Showing posts with label social_issues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social_issues. Show all posts

Saturday, May 18, 2019

What it meant to be an ally when Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage


I wrote a longer reflection yesterday in which I wandered through many thoughts and emotions on yesterday's historic legislation. For this post, I want to highlight one thing that I think is important when you support an issue or social movement, but aren't a part of the group that that movement affects most deeply. That is, I want to talk about what it meant to be an ally standing in the crowd yesterday (yes, there is a little repetition between the two posts). Let's start here:

The level of civic engagement continues to impress me so much, and proves that Taiwan cannot be grouped so easily as a stereotypical 'Confucian', 'collectivist' society with wholly conservative values. It may be true that many young Taiwanese won't engage with their more conservative elders on these issues, but it's not true that they won't find other ways to oppose the old order of unfairness and inequality and a million -isms and phobia that those elders represent.

One of the arguments of the anti-gay camp is that ideas like marriage equality are 'Western' or 'foreign' and go against Taiwan's 'traditional culture' (they say 'Chinese' but I won't.) You know, all that Confucianism and collectivism and filial piety and what not. It's not that those aren't real facets of the culture, it's just that the whole culture cannot be reduced to them, nor can the actions or beliefs of any individual be explained wholly through them. People are not slaves to whatever aspect of their culture someone has decided explains their motives, and culture isn't static anyhow. 20 years ago you could have said the same thing about American culture. 

Of course equal rights have been a part of Taiwanese culture for some time now, and there is no incompatibility with Taiwanese culture (any incompatibility which seems to exist has been invented for political purposes).

So it really mattered that the people in the front rows and on stage, the crowds on camera were overwhelmingly Taiwanese. If 'marriage equality' is not compatible with 'Taiwanese culture', what were all those people who are Taiwanese and exist within a Taiwanese cultural milieu doing there?

Or as President of Taiwan and my current crush Tsai Ing-wen put it:

This movement was started by Taiwanese, carried by Taiwanese and the success they brought about yesterday was done by Taiwanese. There was no 'Western infiltration' about it. (In fact, the anti-gay side is the one that had to look to the West to figure out how to spread its hate, bringing in foreigners like Katy Faust to speak against equality and justice.)

It's important to keep repeating this, because that same opposition keeps accusing the pro-equality movement of doing the same, when it emphatically has not. The side that stands for equality has allies who stand with them. The side that stands against equality has foreign actors trying to help manipulate a certain outcome in Taiwan. And they are the ones who invented that 'goes against traditional Taiwanese culture' nonsense.

Marriage has meant many things in Taiwan over the centuries, including plural marriage, family-alliance marriage (that is, not love marriage) and marriage to ghosts. In China, there is a clear cultural tradition of homosexuality (at least among the upper classes).

It's actually a reductive neo-essentialist perspective - which is inherently Western - which turns so-called 'traditional values' into culturally static and immutable obstacles, a view one tends to take of cultural facets viewed from afar without full understanding. That almost every young person in Taiwan is pro-equality and yet still just as Taiwanese as their grandparents, however, shows that this outsider essentialist view of Taiwan is wrong. 

As an American who was in Taiwan for most of the culmination of the marriage equality movement in the US and so unable to participate (again as an ally - I'm straight and cis), it felt important to be a part of the support to make it happen in Taiwan, because it's my home. I have a place here too. What happens in Taiwan affects me.

And that place was being part of the crowd. Not onstage like a reverse Katy Faust, not a key part of the movement or even vital to it, but a participant who adds her physical presence to the movement. Foreigners were there lending their support too, but it's Taiwanese who led this, Taiwanese who made up the majority of that crowd, and Taiwanese who won. We just stood by them, and that was a meaningful place to be.

As an ally, I've reconsidered my own feelings on the Executive Yuan bill which passed yesterday - after being initially upset and disappointed, it became clear that Taiwanese LGBT groups and the local LGBT community were supporting it, and to be a good ally, I should follow their lead.

Let's stop telling Taiwan what its culture is, while we're at it. Let's quit it with the "but Taiwan is like this" or "Taiwan can't do that, because culture and reasons" or "but Taiwan is so Confucian and collectivist". Pish. Instead, let's be allies and let them tell us. 

It's a humbling, meaningful and impactful place to be. I recommend trying it. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Everything you need to know about why One Country Two Systems will never work in two easy trials!


Just now, we've learned that leading figures in the Umbrella Movement were found guilty of "public nuisance". This comes after Umbrella Movement leaders were jailed for their role in the protest, which was the largest in Hong Kong's history. (A lot has gone on with that trial including an appeal, but while that appeal set them free, it did not stop the Beijing-endorsed trend toward harsh punishments for civil disobedience.)

Of course, "being found guilty" and "doing something wrong" are not the same thing. In this case, one certainly does not reflect the other. 

More than that has been going on in Hong Kong, as well:

Compare that to the outcome of the charges brought against the Sunflower leaders in Taiwan, who were found not guilty as their actions were found to constitute legitimate civil disobedience, which was upheld on appeal. Trials against other Sunflower activists did not result in such progressive verdicts, however. That said, it's notable that charges brought against the government have also recently been accorded a re-trial.

What stuck out to me about those Sunflower trials was this:

Taipei District Court Chief Judge Liao Chien-yu (廖建瑜) said the panel of three judges made investigative inquiries, and reviewed theories and practice surrounding the concept of civil disobedience, through literature and research findings on the topic by both Taiwanese and international academics and experts. 
The judges studied the concept so that they would be better able to weigh defendants’ and their lawyers’ arguments that their reasons for storming the legislature were legitimate and socially justifiable, because it was an attempt to block the cross-strait service trade agreement, which was being rushed through the legislature by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators without consulting the people, Liao told a news conference.

This would never happen in Hong Kong. 

As with Hong Kong's turn toward authoritarianism, there are many other examples of Taiwan's turn toward progressive values, though the bending of the arc toward justice is indeed slow.

But I don't need to list them for you. Everything you need to know is right here.

These two trials show without artifice or obfuscation exactly why One Country Two Systems will never work. Taiwan is free; Hong Kong is not. Taiwan (for the most part) set its activists free and made a decision that looked to a liberal future. Taiwan at least took a step (though an imperfect one) towards understanding the role and necessity of civil disobedience in democracy. Hong Kong did not. 

