Occupy Wall Street Movement Spreads to Asia in Global Protest

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Erica Ho

Protesters rally and gather together in downtown Hong Kong, at Exchange Square Podium, on Saturday, October 15, 2011.

What happens in New York, doesn’t stay in New York. As Occupy Wall Street enters its fourth week, its power is resonating throughout Asia and Europe. Other key financial capitals, from Hong Kong to London, are joining the fray.

Asia may be booming, but that’s not to say there are still grievances to be addressed. In downtown Hong Kong, at the Exchange Square Podium in the heart of the Central financial district, there have been calls to rally and “Occupy Central.” Lee Chung Wing, one of Occupy Central’s key organizers, is part of the Left21 protest group, one of the groups calling for change. Though the organization, which calls for democratic and social reforms, was set up early last year, the group has decided that Occupy Wall Street echoes their cries. Organized primarily through Facebook, Occupy Central is just not limited to one group’s interests. Lee says “there are actually many leftist people who hate capitalism [that are against] this idea… even though we’re in Hong Kong. We are working with different organizations, and even trade unions, to put this event together and work together.”

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The primary message at Occupy Central is unclear, just like its fellow brethren in New York. Vague manifestos and speeches are passed around with the common theme of limiting “financial opportunism.” There are several other local issues at hand: the right of workers to collectively bargain, more democratic governance, and skyrocketing real estate prices. Complaints center on anything from poorly-handled bank bonds to the political handover of Hong Kong to China in the late ‘90s. Though the estimated crowd was pegged around 300 attendees, it was evident that many more showed up to join in solidarity despite the hodgepodge of conflicting issues. Many protestors, with gear in tow, were prepared to camp out until Monday morning if necessary.

As one of the financial capitals of the world, Hong Kong is not only where moneyed bankers from Europe and America come to play amongst glittering skyscrapers: disparities between the rich and poor here remain distinctively sharp, from the family of four that survives on $1,000 a month to the hedge fund manager that pays over $10,000 a month in rent. According to figures from 2010, nearly 20% of Hong Kong’s population currently lives under the poverty line. It was only earlier this year that Asia’s premier financial center instituted a minimum wage for the first time in its history, coming in at a whopping $3.60 per hour. But despite the calls for anti-capitalism and “Occupy Central,” this is not simply a local, Hong Kong-focused movement.

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In lieu of attending events in their respective hometowns, protestors, coming from as far as the United States, Europe and other parts of Asia, gathered in downtown Hong Kong. In a universal day of protest, Occupy Central is just one of several demonstrations being planned throughout a few other continents. Over 1,000 people have pledged to attend a demonstration in Sydney alone – Melbourne, Seoul and Taipei are expected to see their fair share of protestors. Campers in Britain are preparing their tents as the sun rises over the London Stock Exchange, the hub of Europe’s business, on a crisp Saturday morning. The movement is uniting the world’s key financial centers – the ones that drive the global economy – on one single day. As one organizer in Melbourne explains, “I think people want real democracy. They don’t want corporate influence over their politicians. They want their politicians to be accountable.”

Erica Ho is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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