Hong Kong, China – A Catholic schoolgirl who left a promising career to throw gasoline bombs at the police. University students whose raison d'être is to keep up the fight. A protester who beat the arrest to mount his fourth election campaign and won the position.
As Hong Kong's anti-government protests lasted from summer to winter, this is the kind of people that have emerged as "the brave," people prepared to use radical tactics that distinguish them from the vast majority of peaceful protesters. .
"The brave,quot;, whose number is difficult to measure and whose ranks have been replaced by increasingly younger protesters, give the government more headaches. The police described them as protesters, determined to gather them to calm the riots.
Few protesters set out to be brave, but almost everyone was frustrated by the failure of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, a massive sit-in to demand universal suffrage to elect the legislature and the full chief executive. At that time they played in defense and met defeat.
Protests in Hong Kong | Start here
After the marches of a million people in June failed to make the government heed the demands of the people to withdraw the controversial bill that had triggered the protests, a more radical action brought results. The bill was filed and then scrapped, after protesters stormed the legislature.
"It was (the government) who taught us that peaceful protests are useless," the brave men sprayed on the interior walls.
"This was the breakthrough (which) opened the space for radical actions," said Gary Tang, a professor at Hang Seng University who studies youth movements.
"And the process of mutual escalation, between the police and the protesters, where it is seen that the police have used disproportionate force, has further solidified sympathy for the brave."
As the current struggle has become the longest that the semi-autonomous Chinese territory has seen in more than half a century, the brave, though bruised and exhausted, say they will continue fighting, as long as they can and while enjoying the rights and freedoms of the framework of & # 39; a country, two systems & # 39 ;, under which the former British colony was returned to China in 1997. Beijing will assume full control by 2047.
& # 39; Resist & # 39;
"If we don't resist now, what would happen to us (then)?" asked Christie, 20, who recently recovered that her police broke her pelvis with a pepperball grenade.
Since she was shot, Christie is easily shaken by strong blows, but is equally ready to throw a Molotov cocktail at the police; angry at herself every time she fails.
Before launching into the protests, Christie was a baker in a five-star hotel, earning three times the monthly income of the average college graduate, even when she dropped out of high school.
When the police called her to work and pressured her to tell her fellow protesters, she quit her job. His injuries now make it difficult to find employment.
She used to have her own floor. These days, she moves between the sofa of a politically aligned host family and a bunk bed in an Airbnb rental shared with three fellow protesters to avoid police search of their families' homes. Christie bounces a stuffed animal between her legs while recalling her old life.
"For me, there is no return," he said. "All we want is for the government to listen to us."
Once outside, Christie and other brave people say they see a "parallel universe," where business moves as usual, and passers-by walk outside the challenging graffiti that demands democracy and announce "the revolution of our time."
Christie wonders if they would only make the personal sacrifice, they would go on strike to stop the economy and put the government on its knees.
But she said she can understand. Many people have "luggage,quot;: a mortgage, children, dependent elderly parents.
Middle class support.
That said, the Hong Kong protest movement could not have lasted so long without broad support from the declared nonviolent majority of the middle class.
They have invested money in the cause, they have sought safe houses and medical treatment, as well as coupons from supermarkets and fast food restaurants to keep the protesters fed.
Opinion polls in November showed that twice as many respondents blamed the authorities for the increasing violence that protesters do, but maintaining that support requires attention.
"If the police show moderation and even reduce the situation, it remains to be seen how the brave will continue," said Tang, the investigator.
"If they use more force than the police, they would run the risk of crossing the line and losing legitimacy with the non-violent majority. That is the dilemma they are likely to face."
Used to alternating between occasional work and triad activities, Jay, 30, has found a purpose in the current protests.
He is careful to avoid being caught. Your Airbnb hideout is strictly for sleeping and killing time. Apart from an anonymous mask and a pair of worn out latex gloves, nothing hints at their participation in the protests. The armory of his team is on a street with a triad mentality.
Jay also intuits that any escalation of violence must be calibrated.
"You have to wait until someone is shot dead on the spot so that the followers think that killing the police becomes a fair game, that has not yet happened," he said.
& # 39; War of resistance & # 39;
But in the Hong Kong leaderless movement, cold heads do not always prevail.
Most of the time, emotions, instead of calculations, drive events. In mid-November, in the police siege of the Polytechnic University, more than a thousand protesters, including many of the brave, were trapped after rushing to help their comrades.
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At least a few hundred were arrested, which brings the total to more than 6,000.
If a brave man is accused and released on bail, they usually withdraw from the front line because if they are arrested again, they will have to remain behind bars until their court date..
The siege also allowed police to seize crucial equipment, such as glasses and helmets. The shortage of respirator masks means that less can face police tear gas grenades.
As police objections to mass demonstrations stifled the participation of nonviolent protesters (the last march of a million people was almost four months ago), people turned to the polls to express their anger.
At the end of November, the opposition candidates won a landslide victory in the district council elections. At least five known people among the brave won a seat.
In his fourth offer for a public office since the Umbrella Movement, Michael finally defeated his opponent, a head of a pro-government union.
In his low-income neighborhood, for a long time he has cultivated a "boy next door,quot; image with his friendly attitude and easy smile, even for those who disagree with his policy.
Joining the system means some benefits: Michael, 28, plans to invest resources in his district's discretionary budget to provide protesters with protective gear.
While he is encouraged by his victory, he is more thoughtful about where the movement is going from here.
"Now we are in a bottleneck," he said. "The movement has lost its focus. The protest slogans sound a bit hollow."
In the hotel room he has called home since he discovered three months ago that the police were following him, Michael and his friends compare the movement with a war of resistance.
"The best we can hope for is to keep warm," Michael said.
"It is becoming more and more like guerrilla warfare. Not so many people are needed, but guts are needed. And the goal is to interrupt and destroy."