Taiwan was able to do this because it is not subordinate to the CCP. Hong Kong took its own path - or rather, was forced down that path - because it is.

A free society can never exist under the same framework as an authoritarian regime, much less be subordinate to it, because being found guilty and doing something wrong are not the same thing. Taiwan is (mostly) able to tell the difference. China - and by extension Hong Kong - clearly is not.

How much clearer do we have to be?

Monday, November 5, 2018

We need to out-organize the bigots, now: my latest for Ketagalan Media

Note: I'm super busy this month working on my final pre-dissertation paper for school, and it's a big one. So, Lao Ren Cha is going to be a bit quiet in November. Thanks for understanding!

I know that a huge part of the problem for pro-marriage equality advocates in Taiwan is funding: despite having fairly broad public support, they don't have a lot of money. Anti-equality hardliners, on the other hand, are pretty flush thanks to church donation networks (and international help from anti-equality religious groups, mostly from the US).

But, I have to say, I haven't seen much aggressive fundraising let alone the issue I tackle in my latest for Ketagalan Media: the fact that the bad guys are out-organizing us. They have more people on the streets, more fliers, more Line group invasive posting, more ads, more banners.

Banners and fliers cost money, and so do vests for volunteers if you want them. Ads are expensive. I get it - but I haven't seen much crowdfunding either.

You know what's free, though? Talking to people. Volunteers. Engaging in conversations in Line groups (if only to get the haters to keep quiet). Putting up designs drawn by volunteers for people to download and print out to make their own posters, placards and stickers.

In any case, in this piece I talk about the out-organization and how it makes it look as though pro-equality advocates are not standing up and getting votes for the upcoming referendum. I also cover the constitutionality of the anti-equality referendums and what the strategy might be behind them.

There's more to be said: the outright lies from the anti-equality camp, the attempt to rig the televised debates. I'm sure there will be more to talk about as the month goes on.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Come to Pride this weekend


So, I was supposed to go to southern Taiwan this weekend in order to attend the opening of the Donggang boat burning festival (not the boat burning itself - I prefer the opening day). I was going to leave early to go hang out in southern Taiwan, which I actually prefer to Taipei.

But, plans have changed, because Pride is this Saturday.

I'll still go to Donggang on Sunday, but it's really important that as many people as possible attend Pride this year. You should come too. And bring your friends!

In May 2017, Taiwan's highest court ruled that marriage is a right afforded all citizens with no reference to gender, and therefore marriage equality must be allowed. The court gave the government two years to work out a legislative solution: either to simply pass a law allowing marriage equality, or to change the civil code to abide by the ruling.

There have been some political ups and downs, some debate over which route is better (changing the law can likely be done quickly; changing the civil code is harder, and the ruling DPP doesn't think they have the support from the large socially-conservative-but-pro-independence segment of their base to make it happen.) There is a growing sense that the DPP hinted at support for marriage equality when campaigning, and promptly abandoned it to appease their more conservative base, and of course the KMT doesn't give a damn about anyone but the KMT. With elections coming up and the initial 2-year deadline now less than a year away, a lot of activists are upset.

This is especially important with two competing referenda coming up in about a month: one affirming Taiwan's commitment to equality, the other full of outdated, religiously-motivated and hateful garbage (yes, I'm biased). Remind people to go out and vote for love in November.

Meet at 1:30 at MRT National Taiwan University Hospital station, start out at 2:30 - these are the routes. I always go the red route. 

Cue Pride. With no specific marriage equality rallies planned, and the anti-equality gay-haters being very well-organized and resourced (moreso than the pro-equality side, although I would argue the national consensus is broadly with us if you count those who are not opposed to equality), there is a sense that this year's Pride is going to be more politically charged and all about showing the government that we (LGBT people and allies/supporters) haven't forgotten.

While it's not my place to opine on what Pride should be, I can say what I think it's likely to be - and that you should be there. A friend of mine (gay with a Taiwanese partner if it matters) was also saying he was hoping this year would be super politically charged and motivated. There's a sense in the air that this is what's happening, but we need numbers.

All are welcome at Pride, which means you can be a part of it. You can add to those numbers. You can make it clear that equal rights matter, and it's time for the government to stop pandering to prejudice and outdated, discriminatory thinking.

Pride Taipei usually makes international news - at least it has in the years surrounding the 2017 ruling, as the world watches to see whether Taiwan will be the first country in Asia to give equal marriage rights to all. The numbers do matter, and you do make a difference.


Show the LGBT community your support, and show the world that Taiwan, while imperfect, is the freest and most progressive country in Asia. Show them that we can do this, and that there is no reason why equality can't exist within Taiwanese culture.

Pride is not a rally or a protest - it's a celebration, and all are welcome. It's a great way for foreign residents, even if you are a bit reticent to attend actual protests, to show their support for this issue. 

Grab your rainbow gear and come with us.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Improve English education in Taiwan with this ONE WEIRD TRICK!

My work in Taiwan is dominated by adult students who ask for help with accent training. They need to do business with Koreans, Japanese, various speakers of Southeast Asian languages, Australians, Latinx people, Indians or various Europeans.

You see, all their teachers have been from an "Inner Circle" country (UK, Ireland, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand). They are therefore most used to those accents, North American ones in particular. They might meet people with those accents, but for business, there is a real need to better understand other Englishes.

My life in Taiwan is unfortunately punctuated by people bloviating about how racism in the English learning industry is somehow acceptable because of "choice" or "the market" or something (their arguments don't make much sense, because they are constructed mostly to avoid confronting uncomfortable issues rather than as stand-alone opinions).

They might try to say that this is acceptable because of some sort of subjective "clarity" of certain accents, although of course how clear an accent is depends in great part on how exposed you are to it compared to other accents (these people are not exactly experts in second language acquisition).

Some pontificate on how it is preferable to be taught by a "native speaker", usually with a very poor understanding of second language acquisition or what being a "native" or "non-native" speaker might actually mean. There is even less recognition that many people in India, Singapore, Nigeria, the Philippines (and more) are, in fact, native speakers, let alone questioning why they aren't recognized as such.

(The answer is racism, by the way. But that's hard for Johnny McBackpacker to admit when it casts doubt on his strongly-held opinion that "the market" is the Fairest Arbiter Of Them All.)

My life in England is characterized by mostly non-native speaking classmates, all of whom are fluent in English, and all of whom know more about the pedagogy of how to teach English than the average Johnny McBackpacker.

