The week of protests against the cross-strait service trade agreement continued this morning with a “siege” of the Legislative Yuan by the Youths against Service Industry Agreement with China Movement. But as youth climbed the fence and clashed with police — a common occurrence nowadays — I couldn’t help but think that all those efforts, commendable though they are, will avail to little if they aren’t part of a larger strategy.
After years of being criticized for not caring about politics, it is absolutely refreshing to see youth movements, often supported by artists and academics, take action against injustice, evictions, demolitions, murders in the military, and sheer government ineptitude. The individuals who have joined those efforts, some of them issue-specific, but most as part of a growing alliance of causes, are among the most extraordinary people I’ve had the chance to get to know in my almost eight years in Taiwan. Far from being troublemakers or anarchists, as some of their detractors might be tempted to describe them, the majority of activists are aware, highly educated and are increasingly willing to sacrifice their time, money, and personal comfort for causes that, in their view, are directly related to the fabric of their nation, present and future.
|A protester in front of the legislature on July 31|
Another related factor is the fact that Taiwan at present does not have an opposition party that can hold the KMT in check. Sadly, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is once again a mess, constantly fighting against itself, divisive, and incapable of looking beyond the next elections. Consequently, the party has been unable to propose any policy that appeals to today’s youth, let alone ones that could encourage light blues within the KMT to work with them. The Ma administration, therefore, doesn’t have to worry about the costs of disregarding public opinion. As long as it does just a little better than the DPP, and by using its unequaled financial resources, it will almost certainly prevail in future elections.
Faced with this situation, it is no surprise that a larger segment of the public has become disillusioned with politics and cynical about politicians. They are therefore taking matters in their own hands by organizing protests, conferences, breakfasts, film showings, and developing a truly fascinating Internet platform for information sharing and organization.
|Protesters gather in front of the legislature on July 31|
This starts at the local level: with families, friends, and with one’s local party chief. They need to be pressured non-stop, and then pressured again so that the ramifications of disregarding public sentiment are drilled into the local official’s head, and the message is then passed upwards. In other words, civil society must explore ways to translate its actions into political memes. The message must be such that it keeps local officials up at night wondering whether old practices will still be sufficient to keep them in power.
|Organizers give give speeches outside the LY|
The time has come for idealistic Taiwanese to join forces with others. Protests cannot occur in a vacuum; someone must provide a master plan. (All photos by the author)
NEW: A Chinese version of this article is available here.