HONG KONG—July 1 feels like a long time ago now. That night, thousands of protesters besieged the offices of this city’s legislature, beating at security glass, trying to break through from the street into the chamber. I had spent the day circling the building, speaking with demonstrators and watching as they hammered away, an effort that at first appeared futile. Hours later, I spotted people walking up the building’s darkened staircase, their yellow construction helmets a telltale sign that protesters had finally breached one of Hong Kong’s main halls of power.
It was a radical moment, and for a minute I looked on in disbelief, before turning to an old man standing next to me to ask if the building we were looking at—one I had previously visited, and one clearly marked with signs—was indeed the Legislative Council.
The next morning, I interviewed a protester who had rushed back into the offices to try to persuade a handful of demonstrators, who were determined to stay behind and face off with police, to leave before officers arrived. When the verbal coaxing failed, he and others resorted to dragging their comrades from the building. The man was exhausted and began to cry as he recounted that some of those he had doubled back for had told him that they were willing to die for the movement. It was the first time I had heard anyone speak openly about the possibility of death at the hands of police since the rallies had begun a month earlier. Just five years before, during the Umbrella Revolution, the use of tear gas by police had stunned Hong Kong, and this time around, the use of the noxious gas was still shocking enough to lead news reports and dominate polite conversations on the weekdays between demonstrations.