Showing posts with label npp. Show all posts
Showing posts with label npp. Show all posts

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Taipei Pride 2019: Huge and Political

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This year's Taipei Pride, held earlier today - and the parties are surely still going on - merits so many "that's what she said" descriptors, I don't even know where to begin. It was massive. Huge. So very long. It just kept coming. By the end, my legs were practically falling off.

Basically, it was exactly what you'd expect for the first Pride after legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, the first Asian country to do so.


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I have no idea exactly how big the parade was other than that it was the biggest Taiwan, and therefore Asia, has ever seen (Taipei Pride is the biggest LGBT event in the continent). I found it hard to estimate in part because the usual starting point and route of the parade changed from the Jingfu Gate circle and general 228 Park area to City Hall square - that big esplanade where Ren'ai Road ends - for reasons I'm not sure of. The News Lens puts the total conservatively, I think, at 170,000. New Bloom is perhaps a tad overgenerous with 350,000. All I can say is that I stopped walking and took up a permanent spot thinking the whole parade would pass me in about 20 minutes. Two hours later, it was still going. 



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It was big enough to make the front page of the BBC (to be honest, though, Taipei Pride usually does. And, of course, BBC had to add the stupid language about China and Taiwan, as though China is at all relevant to Taipei Pride (it isn't.) I won't even bother to quote it here.




All the usual corporate sponsors were there - something I don't love, but in an Asian context, also don't hate. Not because it signals that they don't (or don't intend to) discriminate against LGBT workers, job applicants and clients - that should be a given - but because the older generation which is less open to LGBT equality and rights won't necessary listen to their kids and grandkids: the young, liberal participants. But hoo boy, if they learn that the Taiwan branch of some fancy company (and therefore that company's CEO or branch office's General Manager, who is likely to be older and more like them) supports those things, they may be more likely to reconsider.

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LGBT-friendly churches were in attendance as well, a reminder that  while most Christian organizations in Taiwan are anti-gay, we can't judge anyone before we get to know them.


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What really struck me, though, was how much more political this year's Pride was. I mean, Taipei Pride has always had that legacy, acting as it does to offer a beacon of hope to the region that, as President Tsai put it, "progressive ideals may take root in an East Asian society". It's quite typical that people from around Asia and the world come to Taiwan to celebrate Pride here because they simply cannot do so in their own countries, and this year was no exception. What's more, young supporters of political causes, including Taiwanese de jure independence, have typically also been supportive of LGBT causes (older Taiwan independence supporters...not so much).

But this year there was a very strong undercurrent of support for the Hong Kong protesters, mockery of repressive China, and more open support of Taiwanese identity. Other flags and signs supporting Tibet and Xinjiang could also be seen.




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If, by the way, you're pro-LGBT but were still thinking that you could support any candidate in the Taiwanese 2020 elections and it wouldn't matter, think again. It's quite clear not only from the candidates' own messaging but the overall attitude at Pride that if you're not heteronormative, Han Kuo-yu is not the guy for you. Tsai Ing-wen's administration on the other hand, while not perfect, is your best bet (yeah, I needed help to understand this, my Taiwanese sucks).

International organizations that have a presence in Asia such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace were also present - with some participants flying in from abroad to march with their organization's banner.

This was cast in stark relief by one sign in particular:





Homonationalism is an ideology that uses liberal, often pro-LGBT positions as a means to discriminate against immigrants from more "conservative" societies, saying that they bring their anti-LGBT (or illiberal) values with them, so we're in trouble if we let too many of them in. Or, more generally, it's just used as an excuse for prejudice and discrimination in societies where things like marriage equality are now taken as normal and may be supported even by members of the right wing, but xenophobia remains a problem.

And yes, perhaps you'll meet immigrants who live up to the "their values are not like ours" stereotype - nevermind that our values weren't much different just a few years or decades ago - but the fact that Taipei Pride is a massive welcome party for marginalized groups across Asia from these "conservative" societies - shows that one cannot assume liberalism or illiberalism simply by national origin. 




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Of course, the usual bevy of left-leaning political parties showed up, including the much reduced and humbled New Power Party (with a few flags), the Green Party, the State-building Party (with their own truck, spouting very serious political messages) and I assume others. I'm not sure at all if the NPP being on more equal footing representation-wise with these smaller parties is a good thing or not - none of them are currently strong contenders to take down the DPP/KMT two-party vortex, but then it never quite felt fair before that the NPP got all the thunder, y'know?


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This year also felt more sexually diverse than previous years - with huge bisexual, transgender and asexual flags in addition to the usual rainbow.


 
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My own visit to Pride was cut short in part because the route was just so slow, especially before it reached Zhongxiao Dunhua, where things sped up a little bit. I was stuck in a mass of people at City Hall well past the 1:30pm departure time, and by 3pm we hadn't even made it past Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall yet, with several very long waits. This was due at least in part to how little space the parade was allocated. I remember previous demonstrations in this part of Taipei taking up all of Zhongxiao Road or all of Ren-ai Road, or at least one full half of it, but Pride got just one or two lanes, with several close calls (including people trying to speed up a bit walking on the outer edge of the march, quite close to traffic). Some marchers got stuck trying to use the fenced-off walkway by the Taipei White Elephant Dome construction site, only to be forced back into the much-delayed and swollen crowd when that walkway ended.


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I could try to assign blame for this poor planning but we don't really know...oh whatever, let's go for it. Maybe it'll become clearer in a few weeks but right now, it sure looks like the authorities are just less willing to give space to Pride and that could be in part due to homophobia. After all, one aspect of homophobia is reducing the 'space' in which LGBT people may exist, and in today's case, that felt literally true.

But let's not assign blame to every member of law enforcement. Several traffic cops I saw today were wearing small but noticeable rainbow items in a show of support, and the police I saw here and there looked friendly and relaxed, not serious or unsupportive. 


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To end this on a fun note, I did enjoy the preponderance of music this year. 






In previous years each parade route might have had one or two trucks playing music for participants to dance to - otherwise you sort of walked and talked with your friends but there was nothing to keep your energy up. This year, everyone from the usual drag queens to the Korean truck (who were not the only Korean participants) blasting K-Pop to LesPark (which always has great music) and more kept the mood upbeat.


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And, of course, the costumes - with Taipei Pride being so close to Halloween, it'd make sense that it turns into something of a costume party (though I suppose most Pride parades do - I've only ever attended in Taipei though.) Not to get too gossip-rag about it but let me tell you: in 2019, dog daddies and Pikachu are super hot, and the Joker is super not (as a friend I ran into put it, the new Joker is kind of an Angry Straight White Guy thing so that makes sense). Disney princesses, ruling like a queen or goddess, video game and cartoon characters, BDSM, Hong Kong solidarity, Free Hugs and angel wings are in. Showing too much, however, seems to be out.











Plan your Halloween party attire accordingly. 



