Thursday, May 02, 2013

Why Taiwan’s youth movement matters (sow a wind)

Protesters show what they think at a protest in late April
Vague talk about how to ‘protect’ Taiwan is no longer sufficient. What the times call for is action, and a group of young Taiwanese is doing just that  

How refreshing the past few months have been! At long last, a group of young people, still relatively small, yes, but certainly mobile, and extremely canny, has achieved what well-funded and established political parties, concerned as they are with continuity, can only hope of accomplishing. 

The new phenomenon, which sprouted legs sometime in the middle of last year, is the youth movement, which over time has expanded from a single-issue group into a multifaceted and cross-pollinating entity that mobilizes wherever injustice rears its ugly head. From Tsai Eng-meng’s (蔡衍明) now-defeated efforts to create a media goliath through the acquisition of Jimmy Lai’s (黎智英) Next Media outlets in Taiwan to an ongoing campaign against the destruction of the Losheng Sanatorium (樂生療養院) and the forced eviction of elderly residents of the Huaguang Community (華光), the several hundreds of highly educated, connected, Internet-savvy youth who form the core of this group are showing the way ahead for Taiwan. 

It would be easy to dismiss their protests as simple show, of protest for the sake of publicity, were it not for the fact that their acts are serving as instruments of education. The social media platforms that have been created in parallel with the protests are by themselves often more current and learned than anything one will find in the media. Furthermore, their mobilization, with support from a number of academics, is engendering essential public debate on issues that otherwise would be ignored. 

Even more important is the fact that their protests are actions, not the hollow talk we are usually served by politicians from both sides of the political divide. And those actions are, in turn, prompting reactions. And occasionally, those reactions are overreactions, such as the targeting of young students like Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) by both Mr. Tsai’s media empire and government authorities, or just this week, the Miaoli County Police Department’s handling of the protests over the wind turbine project in Yuanli Township (苑裡). Through its actions, the youth movement is bringing out the best and the worst in government officials and ordinary people alike, which inevitably creates a clash in values and interests. 

When peaceful protests in Yuanli are broken by police who ride roughshod over the law, using disproportionate measures such as handcuffing the activists at the site, or threatening their immediate arrest if they turn out again today (May 2), it forces people to scrutinize how our law enforcement agencies, along with the Ministry of the Interior, are abiding by the rules of a democratic system. And using every electronic tool at their disposal, the young protesters, aided by a pool of stalwart journalists, make sure that everything is well documented. When the authorities fail, as they evidently did in Miaoli in the past week, senior officials come under fire, as occurred on May 1, when Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) faced heated questions (here, here and here) in the legislature, and promised an investigation. Look how this focuses the minds of DPP legislators.

When’s the last time, really, that political parties forced all of us to look at articles of the law, or to think about such fundamentals as freedom of the press or the right to property? In the past year, the youth movement has dared to dream and to take a stand in the defense of the values that are supposed to serve as the foundations for this nation. Unlike the politicians who speak in abstract terms and often seem to take those values for granted, this nascent youth movement is willing to fight for them, and to teach us lessons in the process. 

The time has come for rejuvenation, and for that to happen, what is required is action — physical involvement, and the catalysis of anger in the face of injustice. Yes, such mobilization causes disturbances and sometimes leads to clashes, but it’s now clear that this is what is necessary to shake the majority of Taiwanese out of their comfortable stupor … before it’s too late. (Taipei Times version here.)

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