Sunday, March 23, 2014

Something Beautiful

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Two high school students take the open mic at the front gate of Taiwan's Legislative Yuan on Friday.

I couldn't make it to the protests today, because after two days of spending all my free time down there, I'd developed something of a migraine and gotten really beaten down health-wise (and I didn't even overnight it as many people did!). I needed a break - nothing is worse than a protest when you have a migraine.

I do hope to return tomorrow. Which, it being after midnight here, is technically today.

Anyway, two things in this post. First, something beautiful was happening inside the front gate of the Legislative Yuan last night. And second, this whole "Jenna gave a speech in Chinese at a protest in Taiwan" thing seems to be...a thing. I mentioned it personally on a few forums, and it's hit my comment thread, and I am sure at least a few people are wondering about it. So in this post I'll include a transcript, as well as I remembered what I said, anyway.

Anyway, this beautiful thing is just what is pictured in the photo above: organized by I-don't-know-who - I don't think it was the DPP although all the usual green-and-white tents were out, I think it might have been the Christian priest who was in attendance, who I think might be a pretty famous guy in Taiwan - the main entrance to the Legislative Yuan became, basically, an open mic podium for people wanting to express their thoughts, tell stories or relate their ideas to a crowd last night. The mic sat atop a black box (labeled "黑" for "black" and everything) intended to symbolize the "black box" of Fu Mao (the cross-strait trade services pact in question) - how very little is known about it, and how it was rammed through the legislature without being fully reviewed, like a "Surprise!" box that could contain a million dollars (but probably doesn't) or could contain a hungry velociraptor (maybe). This Black Box, or 黑箱, has become something of a symbol of those protesting the way Fu Mao was "passed".

There were a few hundred to a thousand people there, and more outside who could hear the speeches. Inside, a wide parabola of open space allowed the speakers to be seen as well as feel comfortable, without being hemmed in be a crowd. They were encouraging, friendly, giving out "you can do it! You go!" (加油!) cheers to those who expressed nervousness, quiet when someone was talking and cheers when appropriate. The cameraderie, support, and common cause of these people was really something.

The only time I felt it broke down was early in the evening, when someone referred to Chiang Kai-shek as "Jiang Zhong-zheng" (蔣中正) - his "honorary" name, and was told to "get off the stage" for calling him by an honorary that he, in their view (and mine) doesn't deserve (but I won't stop someone for using it, I just won't use it personally). But even then, the audience got upset and told the person keeping things running that she should get to speak, and she did. As far as I could see - and I spent several hours there - such an interruption of someone who wanted to take the microphone didn't happen again.

So many people took that mic - students from junior high (really!) to graduate school, teachers ("my students apologized to me for skipping class to come here. I told them 'don't be sorry, if you want to speak out but don't know what to say I'll help you'"), farmers, office workers, grandmas, retired soldiers (truly!), entrepreneurs, new graduates, those doing military service, family business owners, doctors and lawyers. No politicians as far as I could tell.

They all said their piece - stories from their lives, the ways they've felt the current administration has failed them, or democracy in Taiwan has failed them, the wages they earn vs. the cost of living compared to how those two matched up a decade or two ago, how "better" ties with China have in fact made their lives worse, or made their lives better economically but worse in terms of quality. Nobody cut anybody off (except for that one time, which I don't think happened again because the crowd disapproved), and everybody was encouraged to speak their mind. I can't tell if anyone said anything others disagreed with, but if so, there were no jeers.

These weren't silly "kids", which a lot of people are characterizing the students as being. They were knowledgeable and eloquent. They were of all ages and backgrounds. They understood what was at stake. One thing that really angers me is how many people characterize these protesters as "not understanding what's at stake". That is not correct. I also think it's kind of racist, or elitist: either 'these crazy Asians can't get their act together and they don't understand what's really at stake", or "these silly students and working class people don't really understand how the economy works" - either way, it's offensive. "These people don't know what's good for them" - yeah, call me at 1-800-GO-FUCK-YOURSELF.

(hee hee)

Also stop being condescending/racist.

They understand quite well, both in terms of the future of Taiwan's democracy and its economy. Just listening to these speakers you could tell that.

And it's not like they were rebelling because they wanted to, or they just wanted to avoid playing by the rules (if anyone wanted to avoid playing by the rules, it was the legislators who forced this pact through without proper scrutiny).

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Here's the sign my friend made - "forced to rebel". Does that sound like a slogan decided upon by someone who wants to ignore the rules?

All in all, it was beautiful. The legislature is a representative body of the people, and the chance to stand inside its gates, take a microphone and speak out is a gorgeous thing. It's fundamental democracy, even if it's only symbolic. That legislature belongs to the people, but is now full of "representatives" who have grown deaf to the people. But if only for a short time, the people took it back.