Sure, they have accents. But many of them have the accents that my adult students say they need to better understand for their work. Every last one of them is qualified to teach in Taiwan, but many if not most would struggle to get hired here.

We talk about all sorts of things, not least of which is the idea of English as a lingua franca (ELF) or English as an international language (EIL). Most English learners speak regularly with other non-native speakers, some perhaps almost entirely so, especially if they are using English in business or academia.

Back in Taiwan, the consequences are not surprising - all that learning of English from Canadians, Brits and Americans (the so-called 'preferable' native speakers) has actually put those students who tell me they need help with accents at a disadvantage. They get to work and realize, oh, all that time I spent with Teacher Becky listening to dialogues between Tim and Karen, but I actually have to communicate with people who don't speak like Becky, Tim or Karen. I have to do business with Sandeep and Cheng and Fumiko and Nnedi and Abdurrahman and Lupa. 

Of course, most people making hiring decisions are not educators. Even if they realize that they are actually disadvantaging their learners by not providing the English education many instrumentally-motivated Taiwanese learners are likely to need, they don't care. "It's the market." And the market wants white - even Inner Circle "native speaker" teachers who aren't white struggle to get hired.

And I just can't help but think, if y'all hired fluent English-speaking teachers from around the world, ensuring that most learners through their time studying English were exposed to a variety of Englishes, maybe not so many adult learners would come to me asking for help, which I have trouble giving with my Standard American accent. Maybe if we hired more English teachers whose usage represented the speakers and Englishes our learners would actually be communicating with, we wouldn't have this problem.

I mean, I don't want to say "duh", but...duh?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fading Rainbows: my latest for Ketagalan Media

I am super tired with two crazy weeks of teacher training and no weekend break. So, here's a link without fanfare (because I don't have time to create it) to my latest for Ketagalan Media, all about the current state of marriage equality in Taiwan and where we need to go from here.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Re-learning Taiwan

IMG_0283When you think of tourism in Taiwan - domestic and, to some degree perhaps, international - you probably think of at least a few of these:

- Night markets
- Old streets
- Local crafts (e.g. woodcarving or porcelain)
- Regional foods (e.g. 肉圓 in Zhanghua and mochi in Hualien)
- "Taiwanese" culinary cultural icons (think the toilet restaurant and bubble tea)
- Shopping and eating in Taipei, including the massive ATT4Fun and eslite
- Hiking, cycling etc.
- "Cultural creative parks" like Songshan Tobacco Factory and Huashan
- The National Palace Museum
- Tourist destinations like Jiufen, Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, Tainan, Kenting and Taroko Gorge
- (Maybe) Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
- Indigenous festivals and dances
- Temple festivals

Some of these are great - Tainan is unimpeachably fantastic, though perhaps growing a bit gentrified or at least on the cusp of it happening - and the outdoor sports are bar-none amazing.

For the rest, though, slowly and steadily most of the pleasure I might have once been able to derive from them has been chipped away over the years as I seek to learn more about Taiwan.

Night markets are still kinda great, but a lot of the "famous" foods are made famous by savvy promotion rather than actual deliciousness, and with the piling on of food scandals over the years, I can never be quite sure that the snacks I'm getting are safe to ingest.

I appreciate the attempt to preserve the architecture of Taiwan's old streets - and some still do a reasonably good job of this (Hukou, Xiluo and Xinpu are still quite nice, and Dihua Street is still on the right side of fun, although I worry the scales will tip). Yet, a number of them have been turned into shopping drags selling touted "local delicacies" and shop after shop of "traditional items" (think old-fashioned kids' toys and wooden massage implements). They're basically all the same, nothing local or special about them.

Those local crafts? Well...I can't say I'll be buying any Taiwanese wood products or returning to Sanyi anytime soon. And Yingge sells some lovely ceramics, but historically was more known for making bricks, not fine vases.

Regional foods? Michael Turton has already covered that minefield:

All over Taiwan, if you say a city name, like Changhua or Hsinchu, people associate a food with it automatically (ba wan and mi fen). Even foreigners know many of these associations. This attitude is common in Taiwan, but it is rare in the rest of the world....

Why? It’s political, of course. In most countries tourism consists of local history and nature. I grew up in Michigan, where we visited the Upper Peninsula and state parks for nature, and local battlefields and forts for history. No one ever suggested that the state’s prodigious cherry production should be its key association. But in Taiwan, the food association functions to keep locals from associating places with their history, and thus, developing associations with local history that in turn would support and build local identities… Hence, in Taiwan, local domestic tourism is not historical tourism, but food tourism.

I'll add to that some ethical issues: I love bluefin tuna, but...well...hmm. Okay maybe not.
All I gotta say about the toilet restaurant is UGH not the toilet restaurant again, and I do like bubble tea but the aforementioned food safety scandals make me a bit wary of it. Also, it's way too easy to weirdly exoticize it as some Mystical Eastern Thing that Asian People do that Civilized Countries Have Just Discovered.

Hehuan Mountain is gorgeous - and not on the list of "famous tourist sites" in Taiwan
(sorry for the low-res photo, I took it years ago and had to gank a low-quality copy from a previous post)

Let's machine-gun through the rest of that list quickly.

Shopping in Taipei? Eslite is a huge international company, not a plucky local chain (and frankly their selection of English-language books tends towards the pedestrian, and they have a weirdly tiny selection of English-language books about Taiwan). Those Xinyi malls? I've been complaining for years that good local street-side restaurants that give Taipei its atmosphere are being gobbled up into one massive East District food court, and I do not like it one bit. For example, Opa Greek Taverna was great. Then it moved to ATT4Fun, and it's kind of terrible. We never go anymore. The Diner was a lovely place in a lane of Dunhua Road with some outdoor seating (there is still one on Rui'an Street but little-to-no outdoor seats). Now it's a big restaurant in a mall. Blech.

Those "cultural and creative parks" are pretty corporatized and rarely house the most innovative artists in Taiwan. Songshan, for example, has a Liuligongfang (or at least it used to - I haven't been in awhile and it may have closed) and is bordered by yet another eslite.


(I mean it's fine to visit if you are interested in Chinese history but don't go there thinking you are going to learn about Taiwan. I generally don't recommend it to visitors who are interested in Taiwan, only those who are primarily interested in China.)

And I don't even think I need to tell you what the problem is with Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Temple festivals? Watch out, it's not always what you think.

