Monday, March 25, 2013

Youth and the future — revisited

Young protesters against the destruction of Losheng
Public protests are symptoms of systemic disease, but they can also contain the elements necessary to formulate the best treatment 

One of my, shall I say, persistent critics a few days ago predictably launched another of his ungentlemanly diatribes against me over my observations on what seems to be the emergence of a more politicized youth movement across Taiwan. While I have chosen no longer to engage that individual, I have nevertheless decided to expand upon some of the points that I made in my original piece, if only to add clarity to my argument.

First and foremost, I must make it clear that protests alone, however sustained, original, large, and colorful they may be, are in and of themselves insufficient. While they may serve to empower individuals and attract attention to causes that deserve more public scrutiny, they are only one of the many elements that comprise a healthy democracy.

In other words, the discontent that gives rise to mobilization cannot work in isolation, and must translate into something that is more far-reaching and permanent. Protests are like symptoms of illness in that they tell us there is something wrong with the system and that treatment is necessary, or that another form of treatment is required. Symptoms alert us that something isn’t right, and in a democratic system, the way to fix that is to use one’s vote to effect change.

Nowhere in my op-ed did I argue, my critic’s claims notwithstanding, that protests are enough, nor would I ever encourage people to regard public rallies as an end in itself. However, while protesting isn’t sufficient — and this applies to other forms of mobilization we have seen in recent months, from worldwide picture campaigns to cross-country information sessions — they can become powerful instruments for education that, over time, will have an impact on people’s voting decisions.

My encouragement, therefore, is far more strategic and complex than the one-dimensional and simplistic fixation of my accuser, in that it regards the empowerment that I have observed among Taiwan’s youth as a crucial link in the process of forming politically and socially aware minds that are capable of making the right decisions, and by right decisions I do not mean those that conform to the rigid biases of my critic. As I wrote in my original article, the fact that many of the young (and older) people who have participated in recent protests span the entire political spectrum in itself points to the possibility of a transformation in voting behavior. For example, a good number of "Mainlanders" (a majority of whom we can assume are KMT voters) present at the Losheng (樂生), Huaguang (華光) and anti-nuclear protests, among others, have hinted at the possibility that come the next elections, they might think twice about re-electing the KMT (and the same may have been true, in the reverse, with protesters who mobilized over the same issues when the DPP was in power). Surely this does not count for nothing!

Electing the right individuals who can meet the demands and expectations of the polity, or using one’s vote as retribution if such expectations are not met, is the penultimate weapon. But for that weapon to be used responsibly, those who wield it must be well informed of the issues—and this is exactly what the thousands of young people who have mobilized against a plethora of issues in the past year have been doing.

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