Thursday, March 20, 2014

Something Something Something Protests

I feel like it would be appropriate to say something here about the protests going on right now - photos possibly coming later as I'm intending to go support the students tonight (with a friend - this is one time when I don't want to go to a protest alone, although it's supposedly quite peaceful).

First, I'm really happy that this happened. Not happy at the events that precipitated it, but that, when those events occurred, this, rather than passive melancholic acceptance, was the result. It shows that the younger generation considers themselves truly Taiwanese (not necessarily Chinese), that they have a strong love for their country and a political conscience with an activist streak - exactly what Taiwan needs in my opinion.

Second, the students seem to realize quite rightly that this is serious business. Marching up and down Ren'ai Road or holding signs up on Ketagalan Boulevard is all well and good and a way to release and express frustration with the political process, but considering how useless those protests have been (in part because those in power  - *cough* the KMT *cough* - don't listen and aren't accountable - and in part because the protesters themselves have kind of sucked at activist follow-up, most noticeably in the aftermath of the Hong Zhongqiu protests), it's kind of a child's game. But occupying the legislature - the most representative arm of your own democracy - that's no game. That's real. You don't storm the Legislative Yuan just because some KMT guy called some DPP woman a 'shrew' and she purposely misinterpreted it as 'skank' and slapped him (true story). You storm it because something is seriously fucking wrong with democracy and accountability in your country. You storm it because you rightly have realized that you have no other way of making your voice heard. And the students know it. This is no game. This is the people's truest voice. This is the song of angry men (and women).

Thirdly, I love how deftly the activists mobilized social media to make this happen in the face of an international media that doesn't care about Taiwan (they really don't, unless they're either being intellectually lazy "realists" or writing about hot springs) and a domestic media out to slander them (the pro-green channels and papers generally haven't, but haven't shown strong support either, with the possible exception of the Taipei Times which is an English language publication, but the pro-KMT news outlets, which is what most Taipei folks consume, has painted them in brushstrokes taken straight from the Chinese Communist Party playbook - hmm).

People talk about Twitter and Facebook mobilizing protests in Egypt and Iran, but the international media would have covered those anyway. They were important outlets to organize people, but those people didn't need to get the news out - they were immediately seen as newsworthy. Taiwan, on the other hand, has to fight for its news coverage, which is both deeply unfair and probably a result of a generally pro-China (or at least not-critical-enough-of-China) international media.

This is one of the first times I've heard of at least when the people making the news used social media not just to mobilize, but to get word out in the face of news coverage that is generally against - or apathetic to - them. They took the spotlight by lighting up Facebook, and they did it with both sincerity and media savvy. They wrote blog posts, status updates and CNN iReport stories without worrying that, using English as a second language, that they may contain language mistakes - notable because often people shy away from writing or saying too much out of a fear that their English isn't good enough. They got a widely-shared status update translated into several different languages asking for the world's support. I'm impressed.

Fourthly, this is the second consecutive protest across political boundaries in Taiwan (Hong Zhongqiu was the first) - and I hope that trend continues. While I'm quite open about supporting the generally pan-green side (although I would not call myself a full-on "DPP supporter") and opposing the pan-blue side, I do think partisan politics has got to come to an end in Taiwan, and now, over the past few years, it seems as though that may finally be possible in a way that is still impossible in the country of my birth (it's hard to say "let's stop this partisan bickering" when one party's line is basically an endless stream of bigotry - Taiwan has a lot of bad cards in its hand but it doesn't have that). I would dearly like to stop having to point my finger at the KMT, and I bet the people of Taiwan share that sentiment.

Finally, the whole thing has me thinking a lot about the spirit vs. the letter of the law. The students may have violated the letter of the law by occupying the legislature, but protests are a democratic right. What they did adheres beautifully to the spirit of democracy, which is the spirit of any laws passed under that democracy. At least a few others have already noted that without civil disobedience - again, which is a democratic right whether democratic governments want it to be or not - Taiwan wouldn't be a democracy now.

The politici - - I mean the KMT may have adhered (I guess) to the letter of the law (although I have my doubts about that, as I'm no legal scholar I'll let others sort through that mess) but they deeply violated the spirit of it.

Who's in the right? Well, I'm on the side of the spirit of the law. I don't have a lot of patience for bureaucratic, parochial, condescending nonsense.

All we can do now is wait and see what happens - or if you can, go support the students. I want to go just to be one of (hopefully) many foreign faces there to let the world know that the international community in Taiwan by and large supports them. And I want that to be loud and clear: to the students, activists and protesters: the international community in Taiwan supports you!

What I hope for the future is that there will be some follow-through on this. That they'll make something happen. That they'll win. That they'll at least get someone with the power to do something to actually do that thing. That they'll change the face of democracy in Taiwan into something more transparent and more accountable, and force the powers-that-be (*cough* the KMT *cough*) to undertake some serious, long-awaited and much needed reforms.

Some links regarding the protests:

Taiwan Explorer's Facebook page has a lot of good reading material linked to it
J. Michael Cole reports for The Diplomat
"Ridiculous Politics"
BuzzFeed was one of the first news outlets popular with Westerners that broke the story - it took CNN and BBC quite some time to catch up
Some great photos here
Students issue a statement - I wish they'd just printed the statement in its entirety
Is there a better way to voice your opinions than occupying the legislature? (Short answer: no. Long answer: Noooooooooooo).
The original CNN iReport on the protests (notable because it seems clear the protesters themselves wrote it - when they were initially denied the spotlight, they made their own light with the blink of a million social media posts)
Frozen Garlic is always good for this sort of thing
Damn media and their BS!