And are you really sure you want to go to an indigenous festival where you might not be welcome, to see performances by tribes who have been unfairly historically stereotyped as good at three things: singing, dancing and drinking?

And almost all of the famous tourist destinations listed above have been disfigured by tourist infrastructure, with Sun Moon ****ing Lake being among the most degraded. From one side you can't even see the lake from most parts of the town unless you stay in one of the expensive - and often not very good - hotels ringing it (the good ones are very expensive). Taroko is still beautiful, but marred by controversy and a very ugly cement factory with its management that has very ugly morals. Jiufen has lovely views but is so blighted with tourists that it can be difficult to enjoy these days. 


* * *

So where did that leave me, once I came to these realizations? That everything I liked about Taiwan was a sham? That Taiwan has nothing of interest for tourists? That everything good about Taiwan was invented to keep the country from discovering its real roots?


I was depressed for a time, once it really hit home that so little of what is commonly touted about Taiwan actually embodies Taiwan's strengths, and much of it has been co-opted by forces I'd rather not encourage (like the encroaching uniformity of the old streets and the ghastly tourist infrastructure in scenic spots. I figure themed restaurants aren't hurting anyone). It can be hard to take, learning that things you thought you liked had all of these layers of complexity and undercurrents of problems that make them difficult to keep loving.

I had to tear it all down to build something better - because this country has so much more to offer than sun cakes and Sun Moon Lake. I had to quite literally re-learn Taiwan so I could talk about it for what really makes it great, not just the tourist hype that is so often riddled with problems.

I won't tell people not to go to Taroko or even Alishan (I will generally advise against Sun Moon Lake but if a tourist chooses to go, they might not have an awful time), but I will recommend they go not just to Tainan - god I love that city - but to direct their attention to the national parks, the East Rift Valley, relatively quiet areas of natural beauty like Hehuanshan, Lishan, the Taoyuan grassland/Wangkengtou/Caoling Old Trail part of Yilan, and of course Taiwan's stunning outlying islands. I haven't been to Green Island yet but Matsu, Kinmen, Lanyu Island, Penghu - I love them all. I'll send them to the eastern coast of Pingdong and down to Cape Eluanbi, but have them avoid Kenting itself (there are better beaches anyhow). I'll send them to Lukang, which still has something of a small-town feel, or to explore the smaller towns of Hsinchu county by car. I'll only bring them to Jiufen on a weekday, and if we go I'll insist we hike up to the Japanese shrine above Jinguashi ("yeah you thought Taiwan was Chinese but this ain't Chinese at all"), or approach the town from the Xiaotzukeng Old Trail.

There is so much to see and do in Taiwan - take it from me, someone who's done a lot here, and yet has never actually been to Alishan - that you can have a fantastic time even if you don't go to Sun Moon Lake or buy mochi in Hualien. (Feel free to buy taro cakes in Dajia, just make sure you go to the smaller shops and get them fresh from the oven, stay away from the prepackaged ones which are...fine.)

And it's enjoy the food - just enjoy it for its own sake, eat good stuff where you find it, without buying too much into the "local food as local identity" hype. Some foods really are local - you aren't going to get better milkfish congee than in Kaohsiung, and you can't beat eel noodles or shrimp roll rice in Tainan. You just can't.

I'm still not sure how to promote this Taiwan - the Taiwan I re-learned - to the world. International tourists are more into things like the National Palace Museum than, say, an architectural history of Taipei or learning about Taiwan's vibrant civic engagement, not to mention what Taiwanese history and current political issues have to teach (and warn) the rest of the world. It took years of ripping away beliefs instilled by tourism promotion to see what makes Taiwan worthwhile, a dedication visitors generally don't have (though the number of visitors who come for awhile and end up staying is surprising. We all know that person who'd planned to come for a month and backpack and now lives here full-time, or the one who came to "teach English" [heh] for a year or two and move on who is still here a dozen years later...ahem.)

But now that I know what I've re-learned, I can certainly try.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Don't trick people into civil disobedience


I want to keep this short, because I have a grad school paper to write and, while I'm doing OK with that, I am in real danger of getting behind.

But, ever since the labor protest on 12/23, something's been bugging me and I feel like I have to say something, because it's just not been reported to my satisfaction.

I touched before on a particular moment in that protest in which the demonstrators marched up to a row of police blocking the Zhongshan/Zhongxiao intersection, forcing them to turn towards Taipei Main Station.

The march stopped - it did not continue towards Taipei Main as directed, and announcements were made that the police had blocked the route they'd been approved to march, changing the route without notice and declaring the intended march from DPP headquarters to the Legislative Yuan as an "illegal" protest. It was made quite clear at the time - well, as clear as it can be in such a mob - that we had been approved to march through that intersection and now the police were stopping us in order to cause problems or to choke the march - and therefore that the police were in the wrong.

I didn't buy that - why would the police want to create conflicts with protesters? I've covered the reasons why in my other post on this demonstration.

It also makes sense not to approve marching in that intersection, rather than to approve it and later refuse entry. The Executive Yuan is on that intersection, and it was heavily protected with barricades and barbed wire. It makes a lot more sense that the government knew perfectly well that demonstrators would try to occupy it if they were allowed into the square, and try to head that off before it ever became a potential outcome (though I would hope Taiwanese protesters have learned by now that, right or wrong, that won't be allowed again).

So we get to that line of police, who are standing in tight formation but not instigating anything (though I'm no fan of the riot shields), and people start to push back, shouting "police give way!" and starting scuffles and short fights.

It is important to remember that the demonstrators confronting the police almost certainly believed that the police were denying the protesters the right to enter a space they were supposed to be officially allowed to enter, not that they were trying to push past police to occupy a space they had been told they could not enter.
I don't believe that protests and marches must or should always stick to "approved" routes, or that they must "apply" to be allowed to protest. Protesting with government approval undermines the whole point of demonstrating in many cases. Civil disobedience has a role to play in a healthy democracy, and I am not opposed to breaking unjust rules, regulations or laws.

I do not believe it was wrong to try and enter that intersection in principle.


Remember that as I continue the story.

The police stand their ground, with some physical clashes taking place (nothing too serious - there were injuries later but not at this point). Eventually, they give way, and the demonstrators occupy the intersection. As expected, some try to enter the grounds of the Executive Yuan.

Later, I find out via the friend I was with that the demonstrators had never been approved to enter that intersection, and the police were trying to ensure we took the route we'd been approved to take.

