It’s been going on for several months now, and with the passage of time, their skin has been getting darker, their waists slimmer, and the battle wounds — a scratch here, a bruise there — have adding up. Over the past year, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young Taiwanese, most of them university students, though some are still in high school, have mobilized against a variety of issues, protested in Taipei and across Taiwan, organized information sessions and concerts, and developed a plethora of Web sites to monitor developments (sometimes almost in real-time), and to provide documents, photos, and film clips.
|Aboriginal protester against the Miramar project|
Leaders have emerged in the process, and some have done exceptionally well, so much so that their efforts were attacked by individuals who, for example, were incredulous at the youth’s ability to raise relatively large sums of money for their causes. Others have come forward as reluctant public figures, by force of things pulled from obscurity as greater forces — often in the name of “progress” — threatened to destroy their homes, livelihoods, and so on.
Through their perseverance, youth activists have managed to make acts of injustice that would likely have been perpetrated unnoticed into ones that speak to the nation at large, attracting interest from the local media, and in some instances international ones. They have exposed government officials as complete liars, corporate leaders as thugs, county commissioners as crooks, legislators as self-serving, media moguls as unprincipled, and oftentimes brought out the very worst in individuals in positions of authority, forcing them to show their true colors to the electorate.
|Protesters at Huaguang during a round of demolitions|
There has been beauty, and there has been ugliness throughout. Some Taiwanese have donated money, rented tents, provided shelter, food, and encouragement. Others — including legislators from both sides of the divide, some who should know better as three decades ago they themselves (and their parents) were storming the barricades — have libelously referred to the activists as “professional protesters,” or accused them of undermining social stability. Others have called the youth of being naïve, of being played by unseen corporate forces, or of being mere pawns in the struggle between, in one instance, the nuclear and wind power industries. But as anyone who bothers to get to know them will quickly realize, those very same protesters — many of them graduates from the nation’s top universities — have mastered their subjects to a dot, and often offer commentary that goes well beyond the simplified accounts in the media or, help us, given by officials.
|Activist in Yuanli|
The fact of the matter is, all those “local” issues are directly related to national ones: keeping officials, local and central, honest, while ensuring that the rights of every inhabitant on this island, whether he be rich or poor, young or elderly, are respected by those in power, are inherently about Taiwan’s relations with China, as they speak to the nature, spirit, and character of the government that rules over this nation. If officials in Taipei cannot ensure that Ms Zhang’s house in Dapu isn’t bulldozed to make way for a road, despite promises (which he now denies ever making) by then-premier Wu in 2010 that such an outcome would be averted, if Mr Chiang cannot be treated fairly by a city government that wants to erect a wonderland for the super-wealthy on the ashes of Huaguang, then how can we possibly expect them to be fair when they strike deals with the authoritarian vultures in Beijing? If crooks and miscreants are allowed to retain positions of power in Taiwan, they will remain crooks and miscreants in their dealings with China, and quite possibly so in amplified form.
The battle for Taiwan’s future, and for its democracy, starts here at home, through endeavors that will ensure that honest and qualified individuals, people who have Taiwan’s interests at heart, are given the responsibilities of high office. This is what the young protesters are doing, and they are aware of what’s at stake, both locally and nationally. (All photos by the author) Taipei Times version here.