Protest movements over time, just as crowds do, ebb and swell – gathering momentum only to deflate again as if heaving a collective sigh.
Tuesday night at the airport by all accounts was a moment where a mob – albeit small – turns monstrous, gripped by adrenaline and fury, turning on two mainland Chinese they thought were spies and brutally beating them, tying one to a trolley with a multitude of zip ties.
A moment to pause and take stock.
Wednesday, when I arrived into Hong Kong airport, there was a palpable sense of shame, apologies written out on signs across the protest area floor.
Since then Hong Kongers have rallied but peacefully, the police too exercising restraint.
They earned their own severe recriminations for violence last Sunday where they ended up spraying tear gas at protesters who’d fled into the underground.
Not great in confined spaces. Both sides have pared back.
So Saturday night was the first in weeks where the streets were free of tear gas.
There was a fairly tense standoff outside Mong Kok police station in the early evening but the cops must have felt that a pelting of eggs and the now ubiquitous laser pen did not warrant tear gas.
The black flag – the tear gas warning – never came out. Just repeated demands to clear the streets and finally, a push down the main thoroughfare towards Tsim Sha Tsui.
The few hundred protesters left, the hard core kitted out in black with gas masks and helmets melted away into the MRT system.
And no reappearances elsewhere of the “Be Water” motto (the protest movement’s nod to Bruce Lee), as on previous weekends.
There was a strong turnout at the teachers’ rally earlier on Saturday.
No doubt where their sympathies lie – firmly with the students who’ve been the vanguard of this protest movement.
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And rain did not stop them – Umbrella Protest 2.0, snaking through the tight paths of Central up to Government House. One especially poignant sign – “I used to tell my students that the police is someone they can trust. That the government has their best interests at heart – I believed it! BUT I DON’T NOW! What should I tell them now?”
Everyone bent over backwards to explain to us how they felt.
Smiling protesters handed out water and refreshments, even the mini portable fans which in tight crowds in massive humidity are a fabulous feature of first world protest.
People could not have been more polite and more good-natured.
We just feel so sorry for the kids, they said. And proud of their fight.
I’m not banking on this quiet streak lasting.
There are always a few trouble-seekers, especially when there’s so much at stake. Neither are the police – they’ll be out in force at today’s million-man march.
Nor Beijing. But things will have to get a lot worse, I feel, before Beijing decides to intervene.
There’s a long way to go between threatening rhetoric and police exercises at the border, and an actual intervention. And an intervention if and when it comes can take various different forms.
Not so much tanks rolling down the streets of Hong Kong – more likely auxiliary support to Hong Kong’s weary riot police. Who haven’t even used water cannon yet.
This is the eleventh weekend of protest. There will likely be more to come.