While the Hong Kong government has refused to meet the protesters’ 5 demands, likely under pressure from Beijing, the protesters have successfully forced Carrie Lam to suspend the extradition bill. Effectively killing the bill is a significant achievement, particularly considering the fact that Carrie Lam, at least to a significant degree, represents the interest of Beijing, which is firmly against legitimizing any kind of political opposition.
One of the reasons for the effectiveness of the protest movement is the decision to remain leaderless. In an op-ed article in 2017, Nicholas Berggruen, chairman of the Berggruen Institute, suggests that resistance movements need strong and charismatic leaders to succeed. Many resistance movements such as the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King Jr., the resistance to apartheid with Nelson Mandela, and the India Independence Movement with Gandhi benefited greatly from such leadership.
But the outcome of Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy movement suggests that the current protests would not be nearly as robust or effective if it did have such leaders. Joshua Wong, the strong and charismatic leader of the Umbrella movement in 2014, was jailed in 2017 for unlawful assembly. With strong leaders present, the authorities can arrest them, fatally weakening a movement. Given the deterioration of the rule of law in Hong Kong, the authorities could conceivably jail all of the movement’s linchpins with considerable ease. But with a leaderless movement, the authorities have no such power. So far, the Hong Kong Police Force has arrested hundreds of protesters while the movement has not lost any momentum because the contribution of no single individual is vital.
Just as they are doing with seemingly every obstacle in their way, Hong Kong protesters innovated around the need for a strong leader. They are using communications technology to be both highly organized and leaderless, leaving the authorities unable to take out any key elements that would cause the effort to collapse.