In fact, as I found out much later - because I am a terrible journalist I suppose - the people perpetuating the false impression that the police were blocking our path were the labor union organizers, not the youth. The two groups don't overlap much, with the former being older and skewed somewhat politically differently (lots of pro-unification leftists, not necessarily green but also not Third Force)  and the latter being younger, pro-independence and classic Third Force. After getting us to break through police lines, the union contingent left, leaving the younger social activists encamped in the intersection and later playing a cat-and-mouse game with police as they engaged in civil disobedience (perhaps this time the more honest kind) from Taipei Main to Ximen to 228 Park and back again. After engineering a certain outcome, the labor union demonstrators went home.

To be honest, I feel tricked and abandoned.

Again, I don't think it's a problem to deviate from what has been "approved". I don't think we have to obey every command we're given. I don't believe in allowing the government to render protests toothless. I absolutely believe in civil disobedience.

But here's the thing - the organizers lied about the reason for the police line.  They led us to believe we were being denied a space we'd previously been promised. They led us to believe the government was trying to provoke us, that the police had no right to be there (even if you believe in civil disobedience, you have to admit - the police did have the right to be there. We also had the right to try and push past them).

To me, civil disobedience must be genuine. It must come from a social movement deciding it must follow certain ethical principles that clash with unjust laws, and working together to insist that legal frameworks accommodate just actions. It must happen honestly - it must come from the crowd based on real situations and perceptions that are as accurate as possible.

If we were going to push past that police line - and I do believe we had the right to do so - we ought to have done it as an act of civil disobedience, not because we believed that the police were barring us from a space we were "approved" to be in.

We might have done the right thing, but we did it for the wrong reasons. We did it because we were lied to. We did not do it based on accurate perceptions of the situation - what we believed was dishonestly manipulated to engineer a specific desired outcome on the part of the organizers. We were their pawns.

I do not like this. I do not like it one bit. I do not like being lied to. If I'm going to confront the police (which I generally won't do - I'm not a citizen after all and I can theoretically be deported), I want to do it knowing what the real situation is. I do not appreciate being lied to in order to steer me toward a particular action, and I bet a lot of people there that day felt the same way.

If that action was going to happen, it needed to occur honestly, sincerely, with demonstrators knowing what they were doing and why. We are not cannon fodder.

It discredits a social movement for the organizers to knowingly lie to participants to engineer their desired outcome. The government is opaque and often dishonest - the last thing we need is for those who organize to demand more transparency and accountability to the people to be opaque and dishonest as well. It discredits social movements as a whole if this becomes a regular tactic. We can't say we're the "good guys" if leaders can only get what we want by lying to us, if we allow them to keep doing it.

I'll be honest in a way the organizers were not - I'm deeply disappointed and disillusioned. I'll still turn up at protests and other civil actions to observe and report, but I'm not sure when I'll participate again.

All you do when you lie is lose our trust. We're not afraid of civil disobedience, but only if it's done honestly. Only if we really are the good guys, and we live up to higher ideals than the unjust systems and dishonest people we're fighting against.

Don't do it again, or you'll lose more than one unimportant white lady: you'll lose your supporters, the trust of the Taiwanese people, and any chance you might have had of getting the powers-that-be to take you seriously.

I am also worried that if the two main groups fighting the new labor laws can't get along and have divisions that run so deep that one would basically pull the rug out from under the other, and neither can seem to capture the public zeitgeist, Taiwanese labor is, well, screwed.

Don't be children. Grow up and do it right. Come on guys.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

民進黨不行,國民黨再贏: on dragons and not riding them


Look, I know I said I was going to take a break, but I'm taking a break from taking a break so here you go.

Still working on my personal junk, you'll hear about it when I'm ready to talk about it. Still working on grad school, just needed a break from that. Don't worry, I'm plugging right along.


I'm not particularly surprised that the DPP has turned around and betrayed Taiwanese labor with their new bullshit changes to labor regulations. (Quick note: the seven public holidays mentioned in this article only snapped back into existence for a year - otherwise, we haven't had them for the entirety of the decade I've lived in Taiwan. They're also not great holidays, to be honest. It's not as though we lost something we'd grown used to over many years.)

They might have a better origin story - I mean, they didn't commit mass murder and pillage and steal from Taiwan for decades after flying and sailing over from another country and settling in like they owned the place - but their ascendancy to the main opposition party of the (even worse) KMT hasn't left them as pure of heart as they might have started out. Sure, they began more idealistically but I don't think anyone can realistically say that they've maintained their dangwai-era vision. They'll line their own pockets, set up their own patronage networks and kowtow to special interests just as much as the KMT will. We've known that for awhile.

I think we've all known for awhile that the DPP is a corruption-filled pustule - perhaps we just told ourselves until recently that all the pus was because they were fighting the KMT infection. But come on, we knew.

Oh but they're not willing to sell us out to China, and they didn't perpetrate a murderous half-century or so of political and social oppression, so they only really look better by comparison. They were always going to bend over and take it from big business. The major difference is that they're pro-independence buttmonkeys who didn't kill people.

Likewise, I'm not even really shocked that they've gone so limp on marriage equality. I'm angry, but I think deep down I always knew that this was in their nature. They were always going to bend over and take it from conservative and Christian groups. Again, the only real difference is that they're pro-independence buttmonkeys who didn't kill people.

They have a better origin story, that's really all at this point. At one point they surely meant what they said with all of that idealism about a better Taiwan. I don't know when things changed, but the spirit of the dangwai who fought for a better Taiwan seems to be dead. Now, they're in it for the power just like the KMT it seems.

I guess deep down, as I can't be surprised, I'm mostly just sad.

Perhaps we always knew that neither of Taiwan's two major parties ever really had the people's backs, but until recently at least we could pretend. We could tell ourselves that if we could just hand the DPP a presidency along with a legislative majority, we could actually get something done. We could transform the country, or at least start down that path.

Now we know that's not true. Now we know there's no major party that really will do the right thing, that will govern as representatives of the people, that will really have our backs rather than letting those with more power than Taiwanese labor (or marriage equality activists and the LGBT community) get up on their backs.

Now we know - there's no one to vote for. Not among the major parties.