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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Third Force we needed and the Third Force we got

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I have no cover image so now is a good a time as any to say that I think my cat looks like Huang Kuo-chang


I said I didn't want to return to party politics for awhile, and I meant it. But then in the span of about 24 hours, Handy Chiu resigned as chair of the New Power Party and legislator Hung Tzu-yung left the party in much the same fashion as Freddy Lim two weeks ago.

There is a lot of speculation floating around about the details of why the NPP seems to be in nuclear meltdown mode, and I'm not able to offer any facts that you can't find elsewhere. What I can offer is bare-faced opinion, so here we go.

In the post-Sunflower era, the nascent Third Force needed two things. The first was to have a more collective structure - lots of people who broadly agree working together with no one 'personality' taking over. The second was to balance idealism with pragmatism. While there are people in the Third Force who would agree with this, unfortunately, they haven't been able to steer the movement in that direction.

The leadership needed to be more pluralistic - at the very least, the stars of the Third Force needed to be people who specifically wanted to cultivate and mentor emerging voices in the movement, so it never got to be too much about a few luminaries but instead continually populated with emerging young talent and new ideas.

There are Third Force public figures who take such a goal seriously, including Lin Fei-fan, the new deputy secretary general of the DPP, who had at one point intentionally stepped out of the spotlight, prioritized connecting with democracy activists across Asia, has shown that the DPP is willing to work with Third Force parties, and has said publicly that one of this goals is to foster and promote new voices so it's not all about certain personalities. (I think that last bit is published somewhere, but regardless he said it publicly at a panel at LSE last summer, which I attended.)

I'd venture that Lim is another such figure - he has sought to work with other legislators in the NPP rather than seeking to control the narrative, has fostered talent within the NPP, and has eschewed power he could have easily grabbed (when Huang Kuo-chang stepped down as party chair, the job was his for the taking. He didn't take it.) He has a slick and well-managed PR machine, but he uses it far differently than Huang. Even Handy Chiu, who wasn't chair of the NPP long enough to make an impression, seemed to seek compromise, discussion and a shared spotlight.

That's the attitude the NPP - and the whole Third Force - needed.

Sadly, that's not what they, or we, got.

Next to these more democratically-minded figures, there's Huang Kuo-chang. I won't sit here blasting the guy, because I don't know him personally (we met once, but only very briefly). But just a quick skim of NPP-related news will make clear that Huang is not only a major personality within the party, but also has a tendency to dominate it. In his lengthy Facebook manifesto, Wu Cheng referenced this explicitly.

I can also say that Huang did (and does) tend to dominate the NPP decision-making process and it did (and does) turn people off. It seems to me - barefaced opinion here - that this is not just that they lack a consensus on better alternatives, but because Huang is a dominant, controlling person. He may have tried to temper this tendency by stepping down as party chair, but it doesn't seem to have worked, and has definitely driven good people away.

So, since the NPP's founding, instead of this lovely utopian vision of collective voices, it feels like there's been a tug-of-war over whether to work towards true consensus, or just let it be the Huang Kuo-chang Show. From whether to push for a host of referendums (too many to link here) that not everyone fully supported to the failed (and pointless) hunger strike to whether or not to cooperate with Ko Wen-je or other Third Force parties, to whether or not to support Tsai's re-election bid, it's been years of Huang wanting to run the show. From what people have told me, there's arrogance aplenty as well.

As you might expect, this has caused people to become disenchanted and walk away. (Lin Fei-fan has said that Huang was not the reason why he didn't join the NPP, and relations between them are strong. I can't say if that's true or just something you say on camera, but I'd argue it doesn't matter - the overall trend is there.) 


That leads us to the second thing the NPP needed to be, but ultimately wasn't: a vanguard for the Third Force that wisely mixed idealism with pragmatism.

I've already said that the central issue with the NPP is a divide not between who supports whom outside of the party, whether that's Mayor Ko Wen-je or President Tsai Ing-wen, or whether or not to push for more referendums or hold a hunger strike or whatever the current 'issue' is, but rather all of these disagreements fall along a fault line of often-foolish idealism (led by Huang Kuo-chang and supported by Hsu Yung-ming) vs. guarded idealistic pragmatism (led by Freddy Lim and supported by Hung Tzu-yung). I could give a hundred examples, but let's just talk about one.

Despite strong arguments for supporting Tsai, Ing-wen for re-election, the NPP was unable to reach a consensus, I gather in great part because Huang was just not having it (he did threaten to leave if the NPP became a 'little green' after all.)

But here's the thing - and I've said this before:

The true progressives need to...realize firstly that not that many Taiwanese are as progressive as they are and their ideas are not shared by a majority of the population. That means more needs to be done to win over society. It means teaming up with the center, even if the center is slow to act. Doing so doesn't mean you have to support the center indefinitely. 
Or, as a very smart friend of mine once said, activists have to realize that change won't happen just because they march, protest, strike, write and occupy. Change happens because they do those things, bring their ideas to the rest of society and show the establishment that their causes enjoy some popularity and can be winning issues. Activism needs friends in the establishment to get things done, and the more progressive members of the Establishment need the activists to get society to care about those issues. In Taiwan, the activists need Tsai, and Tsai needs the activists. 


We're at a critical juncture now, where it's not hyperbole to say "this is do or die for Taiwan". I'll write more about this later, but electing a pro-Taiwan president now, as China is ramping up its disinformation, election interference and aggression campaigns as well as activating its latent networks to bully Taiwan into the fold, is of urgent importance. The top priority now is simple: Han Kuo-yu must be stopped. Lim, Lin and others understand this, and are willing to set aside differences with the less liberal DPP, but Huang and Hsu don't seem to get it. They're clinging to this idealist notion that in 2020, it is possible to undermine Tsai but not have Han win. And that's just not the case. It's fine to keep criticizing Tsai and the DPP, but damn it guys, do that after she wins. 


We needed a Third Force, and an NPP especially, that understood this and took the right side when the chips were down. We needed them to see that Tsai may not be perfect and it's necessary to continue to hold her and her party accountable, but that it would hurt Taiwan far worse to enable Han to win, however indirectly. We needed them to understand that their energy is best spent trying to win people to progressive causes while supporting the best possible viable candidate and establishment ally, rather than assuming they can do what they want because their ideals are obviously the correct ones. (They are, but if most voters don't see it that way, it doesn't matter much, does it?)

Sadly, that's not the NPP we got, and it's unclear that such a consensus will arise from elsewhere. The idealists "won", if by "won" we mean "blew up the party so now it's just Huang And Friends". I don't see a party built that much around one not-terribly-likable personality, which keeps taking hard turns into unrealistic idealism, lasting particularly long. Personality-parties rarely outlast their key figurehead, and overly idealistic ones are likely to perish even sooner.

What have we got, then? A hobbled, bleeding NPP, a few scattered parties that occasionally work together, and a couple of popular legislators who are now independent.

