|Young Taiwanese showed up ready to shoot|
It is difficult to imagine how one could not have been moved by the thousands of young people who gathered last Saturday, armed with determination, humor, wit and a cornucopia of effigies, placards, banners and costumes, to protest against what they fear is the eventual emergence of a “media monster” should the Want Want China Times Group be allowed to expand its empire.
Although calculating turnout is never an exact science, it is fair to say that the crowd, made up almost entirely of young people, numbered in the thousands and was substantially larger than the organizers — journalist associations, student organizations and various civic groups — had expected.
In the days prior to the protest, held to coincide with Reporters’ Day, young Taiwanese launched sustained efforts online to mobilize like-minded individuals and encourage them to turn up on Saturday. From videos teaching warm-up exercises and protest slogans to messages reminding people to avoid violence and not to litter, organizers of all stripes once again exhibited an uncanny ability to turn modern media to their advantage. In many ways, this was reminiscent of the Wild Strawberry Movement’s use of Webcasts in 2008 and 2009 to bring their protests against the Parade and Assembly Act (集會遊行法), which they deemed was “unconstitutional,” to the world.
|Young people protest|
This is not to say that today’s youth is unmoved by what’s going on around them, or that they will not act when their interests — and the issues that matter to them — are threatened. Saturday’s protest, the largest turnout of young people, it must be said, in 22 years, was evidence that young people can and will act, but will do so only when they are confident enough that by participating they will not become the tools for politicians. One of the main reasons why the young turnout was so high last weekend was the organizers’ insistence that political parties not take over the protest or bring the usual party flags and paraphernalia, a request that was respected. (Former premier Yu Shi-kyun of the Democratic Progressive Party and Lin Huo-wang (林火旺), a former adviser to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), were present, but kept a low profile and showed that when it matters, the green-blue divide can be transcended. One wonders if only young people have what it takes to make politicians work together rather than tirelessly snipe at one another, to the detriment of this country.)
Saturday, added to the hundreds of young Taiwanese who mobilized in London and on the Internet during the Olympics this summer to protest against the removal, following pressure from China, of the Nationalist flag, gives us reason for hope. After all, the future of this nation depends on its youth, and its future leaders will also emerge from this generation. The world they inhabit will be a consequence both of what the current leaders make of it and of youth’s ability to shape its development.
|Fighting is hard work...|
Young people know which issues matter to them, and the reason why issues of social justice, rather than politics, are closer to their heart stems partly from the conscious decision by the previous generation — their parents’ generation — to avoid discussing politics, either out of fear following decades of White Terror, or because the subject is so painfully divisive.
That said, rather than confront politics head on, in most cases social justice, from the seizing of farmers’ land by the state to the destruction of residences by municipal authorities, or young people’s inability to find good jobs or to buy a house after graduation, is related to politics. Not only that, but it is becoming increasingly evident that social justice in Taiwan will be affected by the political decisions made by Taiwanese government officials, especially on the issue of Taiwan’s future and relations with China, which have direct ramifications for freedom of speech and treatment of minorities. At some point — and we may be on the verge of an awakening — young people will realize the immensity of the challenges that lie ahead, and that if they do not take action, decisions will be made in their name that risk compromising their future.
|Young protesters gather|
One thing is certain: The battle for one’s rights, and ultimately for the future of this wonderful nation, is a long one, one that must be sustained and waged on many fronts. Armed with the knowledge of what is important to you and with tremendously empowering skills and tools at your disposal and by harnessing modern technology, you can have a long-lasting impact on those around you and those who will come after you. Decades ago, when freedom seemed but an elusive dream amid the darkness of authoritarianism, people with dreams and aspirations just as big and honorable as yours, people of a similar age, defied power and ultimately prevailed.
You are no less empowered, and arguably more so today. But the challenge is as formidable. It’s up to you to decide how, when and where to confront it. An edited version of this article appeared in the Taipei Times on Sept. 11.