I mean, if anything, activism is in the same old rut it always was. We all though things would get better when Tsai's inaugural parade featured that huge sunflower-bedecked float touting the strides Taiwan has made in social movements. And yet we still have a few hundred people turning out for protests until something huge blows up, we still have the same old muddy turmoil, the same old pro-China zealots beating people up and the same old police not responding. The same old turned back from the government. Did the DPP really think that activists would back off because the less-bad party won? That fighting back was something we only did to the KMT because they sucked so hard? That sucking only slightly less hard would be good enough?

So what now? Punishing the DPP - which they roundly deserve - will only hand the KMT a victory. The KMT deserves to be punished more harshly than anyone and it seems they never quite get what's coming to them. We criticize the DPP, calling Lai Ching-te "God Lai" and making fun of him, but the KMT is full of princelings who fancy themselves as gods come across the water from China. This is not a solution.

A buildup of smaller parties? Great. I would love to see the Third Force come together, I'd love to see the two big parties fracture and split and a true multiparty democracy flower. But let's be honest, that's probably not going to happen. I'd love to see the NPP gain support and really challenge the DPP without splitting the liberal vote and handing victories to the KMT - but I'm not sure about either.

At the local and legislative level we can vote for these Third Force parties, but who do we vote for at the presidential level when the DPP has gone down the tubes, and the KMT is already in the gutter?

What I fear is going to happen is this. Tsai will win a second term because presidents here generally do. Ma wasn't punished for being a terrible president. Tsai won't be punished for being a weak one who seems to have betrayed the people she campaigned to win. She'll muddle along just like she is doing in this term, things won't get better, the DPP will continue to suck, and the KMT will start seeming "not that bad" in comparison.

Of course, they are so much worse. But that's not how I think the electorate, sick of 8 years of DPP bullshit, will see it. They'll see it as a "change", and will be willing to give the Chinese princelings another go-'round.

This doesn't mean that Taiwan will suddenly swing pro-China. I don't see that happening again. The conditions for Taiwanese identity to remain strong and even grow are still there. I just see a lot of light blue and green people who aren't as politically attached to "Taiwanese identity" decide that they can preserve their support for it while still voting blue. You know, just like they did when they voted for Ma. You know, deciding that their love for Taiwan can exist under a KMT leader, or that civil society will keep that leader in check. They may forget what happened the last time they thought that.

And in 2024, blammo. We'll be back to the same old bullshit from the KMT.

We thought it couldn't happen in the US, that the Republicans were dead, and yet look what happened. It can happen here too, even if the KMT's core ideology is dead (one major difference: the Republicans' core ideology only seemed dead).


The DPP can do better and needs to do better, but I think it's clear that they won't. What's worse, for now they're impossible to punish. Nobody has our backs, and there's no way right now to force them to. This is what happens in two-party systems: no matter their origins, both sides slowly morph into a giant douche fighting a turd sandwich for your votes. 

The NPP also needs to do better - this could be their moment, and they have captured it to some extent - Hsu Yong-ming is my new hero - but they need to really grab this dragon and ride it. Get those labor votes and get them now. Do it while the KMT is still in shambles. Don't let those apolitical votes turn light blue again. They need to hold it together and get those votes right now so that some of their younger leaders can gain experience to assume the mantle before the party's momentum withers and their base goes with it.

But - Hsu's filibustering aside - if that were happening we'd see bigger turnouts for these protests, and we're not. We're not seeing enough public calls to action from the NPP - we're seeing Freddy Lim talking about how "useless" the old Tibetan and Mongolian Affairs Committee was (which may be true, but I don't know that he's asked Tibetan refugees, perhaps, what they think of it?). We've got Huang Kuo-chang worried that he's going to be unseated in a few days. We've got former Sunflowers trying to encourage people to turn out, but no big names in youth activism really leading the charge (to be fair, some can't right now). We've got the DPP shouting "your Sunflower movement has collapsed!" and the Third Force not responding in a way that's proving them wrong.

Hsu Yong-ming can't do it alone, but I just don't see the sort of rallying that we need. We need another 400,000 people to go downtown, sit their asses down at Jingfu Gate and tell the DPP what's fucking what, and it's not happening.

Seriously, it feels like 2013 up in here.

I know these things need to evolve naturally, and maybe it'll be a slow burn until the big blowout, but hey, I'm waiting. In any case, what's waiting for us at the other end of that blowout? In 2014 there was a clear path forward: kick out the KMT. Hell, we chanted it in the streets: 國民黨不倒,台灣不會好. What now? 民進黨不行,國民黨再贏?

The dragon seems to be passing the NPP and Third Force right by.

Come on, guys.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A girl is just as good as a boy


This photo was taken by Richard Saunders (of Taipei Day Trips, Taiwan 101, The Islands of Taiwan and Yangmingshan: The Guide fame) on a train from Hualien to Taitung. A few characters are a bit too blurry for me to give an exact translation, but it basically says that a female baby is as good as a male one - a son is as worthwhile as a daughter.

My first thought was not "why is this necessary in Taiwan in 2017?" - like medieval anti-gambling laws, it exists because it is necessary. It was more "we should be asking ourselves why this is necessary in Taiwan in 2017."

Michael Turton of course immediately sourced some stats: although women slightly outnumber men in Taiwan, there is a regional disparity that favors Taipei. If you remember your biology class lectures, you'll know that it's normal for slightly more male babies to be born than female ones, but for women to outnumber men in the general population, especially at older ages as the male children were historically more likely to die. If you remember your Social Studies classes, you'll also know that despite this, men do outnumber women in many countries (and very slightly on a global scale) as a result of gender-selective abortion and gendercide.

Living in the Taipei bubble, it's easy to think that the country as a whole has progressed beyond preferring boys to girls, or that the country as a whole is more liberal than it actually is (and yet I would argue that it still is the most liberal and progressive country in Asia and that tendency is baked into its national character - just with, y'know, some nuance).

Notably women outnumber men very slightly - as is natural - mostly along the western plains and in more developed areas, with men taking over the population majority in other areas. That is to say, there's a reason why this was posted on a train on the east coast and not on the Taipei or Kaohsiung MRT, or on a west coast train or the HSR.

