Monday, December 26, 2016

One step forward for marriage equality and thoughts on the nature of disobedience

To my great regret, I was unable to make it to the marriage equality rally today, to support the referral of the bill that would amend the civil code to the Legislative Yuan from committee. I had a class at exactly the wrong time - although I could have shown up on the early side if I had known the meeting was likely to end that quickly - and by the time I was able to go downtown, everything was over. I'm not unwilling to sacrifice work time for this cause - I consider it a donation to the fight for justice. I have very understanding employers who know this issue is important to Taiwan and to me, so I'm able to do so from time to time (I am not unaware that this is a great blessing for someone who is civically active - a lot of employers would not be so flexible). But, I've already done a great deal of that already and at some point I actually do have to show up and do my job.

In any case, there seems to be good news and bad news (and if I've got any of this wrong, please do correct me in the comments. I have never claimed to be an expert in Taiwan's legislative process, and frankly I'm a bit confused by their being three or four bills, which ones are progressing, or all of them, and why).

The good news is that the bill has left committee, which is a small step forward.

The bad news is that it won't go straight to the full legislature, it will go through caucus consultations first. If I understand how that works, it means each party will consult on the bill (I had thought it was with all of their legislators, but apparently not, and the consultations are cross-party). Whether or not there is enough support for the bill to continue might be determined, and at this point either side might introduce changes to the draft.

The good news is that these caucus consultations are live streamed now, so we can pay attention to who's being a jerk and hold them accountable. This makes it less likely legislators will jerk around, I hope.

The bad news is that people who know these things predict that the KMT is likely to "butcher" the bill in caucus consultations. If a change is agreed on, it goes to the legislature as such, if not, that deliberation happens in the full legislature.

Another touch of bad news (if you can read the Chinese, I got this info here) is that this is perhaps not the great bill that activists had hoped for - it amends the code, but waters down the language and basically adds another category of marriage rather than changing the language referring to gender in the original law.

On the good side, however, the legislature finally seems to be aware (I hope?) that support for marriage equality is strong and more than superficial (if it were surface-level support for a 'trendy' cause, 250,000 people would not have shown up on December 10th, and 30,000 or so people would not have shown up today), and the Ministry of Justice will not be drafting its own bill for civil partnerships (which would likely not confer equal rights, would be akin to segregation - separate is not equal after all, and civil partnerships are not considered 'marriage' - and would not result in a change in the civil code).

I note all of this because there seems to be a lot of confusion as to when this is finally going to be voted on, if it ever is, and what today stood for. People are celebrating, which I can understand to some degree - the bill being finally out of committee is undoubtedly a step forward and we ought to recognize that. I, however, will be saving my celebration for when the path forward is clearer than it is now. I am not at all confident that it will get through caucus consultations unscathed.

On the other side of the debate, there are a lot of images circulating on Facebook noting that the pro-equality demonstrators are peaceful and friendly, whereas the anti-equality ones, perhaps knowing they're on the losing side, perhaps just being judgmental tight-asses in general, have gotten angry and rowdy. There were reports of smoke bombs going off, and several were arrested.

On one hand, it is a credit to the pro-equality side that they present a better image and are advocating peacefully and intelligently for their goals. On the other, how peaceful demonstrations are is not necessarily an indicator of how 'right' the goal of the demonstrators is. Remember scenes of the student movement participants that became the Sunflowers shouting at police, being dragged down the street and - at least as it was reported by J. Michael Cole - egging and spray painting a government building. They occasionally got rowdy, they blocked access, they climbed walls. They were, however, absolutely correct in their convictions. I appreciate that the pro-equality crowd is peaceful but let's not make this distinction too simplistic, shall we? It could come back to bite us later.

Along those lines, the anti-equality crowd, when they were arrested for trying to climb the walls surrounding the Legislative Yuan and many of them were promptly handcuffed with zipper ties, were said to shout "how come the Sunflowers did this and were not restrained?" (not an exact quote).

Honestly, if they think the reason why they were handcuffed and the Sunflowers were not had anything to do with ideology, they have not been paying attention. I happen to think they know this is not a valid comparison, and are being disingenuous, but I digress.

The police were not on the side of the Sunflowers, they didn't "let" them get away with it because of the ideology driving the students. They got away with it because nobody - including I would gather many of the Sunflowers themselves - saw it coming (at least that's how I've heard it told). Nobody expected the occupation would happen that quickly, it caught everyone off-guard.

Now, there's a precedent, and police are ready. Should a group of strong-willed students try to occupy the Legislative Yuan again, you can be sure they would be similarly arrested, if not had worse things done to them. You can also be sure the students are aware of this.

It just so happens that the Sunflowers were right and the anti-equality demonstrators are wrong, but that has nothing to do with who was arrested and who wasn't. Remember as well that, while the Executive Yuan case against the Sunflowers was dropped, as far as I am aware, prosecution for the Legislative Yuan occupation is ongoing. (Please correct me if I am wrong or have missed something).

It's a bit of a logical fallacy, and also painfully reductive its, to equate either 'passionate civil disobedience' with being right, or 'we were peaceful, so we must be the good guys' with being right. The rightness or wrongness of your stance is not determined by whether you demonstrate peacefully or make a scene, and it could come back to bite those who pretend it is. The Sunflowers were right, but not because they happened to occupy. The anti-equality crowd is wrong, but not because they grew rowdy. The pro-equality demonstrators are right, but not because they are peaceful (though it does make them look good). As long as your tactics don't result in the injury or death of innocent parties (I take a more liberal approach to property destruction but it probably doesn't help anyone's cause to engage in it), how laudable your goals are should not be tied to how you fight for them.

This seems to be another fundamental misunderstanding of the legacy of the Sunflowers - like the KMT who still can't understand that such civic actions are not necessarily orchestrated by an opposing party and who try to pull off unsuccessful imitations, the anti-equality demonstrators do not seem to understand that their legacy is not "if you are right, you must occupy". It was, and always has been to fight for what you believe in through non-violent but also non-passive means, physically if you must, and ethics, logic and the progress of society will determine whether you are right or wrong.

On a more personal note, I've noticed recently that I have kind of been hankering to be a part of something like this, well, for awhile. At least since my own country went to hell and I vowed to engage more in the civic realm, but in Taiwan which is my home, rather than America, which is not. My absence today was not a problem, I surely was not missed. Enough people showed  up that that one extra body did not matter. However, I personally wanted to be there to physically support a cause I care about, and regret that I missed the chance. I understand that today was not entirely safe, and there was the chance of an altercation, however, if anything such a risk just makes me more committed. I don't want to start anything or get involved in such a confrontation, but I am not afraid of one, and will not be intimidated.

Apparently some anti-equality protesters shouted to a 'foreign' journalist to 'go back to his country'. I would have responded in that situation that I am in my country, that Taiwan is my home.

Next time, then, I will be there.

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