|Participants at the Losheng 316 rally in Taipei|
I’ve been attending, covering and writing about protests in Taiwan for about seven years now, not only for the entertainment value (though they do tend to be colorful and original), but also because I genuinely believe that they serve as an indicator of social and political stability.
I have noticed in the past 12 months or so an interesting shift in the composition of those who participate in the protests and the frequency with which those protests are held. As I wrote in an editorial last week, not a week goes by nowadays without a protest of some sort being organized, a sign, in my opinion, that the government is failing to address issues that are important to the polity.
Far more important, in my opinion, is the fact that more and more young people are turning out to protest. In fact, in the past year or so, several protest campaigns have been organized by young Taiwanese who mobilized using the most modern social platforms, coordinated with law enforcement agencies, ensured order and security at the events, and led the events. Some have faced arrest, opprobrium by the media, government officials and older people, though they did not allow such reactions to discourage them. Many have done so while writing exams or applying for graduate school.
If we put all the causes together, several thousands of young Taiwanese have rallied on weekends and weekdays, sometimes even spending all-nighters at a time when the rest of the nation was celebrating some holiday or another.
|Baby girl at anti-nuclear protest|
As I’ve argued many times before, young Taiwanese will become involved when the issues speak to their own lives and their perceived interests. As such, the composition of the crowd at rallies organized by the green camp targeting “the government,” “the Chinese Nationalist Party” or “China” is usually homogenous — people in their sixties or seventies whose voting behavior is already known (green). Based on my own observations, the ratio of young people to old at those rallies is about 1:10.
|Opponent of media monopoly|
Beyond the protests, symposiums and academic gatherings have also reflected this generational divide. Contrast, say, last Friday’s World Taiwanese Congress (WTC) in Taipei, with the various focus groups and lectures organized to address a variety of issues, from the destruction of private property by the government to the risks posed by the monopolization of the media environment. Truth be told, I skipped this year’s WTC, well remembering the slumber fest that it was last time I went two years ago. It’s little wonder that older Taiwanese believe the younger generations cannot be bothered to become involved in political issues: if the only yardstick used is attendance at lectures (mostly in Taiwanese) in dark conference halls by people who have been regurgitating the same old message for decades, then yes, one could conclude that young Taiwanese couldn’t care less.
|Woman at Losheng 316 protest|
|Kneeling over 3km at Losheng rally|
Rather than single-issue groups, several organizations, which share similar values, now work together to raise awareness of important issues, and rarely do so through the lens of one’s political preference. In many cases, the organizers would rather that political parties not turn out at their events, or will at least keep them at arms’ length.
|Protester at a pro-Tibet rally|
This op-ed was published today in the Taipei Times.