Knowing this, I can say that even in my Taipei bubble, I've heard rumblings of continued preference for male babies. A student once told me she didn't really want to have children, but her in-laws did, so she would have one. She admitted she would prefer a girl just because she wanted to raise a daughter. We had a conversation about children being individuals not necessarily constrained by traditional notions of gender, and it went very well: I shared my experience growing up with a supportive family that never (okay, rarely) made me feel like I had to 'act like a girl', so I never felt ashamed of my natural personality traits that are more often associated with maleness (I don't agree with this association; I'm pointing out merely that it exists). However, she went on to say that regardless, she hoped she'd have a boy, because if she had a girl, her in-laws would expect her to have a second child and 'try for a boy'. (In the end she had a girl and declined to have another child. I don't know how her in-laws took it).

I also have more than one student whose parents 'tried for a boy', resulting in the once very typical family structure of a number of older female siblings with one very young boy (or just a large number of daughters before the parents gave up), and more than one who has a small number of adopted 'aunts' (daughters who as early as two generations ago were given to another family who didn't have many children to raise, being 'extra' and, yes, 'unwanted' in their birth family). It is still somewhat common to give your friends sticky rice with meat if you have a son, but (far less expensive and filling) cake if you have a girl, though many people I know are challenging that tradition.

My point is, we might think gender preference is no longer an issue, but this is still very much a thing and we need to ask ourselves not if it is necessary to have such posters, but why it is necessary, and what else we can do about the underlying problem.

One non-starter is 'outlawing' gender-selective abortion. I understand why that may be a problematic but necessary step in some places where misogyny is so entrenched that people will make their intentions to abort female fetuses clear (those same regions tend to have very high male:female sex ratios as well). In Taiwan, however, even if a woman were going for a sex-selective abortion - and to have such a high rate of males to females in the general population in some parts of the country, it must be happening to some degree - I cannot imagine that she would admit it. Taiwan allows abortion but has somewhat restrictive laws surrounding it, although the data is either confusing or non-existent on how this actually works. I still haven't figured out to what extent the 'four criteria' matter or even if they still exist.

In any case, a gender-selective abortion is not allowed for in the outline of the law (confusingly) linked to above, but any woman in Taiwan seeking one would almost certainly come up with some other reason for terminating her pregnancy.

So, to 'stop' gender-selective abortions by refusing to give them in the first place puts doctors, and basically ethics, into a big fat quandary: they would have to deduce intent and then decide if their unproven conclusions about a woman's reasons for ending her pregnancy merited agreeing to perform the procedure or not.

I would love to live in a world where I didn't have to explain why this is a huge problem vis-a-vis women's rights, but I don't live in that world so here we go (sigh): when anyone, however well-meaning, tries to deduce a woman's intent rather than listen to what she is actually saying, especially given the blind spot we have to our own pre-conceived notions and worldviews, they are in essence saying that woman cannot be trusted to say what she means, and therefore certain assumptions must be made about her and subsequently acted on, and decisions must be made on her behalf for her own good - she cannot be trusted to make them herself because the assumer's conclusions trump the woman's actual words or actions. It reduces a woman to less-than-adult-human status, to the status of a childlike figure, with decisions about her and her future being made by parent-like figures.

As much as I am (obviously) against sex-selective abortion, in Taiwan this is not a solution.

I also understand why some doctors in some countries will not reveal the gender of a fetus to a family, but I do not fundamentally agree that withholding information from anyone - especially, in such a gender-unequal world, a woman - in order to keep them from making decisions about their bodies is a good idea (and yet, because the world is difficult but nuanced, I would not argue to stop that practice in, say, India or China right now despite disagreeing with it on the most basic level).

This, too, is not a solution that would work for Taiwan. Fortunately, this doesn't seem to be an issue here as far as I'm aware - please do correct me if I'm wrong.

Neither is it reasonable to target sex-selective abortions but provide no public service campaigns or funding to ensure that daughters who may have been 'unwanted' grow up in a loving, stable environment where their needs are met. If you prevent a woman who doesn't want a daughter from aborting that daughter, but then leave the new parents to their lives, that daughter may well grow up abused or neglected, or perhaps even abandoned.

In fact, I think this sign is just about right, and in fact the intent of it could be further extended. Every country, of course, has the potential to progress socially, but I have long felt that Taiwan is somewhat exceptional in this regard. People say change here is slow. I say it doesn't have to be, and isn't always - if it were, how is Taiwan the most forward-thinking country in Asia? How is it, 20 years after democratization, that the party of the former dictatorship is being peacefully held accountable for its crimes (despite the process of democratization itself being far less peaceful than many people believe)? How is it that Taiwan is the first country in Asia to have a female president who came to power on her own merits rather than through family ties - who has never had a father, brother or husband whose leadership paved the way for her?

Just as most Taiwanese either support or do not oppose marriage equality after only a few short years of the topic being in the public spotlight, and just as the KMT talking-points malaise hanging over Taiwanese society (that part of society made up of those who are not radical young activists and progressives) was wiped away in a few weeks in 2014 (though I am somewhat simplifying that narrative), I don't see Taiwan as a country bogged down by tradition it cannot escape: I see it as exceptionally able to hear a logical argument for equality and human rights, to understand the fundamental rightness of that argument and to subsequently adopt it in a short span of time.

Why are sons preferred over daughters in some areas? There are still gendered notions of who should be a breadwinner and who must be supported, who is a part of your family (your sons) and who will someday belong to another family (your daughters) and who carries on ancestral traditions and rites and the family name, and who cares for parents in their old age. Why, outside of a few industries (accounting comes to mind), do managers tend to be male and assistants female? Why in social groups do the leaders tend to be male and followers female?

It doesn't have to be this way, of course.

Therefore, it is quite possible to solve this problem through education, although it cannot be Taipei-centric. Discussion, public service campaigns and education can change this mindset into a more egalitarian one. Furthermore, it cannot be merely focused on child-bearing women: why might a woman choose a sex-selective abortion? There's a very good chance it is not because she personally would prefer a son. It's likely the result of the influence of her family, her in-laws, perhaps even her husband. Her decision was not made in a vacuum.

It's the older generation - the people who are the in-laws of the women currently having children, and who raised the male partners of those women - that we need to reach, so they stop pressuring their children to have boys rather than girls. It's also the men: how much less likely would it be for a woman who wants to have a baby to abort a female fetus if her 'traditional' husband weren't a part of the pressure for her to do so?

People might argue that a preference for male children is a cultural issue, and it's not right for foreigners - or for mostly Taipei-based social activists (though that too is changing) - to go to these more rural, traditional areas and try to essentially change the culture, or to force their ideologies onto people who do not necessarily agree and want to keep their traditional views. Such ideologues might argue that trying to push such people to change is akin to finding them 'inferior' or 'undeveloped' to begin with.