I've said before that the question of whether the NPP would lose relevance if it takes an overly-pragmatic route of becoming a 'little green' by supporting Tsai and the DPP is a moot one: moving away from supporting the DPP at key junctures, turning instead towards more radical platforms, would render it a fringe party, and that's just another kind of irrelevance.

It looks, then, like they're gunning for irrelevance. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Freddy quits NPP, my crush on him intensifies

I was going to write a nice blog post about hiking in the tea fields in the mountains behind Meishan today, but then black metal star and Sexy Legislator Freddy Lim announced to everyone's surprise (or at least mine - but friends in the know hadn't quite expected it either) that he was leaving the NPP to run for re-election in 2020 as an independent, and supporting Tsai Ing-wen for re-election in 2020.

He also pointed out that the internal inconsistency or chaos within the NPP on whether or not the party should support Tsai Ing-wen for re-election in 2020 has made it impossible for him to do what he thinks is right - that each candidate needs to stand clearly against the KMT, especially given the threats posed by the upcoming election. In questions after his announcement, he said he did not intend to join the DPP, nor did he intend to join Ko Wen-je's newly-formed party, but that he had been in touch with the DPP. 


While the news was surprising, I couldn't really say I was shocked. The past few days have been a constant stream of news about the NPP's internal disagreements, so I suppose it shouldn't be such a shock. There have been rumors of the NPP supporting Ko Wen-je (unlikely for reasons I'll outline below, and I think chairperson Handy Chiu, who really needs to change his English name, also said today that they do not, but I was unable to watch the statement he gave shortly after Lim's announcement). 



This @watchoutTW timeline says it all! pic.twitter.com/AjldkYTo72
— Pierre-Yves Baubry (@pybaubry) August 1, 2019



There has been discussion of whether supporting Tsai for re-election in 2020 would make the NPP a "little green" - basically a follower party of the DPP rather than its own entity with its own platform. NPP spokesperson (at least I think he still has that job?) Wu Cheng, who ran for city council in 2018 and lost, published an extremely long essay on Facebook outlining this internal disagreement, and I now regret that I never finished reading it. A few key points I did glean were that it's true the NPP has no consensus whatsoever on whether or not to support Tsai, that ideas like "little green" don't mean much when the question is whether the party is passively or actively building its platform and ideological grounding, and that while it may seem to some that Huang Kuo-chang (NPP legislator and former chairperson) was dominating the party with his views, that from Wu's perspective, the issue was the NPP's lack of a clear set of platforms independent of - rather than in opposition to - Huang's own ideas.

If you're wondering who's on team Little Green and who isn't - Huang has been clear that he'll leave if the party becomes too "green" (though I don't think supporting the current president simply because she's green should count as "too green", Huang gonna Huang), Hung Tzu-yung says she'll quit the party if they don't settle the issue and has expressed support for Tsai, and Hsu Yung-ming is pushing for the NPP to field a presidential candidate, which is a terrible idea so we'll just call him Terrible Idea Man.

So, again, is it any shock that such internal disarray would push out a no-bullshit kinda guy like Freddy? While he's got smooth PR and great showmanship, the beliefs beneath the veneer are indeed sincere. If he's got a clear idea of what needs to be done to stand for what is right, then he's not playing around or trying to get attention. He would only do something like this if he truly believed the NPP's internal "chaos" - my translation of his phrasing - was actively detrimental to doing the right thing.

Remember, not that long ago the loudest people in the NPP (and their assorted allies) were decrying Freddy's defense of Ko Wen-je. That defense was not well-articulated, but the purpose was clear: Freddy believed that as a legislator representing an urban district in Taipei, where Ko is the mayor, would be wise to get along well with that mayor, even if you don't think he should go on to become president.

He didn't leave the NPP then despite that criticism, so to leave now means that he must mean business. The problem is real, the internal dispute is actively harmful, things fall apart and the center cannot hold. 


What's interesting to me is that leaving the NPP - essentially creating a new fracture - is Freddy's way of aiming for greater solidarity. He further said that all smaller parties should compete in all districts in order to resist the KMT.

It doesn't make sense on the surface: wouldn't you stick with your people even if they can't form an internal consensus, if you thought uniting against the KMT was important? Wouldn't you want those parties to work together to figure out who can win in a given district rather than split the progressive vote in contentious districts?

But it makes a certain kind of sense, or has a certain abstract logic to it. The NPP, in navigating that internal disagreement, was creating room for more division among progressives who are for or against Tsai (mostly because they think she's not progressive enough, despite enacting transitional justice, raising the minimum wage, making strides in renewable energy and spending political capital to make same-sex marriage a reality - but apparently that's not good enough). By leaving, Freddy is sending a clear message: quit it. We all need to stand together against the KMT, so if you're going to argue that we should not stand with Tsai, that's not a useful way to look at the bigger picture right now and I'm not going to give it my tacit approval. 


That view can stand alongside the belief that elections beyond the 2020 presidential campaign should draw participation from a number of parties. It's not necessarily logically inconsistent. It's another way of saying "we need to unite behind Tsai for president, but that doesn't mean we have to be 'little greens'."

In effect, he's calling out the notion hinted at by people like Huang and Hsu that supporting Tsai is (or may be) a move towards becoming, or remaining, 'little greens' rather than growing their own platform and base and acting as a party that holds the DPP accountable, as they'd always intended.

After all, becoming a party that's simply a small, more progressive flank of greens may be one way to slide into irrelevancy. But then breaking from the DPP too harshly is also a fine way to turn into a fringe/radical party, which is just another kind of irrelevance. 


Some might be asking if this is the end of non-DPP progressivism in Taiwan - if we're back to the same old two-party shenanigans with various splinter parties who support one side or the other.

I don't know. For now, perhaps. But honestly, the true progressives need to do what Freddy has done here (and what I think Lin Fei-fan did by going to the DPP rather than the NPP). They need to 
realize firstly that not that many Taiwanese are as progressive as they are and their ideas are not shared by a majority of the population. That means more needs to be done to win over society. It means teaming up with the center, even if the center is slow to act. Doing so doesn't mean you have to support the center indefinitely.

Or, as a very smart friend of mine once said, activists have to realize that change won't happen just because they march, protest, strike, write and occupy. Change happens because they do those things, bring their ideas to the rest of society and show the establishment that their causes enjoy some popularity and can be winning issues. Activism needs friends in the establishment to get things done, and the more progressive members of the Establishment need the activists to get society to care about those issues. In Taiwan, the activists need Tsai, and Tsai needs the activists. 

Secondly, they - Taiwanese progressives - need to realize that while their issues do matter, that the China issue is particularly critical right now. Han Kuo-yu - an obvious unificationist - is the KMT nominee and seems to be good at lobotomizing people in a very Trumpian way. The KMT has gone from "well we support the 92 Consensus but not unification!" and Ma Ying-jeou's "no independence, no unification..." to "we support a peace treaty with China" (!!!) China can't be put on the back burner as something that's not a direct and immediate threat, because it it has very much become one.