And those people! Or rather, what they said! Some of the themes that the various speakers came back to:

"This isn't about green (DPP) or blue (KMT), this is about the Taiwanese people united."

"My issue isn't with Fu Mao (the trade/services pact in question), it's the undemocratic way we Taiwanese people are being told we must accept a black box without knowing what's inside."

"I don't want to be here, occupying my own government, but I feel I must speak out."

"I don't want to argue about politics. I just want a democratic process that works."

"I want to thank the police" (standing at the gate - see the picture) "for protecting our students / their trouble in working 24/7 to be here / for protecting the Taiwanese people - you are just like us" (way to guilt trip the police into not doing anything to hurt the students inside).

I love that so much, I would kiss it if it weren't an abstract concept.

The police, for their part, seemed to be listening. Some were smiling. I don't think they want to hurt anyone. People may be forced out, or arrested (the latter is unlikely - it would look bad for the government in the face of a public that seems, broadly, to support the students in the face of a media out to smear them) but I doubt anybody will be hurt. That would look so bad for the Ma administration that I doubt they'd allow it to happen if at all preventable (notice how I don't say "the Ma administration doesn't want to hurt the students - I don't actually think they care that much beyond how it'll harm their own image).

Every protest should be like that. Not angry slogans or empty rhetoric, but just a microphone sitting on a box on a stage, and people - any people, every person, if they wish - allowed to go up there and take it. Inside the gates of the representative democratic body that claims to govern the country as per the people's will.

Symbolic, but powerful. This is the people's will.

After some time, people began to encourage me to go up there. I have no idea why (OK, maybe it was because I was the only noticeable foreigner there, being in the very front at the edge of the open space and all). I did have that little sign, which translates as "You go! The expatriate community in Taiwan supports you" which people liked quite a lot. I was chatting with others in Chinese.

And so I was encouraged to go on stage. Egged on, really. Kind of pulled on. I said I was willing to, perhaps, but that I felt nervous and hesitant because I may live here, but I'm not a citizen and never will be. I also felt acutely that maybe, after all my deriding of "educated white guys" monopolizing international public discourse on Taiwanese issues, that maybe another white person commandeering the spotlight wouldn't be a good idea. That microphone was doing its job by being available for Taiwanese people to talk about the issues facing their own country. People that didn't already have an international voice.

But in the end someone told the priest/organizer that I should speak (huh?) and the organizer himself kept encouraging me to go for it. I was all "But I'm a guest here...this is your country" and he was all "there are no guests here, we're all brothers and sisters together" which I admit was very Christian of him, in terms of how that's something Jesus would have definitely said. I may not be Christian but that's the kind of clergyman I can respect.

So suddenly I was onstage.

I hadn't really prepared anything to say, and Chinese is not my native language. But I'm not one to refuse to speak just because I'm being asked to speak, off the cuff, to a thousand people in a language that is neither my mother tongue nor something I've studied much formally. And who, when at a protest like that in a country they're not a citizen of, would even think they'd be pulled onstage and asked to say something to so many people?

So I tried to keep it brief - after all, I do still believe that that microphone does its job when it's relaying the stories of people talking about their own country's issues, who don't otherwise have a voice, and that doesn't really include me. I was trying to be there in a supporting role.

And I said:


It translates roughly into:

Hello everyone. [which I said in Taiwanese, not Chinese] I moved here in 2006 - although on the outside I look foreign, but in my heart I'm Taiwanese*. 7 or 8 years ago when I came here I thought Taiwan was such a free country with a great democracy, and the standard of living was pretty good. But these 8 years later after Ma Ying-jiu took office, now I'm seeing that the government is taking away your democracy, the government is taking away your freedom, and your salaries are getting lower while the cost of living is rising. I really can't stand it, and if I can't stand it, you guys definitely can't! So I hope that the Taiwanese will fight for their democracy, fight for their freedom, and force the government to care about the problems of everyday people. We foreigners who live in Taiwan support you**. Thank you!

*if I'd had time to prepare something to say I probably would have worded that as "my heart is in Taiwan". I did not at all mean it to be all cultural appropriation-y but I could see how someone would take it that way.

**I realize not every foreigner in Taiwan supports them, but enough do (seems to be an obvious majority) that I feel OK in saying this. However, given time to prepare I probably would have said "many" or "most foreigners in Taiwan support you". That said, as a generalization I think it is true enough that I'm not sorry that that's how it came out (considering what my little sign translates into, I can hardly backtrack on this, so I won't bother).

1 comment:

John Chung-En Liu said...

Thank you very much, Jenna. I thought about doing the same thing as a foreigner in the Wisconsin Capitol protest, but I did not. You are so much more brave!