong Kong citizens, students or white collar workers. They have to call the office to ask for sick leave when they are arrested. And they are worried that once their faces appear on TV, the boss will find an excuse to fire them. But I also want to say, a social movement is not something very out of reach. What you need is a heart. There is no need for rehearsal, no need for preparation. Once you sit down, you become an activist.
Independent art group Psychedelic Nomads took a 15-minute short film about the Occupy Central rehearsal and interviewed a number of participants to comment on the current situation in Hong Kong.
Even though the pro-Beijing politicians and supporters continue to say that Occupy Central will not change China's decision to restrict the nomination power to a nominating committee, Ah To and his generation won't be giving up so easily.