I have more to say and links to add but I've also got work to do and just want to get this published. Other questions include - will Hung Tzu-yung jump ship too? (Probably not). Does Huang Kuo-chang want to be Taipei mayor and eventually president? (Everyone knows he does). Will he work with Ko Wen-je to that end? (I think it's unlikely). Will anyone else jump ship from the NPP? (Maybe not immediately, not sure. Does Ko's new party matter? (I don't even want to think about that right now.)  Will the left be able to unite to get through 2020? (No idea, but Freddy is right in saying that it must happen.)

Enjoy the rush job, come back for linked sources later if you're feelin' it. 


Friday, December 7, 2018

Getting over electoral heartbreak

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This post is coming late, because I took a short blogging break following my two post-election posts. The reason, dear readers, is that I was just so utterly heartbroken: every time I tried to sit down and write about 11/24, I'd get that sinking feeling in my chest and have to fight back tears. I just couldn't do it, so I gave myself permission to disengage for a bit.

It didn't help that immediately after my paper (for grad school) was due, which was immediately before the election, I got sick. I spent most of the week post 11/24 hopped up on decongestants and mucolytics. It wasn't pretty. Not even Sudafed could cut through the snot.

I can't say I'm entirely back. My heart still weeps, and I'm about to return to the US for the holidays (which I am genuinely excited about). So, the next few posts will probably be lighter "lifestyle" posts. Merry effin' Christmas.

Anyway. Before we get into hairstyles, British curry house curry and trips to the mountains, I do have some thoughts on marriage equality and political parties in Taiwan. Will populate with links later when I have more time. Taiwan Sentinel, Frozen Garlic, Taiwan Insight, The News Lens and New Bloom all deserve some linkbacks, and they will get them.

Looking at analysis of the election results, obviously I agree with the experts that Taiwanese voters rejected wonky 'policy' candidates (who were unexciting, establishment types that were heavy on experience and competence, but light on vision) in favor of "it's the economy, stupid!" talking-points-focused ones. I had hoped that this wave of electing sweet-talking, visionary-sounding, "let's try something new" populist candidates with authoritarian tendencies would be a global trend that Taiwan would have been wise to reject. Sadly, I was proven wrong. It's cold comfort to be reminded that Taiwanese voters are just like voters anywhere: no dumber, but also no smarter. They fell for it too. Damn. Time to stop pretending Taiwan is this wonderful, magical place where democracy works better. It's not.

But what this shows me is not that Taiwanese voters are "more conservative" than was previously thought (although they are not that liberal by global standards, they are still quite liberal by Asian standards), but that at least as of 2018, they're more willing to put their trust in a candidate that presents a powerful and cohesive vision, no matter how heavy that vision is on insane promises, or how light it is on actual policy details. It makes sense: when things are looking good and people feel secure, they'll vote for the wonky nerd candidate. When things are scary, they look for more of a leader. If that leader seems like "one of us", all the better. Who do you think most people want to lead them through the apocalypse: Professor McNerdington, or straight-talkin' Big Uncle Dirk?

(I want Professor McNerdington, personally - hell, I married Professor McNerdington - but I have to admit that most people seem to want Big Uncle Dirk. Nevermind that Big Uncle Dirk is a dumbass proto-fascist who can't even answer questions properly.)

This isn't to say that Taiwanese voters are dumb or ignorant for electing Big Uncle Dirk. They're anxious. It's not the same thing. They're no dumber or smarter than any other voters, and frankly although I don't agree with their choices this time, I kind of get it. 


The key, however, is that when it comes to voting for these types of candidates, it isn't necessary to agree completely with their platform. Do you think that most Kaohsiung voters agreed with their city government recognizing the 1992 Consensus despite national policy? Hell no! When your lizard brain is scared and wants to vote for the person with the most visionary talking points, it's fairly easy to justify the things you don't like with "well, I don't agree with everything he says, but we need to rejuvenate the economy and Big Uncle Dirk will do that! Professor McNerdington doesn't care about average folks like me!"

This matters! It means that embracing marriage equality was not - not not not not not - the reason why the DPP lost. Had they run better, more visionary campaigns that played to their and their candidates' achievements and strengths, conservative DPP voters would have shrugged their shoulders and thought "well, maybe I don't like it when dudes kiss, but this person is the better candidate". They don't have to agree with everything you say, they just have to buy into your overall vision. Super deep greens, no matter how conservative, are not going to vote for the KMT. And playing to conservatives who aren't committed to the DPP - some of whom would never vote DPP, including all those members of deep-blue anti-gay churches - was never a winning strategy. What they needed was a vision strong enough to allow voters predisposed to choose them to shrug their shoulders at marriage equality (which most Taiwanese seem to do, with the majority not expressing a strong opinion for or against) but vote for the overall idea of Taiwan's (or Kaohsiung's, or Taichung's) future.

Even better, if they'd enshrined marriage equality in the civil code back when the Council of Grand Justices issued their ruling, it would have been normalized by now, and they wouldn't have felt the need to present the conflicting message of a new, internationalized, outward-looking Taiwan, but...oh no, we're not sure what to do about the gays, um, uh...maybe we could...uh...duh...vote for us!

Then the deep-green conservatives and DPP Christians would have shrugged, figured the civil code change was a done deal, and voted for them anyway. They could have even spun it as "look at all the international publicity Taiwan is getting for this! Look at how we've differentiated ourselves from China! Taiwan stands for human rights, and that means equal rights for all!" The progressives would have had more faith in the DPP in that case, and turned out for them, too. That this was allowed to become the issue it did shows not how badly the DPP misunderstood conservative voters, but how badly the DPP got played. It became a problem because they let it become one.

And I do believe that marriage equality having been a done deal, or a part of a stronger overall vision, would have allowed the progressive column of DPP supporters to make up for whatever conservative votes they lost. But I doubt they would have lost as many as some believe, for two reasons: first, the NPP came pretty close to achieving its electoral goals (the News Lens calls their gains "modest", but many didn't even think they'd win what they did. I call it a victory). That shows that voters both want fresh faces and will vote for a cohesive platform, whether it's a liberal or conservative one. Dark blue Da'an voted for two openly gay Third Force city councilors. I realize that Da'an, heart of wealthy 天龍 Taipei, can't speak for all of Taiwan, but it does tell me that the marriage equality "issue" did not have to be the issue it was. Second, aside from the fact that the only reason the anti-gay referendums passed was because the benchmark for passing is far too low (and therefore it is not actually a particularly strong indicator of sustained public consensus), the only way the anti-gay groups were able to get their referendums passed was to change their language from "homsexuality is evil and brings disease!" to "let's have a separate law to protect 'their rights and interests'!"

