3 Years Later: What Did Occupy Central Achieve?
An Add Oil Comics story
During the final month of Occupy Central, I took my friend Ben on a tour of the Admiralty encampment. He was in town from the US and was particularly interested because he had taken part in Occupy Wall Street back in 2011. His first impression of Occupy Central was that it was physically huge and astounding in that regard. The primary site of Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park, was only a block or so in size. Occupy Central, meanwhile, sprawled across a multi-lane highway, encircled a few skyscrapers, and extended up and down a bridge.
But even then, the atmosphere at Occupy Central in its last month was a muted one, particularly during the day. Tents were empty, people were scarce, and fringe areas had become abandoned as protestors reeled back after their numbers dwindled. As we wandered about, I asked Ben what he thought Occupy Wall Street had achieved, three years later. I didn’t ask whether it had been “successful” — I knew that a rapid redistribution of wealth had not occurred in the US, nor did the financial industry undergo massive reforms. But I did want to know what he witnessed as someone who was on the inside of the movement.
His response surprised me. He said that while the movement failed by conventional standards of “winning” and “losing,” he had noticed that many of the people he met there continued to be politically active. After Occupy Wall Street ended, these people packed up and returned home, some driving dozens of hours across the country. But they never gave up. They started new groups, they joined existing organizations, and they brought a little bit of Occupy Wall Street back to their local communities. It was an idea that warmed my heart that grey afternoon, when it was already apparent that the Hong Kong government was successfully starving out the protesters (metaphorically not literally) by sitting back and refusing to discuss any of their demands while public tension mounted in the background.
What Ben described actually came true in my case. I started drawing social advocacy webcomics during Occupy Central, and I’ve continued to do so since, under the Add Oil Comics moniker. There have been lulls here and there, but, for the most part, Add Oil Comics has soldiered on these past three years. We even branched out to social issues outside of Hong Kong, most prominently with Black Lives Matters and transgender experiences.
By some measures, the webcomic has been one of the most successful things I’ve ever done. Despite not having a large personal audience (aka social media following), my comics have been seen by millions of people across the globe. A few readers have even written in to say it’s moved them to tears — as high a compliment as any for a comic artist such as myself. Through making and publishing these comics, I’ve also befriended people that I would never have otherwise met and unlocked career opportunities that I probably would have missed. Plus, it’s a blessing to have an outlet for political angst these days, especially one with a social theory of change.
Occupy Central began on September 28, 2014. The three year annivesary of its beginning was overshadowed with headlines about how its leaders (or figureheads if you see it more as a decentralized movement) were either headed to or already serving time in jail for their involvement with the movement. It had already been a disquieting year for Hong Kong, after the then chief executive mobilized the judiciary to oust six elected, pro-democracy legislators. The mood was weary yet defiant, somber but optimistic.
Occupy Central ended on December 14, 2014. To celebrate the three year anniversary of it ending, I trawled the Hong Kong internet and asked friends for pieces of writing that I could turn into a social advocacy webcomic. I also re-shared a comic I made about net neutrality last week, which was spurred on by friends on the other side of the world that I wouldn’t have met had I not been regularly publishing Add Oil Comics. And last but not least, I’m up at two in the morning, writing these words to mark the occasion, to remember how far we’ve come, to remind myself that:
We tend to think of political engagement as something for emergencies rather than, as people… have imagined it, as a part and even pleasure of everyday life. — Rebecca Solnit