“In a case where all the channels to change the law through lawful means have been exhausted, civil disobedience plays a role,” he says.
How many people would agree that point has arrived, and would be willing to participate, is still uncertain.
Residents along rally routes complain about the noise and inconvenience. Shopkeepers grumble about the loss of business. Household audiences sitting in front of their televisions withdraw their support for protesters when they see pepper spray and hear foul language.
“The pro-establishment media detach [the radical protesters] from the public. It turns out that the more radical the movements are, the more support the police authority and the government gain,” says Daisy Chan Sin-ying, vice-convener of Civil Human Rights Front.
Chan, then a student, was charged with disruption of public order in 2011 in the same case as Long Hair. Currently working as a researcher in the Labour Party, the 23-year-old says she now has a clearer idea of the strategies needed to win democracy.
“Frankly, Hong Kong people are not prepared for sacrificing more for democracy,” Chan says. “Take the New Year Demonstration as an example; if the protesters had persevered, Long Hair would not have stood there alone.”
She also thinks different parties have different roles to play. Students and NGOs should go further so politicians will have chips to bargain with because, “politicians, no matter how radical they may seem… are confined by the institution itself.”
Chan believes it is vital that political parties, social advocates and the general public work together. Therefore, she is disheartened by the recriminations among the pan-democrats.
The great rupture traces back to 2010 when the Democratic Party refused to join a move to stage a de facto referendum on universal suffrage by resigning and forcing by-elections in the five geographical constituencies. Instead, the party supported the government’s watered-down plans for gradual democratisation after a secretive liaison with Beijing. This left many supporters disappointed, and some members left.
Although he did not leave, Au Nok-hin a 25-year-old district councillor, supported the referendum and disagreed with the party’s compromise.
“Some demand direct and radical means so they supported the referendum, while some believe Beijing will not allow democracy in Hong Kong, if there is no contact with the central government, so [we] need to lobby Beijing,” Au says. “Up till now, no one can really prove which path is correct.”
From his dealings with ordinary people as a district councillor, Au believes there is little support for radical protests among the public, as they have failed to get their messages across.
Although the electoral system is unfair, Au disagrees the pan-democrats should give up on the system entirely.
“As a person who embraces democracy, one should increase pressure on the government with objections, instead of completely destroying the government,” Au says.