That the left managed to push the issue that far shows not only that Asia is not a monolithically conservative place, but also that (and I'm quoting a friend here), the values being discussed are not "Asian values". That implies they are static and somehow inextricably tied to being "Asian" - that to change them means to change what it means to be "Asian". This is not true: these values are traditional. Values do change, in all societies. If you don't believe me, consider that 100 years ago in Taiwan, marriages were arranged and often involved actual sales ("I'll sell you my daughter as a maid and when she's 15 she can marry your son!") or multiple wives/concubines. That doesn't happen anymore. Cultures change. 100 years ago, many Western societies were not that different from Asian ones. My great aunt had an arranged marriage...in the United States. My great-grandfather asked to marry my great-grandmother when she was, like, 10 (in a stunning show of liberalism for the time and place - around 1900 in southern Turkey - my great-great grandfather told him that she'd have to agree to the match, which she eventually did.)

We can and are changing the script on marriage equality in Taiwan and the DPP needed to take control of that narrative, and maybe wrap up the pill in some bacon so the conservatives would swallow it. They didn't. They backed away from it in trying to please conservatives and thereby let the other side control the narrative. That freaked out both conservatives and liberals. None of it was necessary.

Further to that point, for once I agree with Shelley Rigger (I've disagreed with her in the past): this election wasn't a referendum on the DPP's cross-strait policies, which I think most Taiwanese actually support. What the voters want is to stand our ground on China without instigating anything, but also to rejuvenate what is seen as a stagnant economy (I don't know how stagnant it actually is, but wages sure aren't doing well.) That's a difficult story to spin, as in many cases voters want conflicting things. We can't have warmer relations with China and stand our ground. China makes that impossible.

On that note, the fact that voters want conflicting things - nuclear-free with reduced pollution, for example - is a key reason why referendums are a bad idea. 
But the KMT somehow convinced voters in this election cycle that they could do it, so the DPP could have, as well.

And frankly, that's just it. The DPP - to quote a friend - needed to step up and take control of the story. To render marriage equality a non-issue. To advertise their achievements better (to put a better spin on pension reform, remind the working class of the gains in minimum wage, remind their core supporters of the ill-gotten assets committee and their no-confrontation-no-backing-down stance on China, their inroads into renewable energy vis-a-vis the KMT's complacency in that area) and have strong talking points on the economy, and to campaign on their candidates' strengths. To do less talking about their policy positions and more talking to the people: Tsai recently said she was going to talk to the youth about their disappointment with the DPP (will post the link once I find it). I have to ask: why didn't she do that before the election? People are saying rural Kaohsiungers are sick of feeling as though the DPP ignores them. Why didn't the party address that earlier?

Instead, they let the KMT and their anti-gay buddies control the narrative. They let Kaohsiungers be convinced that Kaohsiung - which is a much better city to live in than it was before the DPP ran it for so long - is horrible. It's not. Or that marriage equality is some sort of horrible assault on Taiwanese values (or that traditional values shouldn't change). It isn't, and they should. Or that pollution in Taichung is entirely the DPP's fault. It's not. Or that the need to shore up denuclearization with fossil fuels is the DPP's fault. Again, it's not. Or that it is acceptable to recognize the 1992 Consensus if it "rejuvenates the economy". It isn't.

Now we live in a Taiwan that is being called "post-Sunflower". In some cases yes - I am sure some activists think that everything they've tried to do has come to nothing - but this assumes that "voting for the DPP" is the same as "supporting the ideals of the Sunflowers". This is not the case, and never was. The Sunflowers were not a DPP-affiliated movement - the DPP has always been quite a bit more conservative - and while the DPP was able to coast in on their vision for awhile, I doubt they would have been able to maintain it even in the mildest of adversity. In fact, the increasing power of independent/unaffiliated voters and candidates is very much a legacy of the Sunflowers. The electoral success of the NPP is, too. The KMT was able to co-opt the Sunflower 'we need a change' image much to the actual Sunflowers' chagrin, but I doubt they'll be able to sustain it, either. 


I know it's hard to have that kind of vision - to control that story - when you are in power and therefore all problems can be pointed to as your fault by the opposition (nevermind that the opposition, in this case, created many of those problems). I know it's difficult to market achievements when voters seem to want instant results and are more likely to vote for Big Uncle Dirk if he promises them the world, even if he's light on substance.

But it is possible, and progressive forces in Taiwan (not just the DPP) have to do it, because we've already just taken one big step backward. We can't afford to take another: China is ramping up its threat, at least rhetorically. LGBT Taiwanese are committing suicide as a result of their perceived rejection by society. This is urgent. We can fight to counteract the surge in so-called 'conservatism', but will we?

Monday, August 20, 2018

We are the soft power (Part 1)

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Awhile back, I attended one of the Urban Nomad Film Festival screenings of Metal Politics Taiwan (read my review of it here) - a documentary chronicling the first year in office of black metal frontman, super hunk and then-newly-elected legislator Freddy Lim. At the end of the screening, Lim graciously participated in a Q&A session, where I had the honor of asking the last question.

I didn't blog about this until now, because the recording wasn't available. Now it is - you can watch it here (Freddy's reply is in Chinese).

I...um, haven't watched it. Why? I absolutely hate the way I look and sound on video (though I tend not to mind photos of myself) and just don't really want to watch myself. Anyway, I know what was said, I know how Freddy replied, and I don't need to watch it again.

If you don't want to watch the video (and please feel free to skip footage of me, jeez), basically I asked a two-part question: first, I asked for his opinion on the notion that Taiwan's soft power initiatives have actually failed (considering that soft power had been discussed at length in the previous questions, in a more optimistic way). There are non-Palestinians who care about Palestine, and non-Tibetans who care about Tibet, but there are very few non-Taiwanese who care about Taiwan. We haven't been reaching the audiences we need to reach to bring the case for Taiwan to the international community.

Then, I asked about immigration (the question he answered first), noting that one of the key drivers of Taiwan's soft power are the foreigners who have made Taiwan their home, and most of them are not the "special professionals" who now qualify for dual nationality. They're the ones like me, who come as nobodies, maybe teach English for awhile, but the best of whom eventually find their groove and find ways to contribute to Taiwan as well as discuss Taiwan (and its message - that it is a vibrant democracy on the front line of the fight between freedom and authoritarianism) with loved ones in our places of origin. Yet we don't qualify to be dual nationals - we aren't special enough. That there are people who worked on Metal Politics Taiwan who are some of the key drivers of Taiwan's soft power abroad, who want to be Taiwanese citizens, who don't qualify. It's not the foreign engineers and the missionaries who are spreading Taiwan's message, it's the people like us, yet we're just...not special enough. So...what's up with that?

What I really wanted to add (in italics because I didn't say it) was that only supporting people who come to Taiwan fully formed in their careers and life paths to become dual nationals is not a good economic or soft power strategy for Taiwan. Salaries, opportunities and working conditions/culture in Taiwan are not appealing enough to attract enough of such people to have an impact on the country.

What's more, when they do come, they're more likely to have been sent here by employers (rather than actively choosing Taiwan). This means they're both more likely to leave within a few years, and live in an expat bubble rather than seek to get to know and contribute to Taiwan. They probably aren't going to spend their time spreading Taiwan's soft power message. We are - the real drivers here are those who may be searching for what they ultimately want to do, and choose to spend part of that search in Taiwan. The best among us come to love Taiwan, we learn about it, we seek to understand and contribute - and we do. We decide to go to back to school, to enter a profession, to open a business, to be activists. We grow and mature. Often, we stay - some permanently.

When we visit our countries of origin, we tell our stories. We're the ones who convince friends and family abroad that Taiwan matters. We became who we are in Taiwan, and we remember that and pay it back.

We - moreso than the "special professionals" - are the real soft power. So when the government supports them, but not us, they are ignoring the true contributors to Taiwan. The government seems to have identified which kinds of immigrants it wants - I say the government is wrong.


Freddy started out by answering my second question, saying that he was aware that there are a lot of foreigners in Taiwan who want more rights, but he had to be honest that this had been discussed in the Legislative Yuan, yet the debate had been quite conservative - that it's not that people hate the foreigners who are here, or hate Southeast Asians but think white people are OK - but that it's really hard to push Taiwan to change into this sort of society (where we might assimilate more) due to continued government conservatism. The government might still think some of us are drug traffickers, liars, criminals - whether we're white or Southeast Asian. He admitted that was a strange way of thinking, but that's what a lot of people still think. Yet, there's a chance things could change quickly. Five years ago, nobody expected LGBTQ rights would be the major social issue in Taiwan that it is now, and he has great hope for the young generation who don't think as conservatively as those in power now.

I had a little more trouble understanding his answer to the first query, and I'm not sure he fully remembered what I'd asked - he answered it as though I had talked about how other democratic countries would care about Taiwan because they support us as a fellow democracy, and that things didn't quite work that way. I didn't reference international students, doing business etc., so the answer also felt a bit canned. As I don't feel he really addressed the question about soft power that I did ask, I may try to parse his answer in a subsequent post, but I'll leave this here for now.

This ties into something I've been thinking for awhile - that while it is important to raise salaries and improve job opportunities for both locals and foreigners in Taiwan (though I'd say the local situation is quite a bit more severe and needs far more immediate action), that most of us foreigners who do stick around and try to contribute - those who come here young and dumb and perhaps study Mandarin or teach English in some third-rate buxiban for a time before finding our way to something better - aren't just here for money. If that's all we cared about, we'd be in some other country (more or less any other developed country).

But that's for the next post...

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A review of Metal Politics Taiwan - my latest for Ketagalan Media

”He has a devil inside him,” Chthonic guitarist Jesse Black Liu says of Freddy Lim, the subject of German filmmaker Marco Wilms’ latest documentary, Metal Politics Taiwan. But he’s also a suited-up politician, elected to the national legislature.

In  my review of the film, I make the case that Freddy is Taiwan and Taiwan is Freddy - that the country, too, has a devil inside it.

Metal Politics Taiwan will screen again this Saturday at the Urban Nomad Film Festival. Get tickets here.

Monday, April 30, 2018

One Nation Under Smog: or, how I became disillusioned with the Taiwanese left

Today was disgusting. So was yesterday. I don't mean I had a bad day. I mean the air was literally disgusting - it made my throat scratchy, my nose inflamed, my eyes sting and my stomach a little upset.

I felt annoyed, ill - literally sick, disgusted and nauseated - but something else too. I felt a deep-seated, wide-ranging anger. 

Years ago, I was hanging out with my (adult) students and nuclear power came up. I said that while I agreed nuclear power was a bad idea in Taiwan for a number of reasons, I didn't actually support phasing it out immediately, while Taiwan's energy policies in other areas were so short-sighted. Of course I was aware of the problems with nuclear power: nowhere to store spent fuel rods, "dirty plants" where safety standards were alleged to not be met, especially around cooling/recirculation tanks (despite assurances that they conformed to a high standard of safety), and of course the fears that Taiwan's vulnerability to natural disasters. These include earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis - could result in a Fukushima-style disaster in Taiwan, where such an event would be even more disastrous given the country's size.


But, what was the alternative? Fossil fuels? That would not only be bad for the environment as a whole, but for Taiwan's air quality in particular. Alternative energy would be best, and we probably have the technology to make that a reality for most of our energy needs, but nobody seemed interested in actually developing it. There has been some investment into wind power, but not enough. Besides, even though I don't think wind is the answer, the same activists who campaigned to shut down the nuclear plants also campaigned against wind farms (sometimes for good reasons, I should add.)

Solar comes with its own set of government cock-ups that are only now being rectified: the government is only now tackling harmful and outdated regulations regarding energy generated through home solar panels (in the past, you had to sell the power you generated to Taipower first at a crummy rate, and have it sold back to you. Hence, nobody bothered to explore solar power for their homes.)

The push to explore solar and geothermal generally was limited and insufficient (given how geothermically active Taiwan is, geothermal is probably our best bet - but not a lot of money being poured into it). Taiwan's buildings would need to be restructured in a huge way, or at least, any new buildings would have to take the country's climate into account, building in cross-breezes, overhangs and using the right materials to reduce how much air conditioning was necessary in the summer. No more stifling concrete boxes.

And I just could not support gunking up Taiwan's air by going back to fossil fuels.

Even when trying to clean up fossil fuel-powered plants, it's a hash. As my friend and Central Taiwan news guru Donovan Smith noted:


In fact, Taipower recently announced they are adding two new gas-fired units to the Taichung Power Plant, bringing the total units up to 12. Many or most people had thought they were going to use those two to replace two of the coal-fired units, but nope. A general rule of thumb is gas-fired units are about half as polluting as coal. That means cumulatively that is effectively adding one more coal-fired unit.


Fast-forward to today. And yesterday. And so many days before.

The left won: the nuclear plants are shutting down. The chances that the fourth plant at Gongliao will be finished and activated are essentially zero - and frankly, bringing it online is a bad idea anyway.

And now the air is filthy. In much of Taiwan it has been for awhile - Taipei folks just didn't notice it because it rarely impacted us. All of those power plants and other industrial waste-producing hellscapes were far enough from us that our air was still relatively clean. Now we're getting a taste of what the rest of the country has been saying for awhile.

The Taiwanese left was unforgivably myopic: they yelled and screamed to shut down nuclear power, but didn't present any sort of push for consistent renewable energy policy. "I guess pushing for renewables isn't as sexy as pushing against nuclear," people who understood my point said. "They're just not going to win the zeitgeist talking about that."

Okay, but if you don't, and you only shout about what is "sexy" enough to get attention, then your push to change society can have unintended consequences. You're nothing but gadflies, not serious policymakers searching for real solutions.

If all you do is push to shut one thing down without thinking ahead to how things will be handled in the future, frankly, that's no more visionary than the KMT building a bunch of crap-ass buildings in the 20th century that are all now falling apart and are so energy-inefficient it's a joke because they couldn't be bothered to spend real money creating sustainable architecture for a subtropical climate, and building most cities in Taiwan without viable public transit which creates vehicular pollution. All you're doing is creating another problem.

Real change means tackling the unsexy things. It means actually writing and pushing policy proposals that solve issues and take future consequences into account. It means thinking through your own freakin' beliefs to see what the outcomes might be, and addressing them. I don't see that that has been done by anti-nuclear activists or the people they've put in power.

Yet, even now, I see few from the anti-nuclear activist camp going to bat over renewable energy. Some of them are protesting air pollution: great - but ultimately ineffective. I'm sick of protests that don't offer solutions.

So what we will have is a ghost island: not just in terms of talent leaving, but also the ghostly pallor of the grey air. The ghosts of good intentions, the ghost of what Taiwan could have been if the right people just thought through what really needs to change and pushed for it in the right ways.

So we have the activists/Third Force/Taiwanese left putting on a great show of wanting to change Taiwan - and I do believe they are sincere. But they're just not thinking their ideas through and it's infuriating.

Then there is the KMT. In the words of New Bloom:


In truth, if there is any one to blame for issues regarding nuclear energy or air pollution in Taiwan, it is the KMT, which ruled over Taiwan’s developmentalist state unchallenged for decades during the authoritarian period and built up both the coal-fired power plants that contribute to Taiwanese air pollution and the nuclear power plants which many see as dangerous to Taiwan in the event of environmental catastrophes. There is no political party in Taiwan more beholden to the nuclear lobby than the KMT. Yet the KMT leverages on these issues anyway against the DPP, illustrating not only hypocrisy, but how the KMT truly stands for little else besides rote opposition to the DPP at this point.

However, I disagree with the overly-tidy (and easy) conclusion that we can brush our hands, blame the KMT and move on. As the party who has historically held power, they do deserve most of the blame. However, the left's lack of initiative in finding real energy solutions to make their anti-nuclear rhetoric sustainable also deserves criticism.

Then there's the DPP, who are mostly concerned with staying in power and don't seem to be interested in addressing any of the real issues. Caving to the anti-nuclear activists, leaning more heavily on fossil fuels, and just not doing what needs to be done to make renewable energy a reality.


Amidst this circus, the electorate acknowledges it's a problem but only ever blame the party in charge, or the party they don't like. I'm sure many do look more deeply at the bigger problem of nobody in charge having the faintest idea what they are doing or when they do,  using it for their own gain, but I don't see it. I have to hope their are better people working behind the scenes, but I don't see that, either.

I don't know what else to say. I'm mad and disappointed, and I can't breathe. Those in power don't seem interested or able to really fix the problem. The opposition is, if anything, worse. The Third Force activists don't think through what they fight for nearly as often as they should. Taiwan has smarter people than this. We can do better.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a leftie liberal bleeding heart bastard. But, I support doing the difficult, unsexy work that I feel the Taiwanese left is not doing - the stuff that's not always so wonderfully idealistic. I'm still pro-independence and pro-Taiwan. I still think this country is worth fighting for. I just can't support half-baked activism anymore. We can't trust the KMT or DPP to get us out of this mess, which means we have to look to the left, but the left needs to be smarter. It needs to start tackling unsexy issues.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Gonzo Journalism at the labor protest (updated!)

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So, I pushed myself to go to today's labor protest even though I woke up this morning to the news that my grandfather had passed away (it was not a surprise).

Pushing myself to go anyway was a feat, but there is work to be done and I wanted to be one of the faces in that crowd helping to do it, even if all we were going to accomplish was media attention. After all, I live here and work here too and although the new labor laws don't affect me, Taiwan's generally terrible labor situation does affect me indirectly. Imagine, though, viewing a protest of roughly 10,000 people through a poorly-lit and echo-filled tunnel of unrelated personal grief.

I won't say that I went today as a journalist; I'm not one. I went as a demonstrator in a very conflicted state of mind who happened to plan to write about the experience.

I showed up just as the speeches were getting started and immediately grabbed one of the 'official' (in that everyone had one) protest placards. One side said "累" ("Tired") in Chinese, the other had a large graphic middle finger and said "終止過勞" ("End Overwork"). Almost every labor union I know - and some I didn't know existed - were there. Some were industry-related (e.g. the Taiwan Media Workers' Union), some business-specific (a Carrefour workers' union was present), some related to a specific kind of workers, such as foreign laborers who were quite noticeably present. Some, I noticed wryly, represented workers from government-run enterprises such as Taiwan Railways, Taiwan damn it China Airlines and ugh China Telecom.


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Also available were fake temple talismans on yellow paper, a reference to Premier Lai Ching-te saying that working hard for low wages was akin to earning "merit" (in the Buddhist/karma sense). Some people held placards showing a Pinocchio-like President Tsai, who is seen as having lied about the DPP's support for Taiwanese labor. Others held signs that looked like cassette tapes, a reference to a legislator saying all of the slogans being chanted outside were "on a tape" (something the pro-unification protesters - all 6 of them - regularly do) because the "real laborers were busy working hard at their jobs".

I didn't stay for the whole demonstration - which is actually still ongoing - but I stayed long enough to see some intense clashes between demonstrators and police over where the protest was "officially" allowed to be held. More on that later.

First of all, if there's any reason for hope, it's this: for the first time, foreign laborers were being brought into the fold and treated as equals alongside Taiwanese workers. They took the stage and had a translator (as the speaker used Bahasa Indonesia) relating their speech in Mandarin. For the first time that I'm aware of, labor from private and public industries came together, and had visible support from other social activist groups as well.

In fact, the Social Democratic Party, the Green Party, several marriage equality groups (including the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline) and a Taiwan independence group holding signs saying "Fuck ROC" and passing out stickers saying "DPP KMT both are ROC", despite none of these issues being the main focus of the day.

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Taipei Labor Bureau Commisioner Lai Hsiang-ling at the protest

Along with the far left, the far right of the Taiwanese political scene was also there. Veterans showed up demanding the benefits they'd been promised, and at least one KMT legislator, Lee Yen-hsiu (李彥秀) was present giving interviews and generally pretending that the KMT gives a crap about labor (SPOILER ALERT: it doesn't). Apparently the NPP also declared its support, but oddly was not present. I fully intend to, um, inquire about this. Not cool, NPP.

This protest won't do much except garner media attention, but what I really hope comes of it is this - that these groups will continue to work together and turn labor issues into a major social movement with broad and active support. This sort of cross-pollination - marriage equality, Taiwan independence, migrant workers' rights, leftists and rightists, government workers and private-sector workers - is needed for a movement to gather momentum.

Several speeches, as well as several people I talked to in the crowd, noted that the DPP is no better than the KMT. While I do think people hold the DPP to a much higher standard than the KMT and that's not always fair - the KMT can get away with being supremely awful, and yet they're still around and still sometimes get elected whereas everyone jumps all over the tiniest slip by the DPP - that's to be expected when one party grew out of a mass-murdering dictatorship it doesn't seem too contrite for having perpetrated, and the other had idealistic roots based in freedom and democracy. You expect more from the people who claim to be better.

That said, on labor issues, and frankly on a lot of domestic issues, I have to say that they deserve the criticism. I'm generally happy with the way the DPP is handling China, but they're sure making a mess out of Taiwanese domestic issues, labor included. All I can really say is that they inherited a massive KMT mess to clean up, and the main problem is that they haven't got a clue how to do it. So they suffer for their own mistakes - which is well-deserved punishment - as well as the KMT's, which isn't.

Remember, we wouldn't even be in this labor mess if the KMT had given a damn about labor during their many, many, many, many years in power.

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KMT legislator Lee Yan-xiu at the protest
The presence of foreign blue-collar labor groups was of special interest to me, as a foreigner myself but one of comparative privilege. I was happy to see that they were included and treated as equals to Taiwanese workers, as this has not always been the case: often groups that claim to support Taiwanese labor and care about labor issues ignore or outright dislike foreign labor, thinking (erroneously) that foreign labor steals jobs and drives wages down, rather than what they really do, which is support the economy by doing the hardest work for truly exploitative wages.

In fact, I wonder if this is why the NPP - which seems pro-dual-nationality for (some) foreign professionals, but is not in favor of relaxing restrictions on foreign professionals and certainly not a great friend to foreign blue-collar labor - didn't show. Hmm. NPP, I luv you guyz, but come on. You're losing me here.

In any case, two things I noticed about foreign laborers at the rally: first, that they mostly wore surgical masks (unlike most Taiwanese workers there) because they were afraid of being identified and fired, a point explicitly made in their speech. Second, that while Taiwanese workers were fighting to have fair labor laws, the foreign workers were in some cases fighting to have the labor laws apply to them at all: many of those present held signs demanding that foreign care workers be included under Taiwanese labor protections, which they currently are not.

The airline, telecom and railway workers also interested me: as they pointed out in their speeches, their bosses are the government, and yet these new labor laws will screw them over, too.

Not everyone in the government is blind to this: the Taipei City Labor Bureau commissioner, Lai Hsiang-ling (賴香伶) marched with protesters in solidarity.

After listening to all of these speeches and chanting the usual anti-government slogans, we walked from DPP headquarters to what we thought was going to be the Legislative Yuan. On the way, I saw a marriage equality sign that said (in Chinese) "We can't get married but no matter - home, life, all not given". I quipped to a friend, "I'm surprised nobody has a sign that says "the birthrate is so low because nobody has time to fuck!" He replied that, in fact, someone on stage had said that (I missed it - I miss a lot, what can I say) but there was no sign. Too bad.
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Clashes with police

I noticed something I hadn't seen before - though it is possible they have always been there and I just hadn't taken note: police cameras. Every few yards, one of the police officers watching the march was filming it.

When we hit Zhongshan and Zhongxiao Roads, however, a line of police appeared and would not let us continue up Zhongshan - trying to force the crowd to instead walk west, past Taipei Main Station. Organizers asked the crowd not to do that, as the route they'd applied for had them going up Zhongshan Road, whereas the police said they were not allowed.

There are conflicting reports of what exactly happened: the organizers were saying that the police were blocking an intersection that they had been approved to march through, with some commenting that this was to create conflict. Others say that the police announced the protest violated the Parade and Assembly Act and that was the reason for the blockade. Some say this was a ruse to simply stop the protest, as there was a possible intention to storm the Legislative Yuan (again...I suppose).

I don't buy either of these. Why would the police want to create conflict? Peaceful protests can be - and usually are - ignored. Protests that end in brawls grab media attention. Why do you think the KMT did exactly nothing to stop - nor to answer the demands of or even acknowledge - the old DPP-led protests during the Ma administration?

In terms of the second, with legislators and high-profile government employees there, and with it having been all over Facebook for weeks, there is no way this march "violated" any laws. Come on.

In any case, the protesters started chanting "police let us through!" and several intense clashes broke out, though nobody appeared to be seriously hurt (I was right there for one of them).

Finally, the police gave way after several attempts to push through, and the intersection - one of Taipei's largest and busiest - was occupied.

Here's my pet theory as to what happened:

By virtue of it being at Zhongshan and Zhongxiao Roads, the protest stopped outside of the Executive, not Legislative, Yuan. Apparently - according to a friend - a meeting was being held in there at that time. In any case, it was so heavily blockaded and surrounded with barricades and barbed wire that there was a clear government fear of an attempt to storm it.

UPDATE: the forced move into the intersection was, according to one of the organizers, an intentional move by the rights groups to start a conflict.

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What resulted was an occupation of a major intersection - garnering more media attention than any of the previous labor protests, possibly the most since the 200,000-strong marriage equality rally - that is still ongoing. There are still clashes with police as people attempt to storm the Executive Yuan (see?) and apparently the police, according to a friend, are starting to look 'ready'.

I left around 4pm, because frankly, I lost my grandpa this morning. It was time to go and take care of my own headspace.

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Migrant workers are afraid to show their faces for fear of retribution from their employers
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Fake temple talismans mocking Premier Lai's comment about low pay earning "merit"
But watch this space - a lot of people don't have much hope for a massive, Sunflower-scale labor movement. I hope they are wrong - labor issues affect us all, and there seems to be potential from what I saw today for the sort of mass cooperation among different groups that could well propel the cause forward. It's true that labor isn't "sexy" in the way that cross-Strait relations are, and that the students who drive a lot of social movements in Taiwan generally don't have much work experience - that is to say, they are not laborers themselves - and so might not be as attached to the cause as it doesn't affect them directly. It's also true that it's hard for labor to fight back against the ever-evil boss class, the ones keeping their wages low, refusing to hire a sufficient workforce, and keeping toxic work culture expectations in place, as not everyone can take time off or afford to lose their job.



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"You can abuse President Tsai!" the people who set these up told me helpfully. She makes noise if you slap her. 


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Is there anything more Taiwanese than a bunch of workers in nylon vests drinking Wisbih (or is it Man Niu?) at a protest?
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More migrant workers
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Although there were kids at the protest, I got the feeling it was much angrier and more visceral than typical family-friendly Taiwanese demonstrations
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My favorite protesters, every time
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Even government workers are upset



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A reference to the "the slogans are taped" comment by one legislator



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Lots of different groups came together