I'd say this is wrong: I see the appeal of the argument, but it doesn't hold up. Although I do not believe abortion is 'murder', a skewed male:female sex ratio does lead to societal problems that could be avoided, and the abuse, neglect or abandonment of unwanted daughters as a result of such views does have a human cost that may come not just in suffering, but also in lives. It is also important to abandon the forced dichotomy between 'tradition' and 'modernity'. The US had gender inequality written into its laws as late as the 1970s. That changed (though inequality did not disappear on a social level), and American culture is still American. Slavery and segregation ran deep in American culture until they didn't (though, again...) - and yet America remains. Taiwan has done an excellent job of retaining its traditional cultural elements while walking an essentially progressive and liberal path. To convince people that Taiwan is better off as a more gender-equal society will not make Taiwan any less Taiwanese.

Basically, we have to educate people not just through mandatory classes, but through activism and public service, in such a way that sends a clear message: supporting better human rights and equality for women, ending a preference for boys and ending gender-related ideas about what girls and boys can do and be in a family does not mean giving up one's culture. It is not an assault on values, it's a progression of human rights. I do think most people who remember Taiwan's struggle for democracy might find something to agree with in that.

In short, Taiwan, no longer focused simply on fighting for sovereignty from China, is in the process of figuring out what kind of country it wants to be. I think any reasonable person would agree that this means ending sex or gender preference on the part of parents. I'd like to extend that further and say it also includes a more egalitarian society where the forces that keep women from obtaining true equality are continually fought and eventually defeated - killing the root cause of the preference for male babies to begin with. It also includes adopting a rational method of doing so: not only by not solely focusing on women who are pregnant or seeking to be, but also on the people in their lives who might try to convince them that a boy is better than a girl. It means, of course, making feminism a human rights issue rather than a cultural values issue or a women's issue.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Why isn't the labor movement drawing the crowds it should?

There was an interesting piece in Taiwan News recently about why marriage equality, not the labor movement, is attracting demonstrators and catching the public eye. I would especially like to learn more about traditionally Taiwanese representations of gayness as I know basically nothing about it.

I don't agree with every conclusion - in fact, although marriage equality impacts a small segment of the population, it affects that segment in a huge way, and is something of a social litmus test for the kind of country Taiwan wants to be.

I do not think allowing bigots to score a point by allowing civil partnerships is the answer: first, because I don't believe in giving in to bigots (could you imagine telling, say, African Americans to compromise with racists during the Civil Rights Movement and accept less than full equal rights? This suggestion doesn't feel different), especially when they are a small minority with outsize influence that it's time we cut down, and secondly because it's a straight-up human rights issue.

So, I cannot accept the conclusion that we need to let marriage equality go and focus on labor: in fact, I think we should ramp up marriage equality, get it passed quickly, and then focus on labor. I am not a fan at all of the argument that we should delay conferring full civil rights on a group because they happen to be a small group and because some bigots don't like it. I do not think a new law - rather than amending the civil code - will bring about the realization that marriage equality is okay, leading to later change in the code. It'll get stuck there. We'll try to push for the civil code to be changed, only to be told "but we HAVE marriage equality, can't you just accept that and move on?" The bigots will not stop being bigots, they'll bring out the same old fight. It'll be a bureaucratic nightmare, a postponement of the real battle. I'm not into that, sorry.

My views, however, mean little - I can't vote and I can't organize. It's what the Taiwanese are inspired by that counts. I have a few anecdotal thoughts for why labor is not attracting crowds but marriage equality is:

The marriage equality crowd is a young crowd, many of whom do not intend to accept jobs with poor working conditions when they graduate. 

This is the generation that gets involved in public life, that goes abroad, that starts their own business, that goes freelance, that moves back to their hometown to open a cafe or run their family business. Some of them are surely on the naive side, thinking they have an escape route from the hell that is a typical job in Taiwan, and some will likely come to regret their idealistic assumptions. For many, however, that is a fuzzy eventuality, a gray cloud on the horizon. They have gay friends now, this means more to them.

Turton is right about one thing, though: marriage equality is cool and trendy and progressive, but labor movements often call to mind the sad reality that most of us eventually end up working for The Man. They're not young, hip or cool (and, as the article also got right, they don't tap into an identity one can display through consumption). When you either don't want to think about your eventual working life, or don't think it will happen to you because you'll never be stuck in some interminable cube monkey job, your heart is just not going to be in a labor protest.

I just don't happen to think all of that identity-broadcasting done by demonstrating for marriage equality is necessarily a bad thing. We all do things to display our identity. I do it, Turton does it, we all do it. For some, it really is a representation of who they are (if you're gayer than a Christmas tree and act like it, then is that not authentic rather than an identity you have chosen to display through consumption? If you really are someone whose fire gets lit by human rights causes, as I am, are you not being authentic in displaying that identity even if through consumerist means?

This is about more than just being fashionable, or a way to display an identity

A friend pointed this out, and I agree. Yes, there is consumption, identity display and some amount of being attached to a fashionable cause when it comes to marriage equality, but 250,000 people don't turn out on a Saturday for that reason alone. It is far more than the core LGBT+ fighting for equal rights and other activists passionate about the cause, and shows a deeper engagement than just being trendy or hip. You might get a few of those, but you don't get 250,000, especially when they were not brought out by tight, cohesive church networks the way the anti-equality folks were with their far smaller numbers, if it's just people showing off how cool and progressive they are. People do care, there is real support, and it does go deeper than strutting around in order to cement an identity for oneself.

Honestly, the labor movement doesn't get the word out effectively. 

I don't know about you guys, but I always hear about marriage equality events well in advance, and can plan to attend them. Labor protests? I read about them the next day from Brian Hioe, or see them happening when I am already in my pajamas. I don't know until it's too late that I could have been there. I don't know how they hope to attract more people if people don't even know something is going on.

Marriage equality seems solvable, labor issues do not

I think a lot of activists know they have society and even much of the government on their side in the marriage equality debate. They know this is winnable. They know it's winnable soon - a big victory in a short time over an opponent that is outmatched. The fight against the Boss Class will be a long, grueling, interminable one with a huge amount of media, money, crony capitalists, corrupt politicians and straight-up asshats bearing down on them. It will be another Sunflower Movement, if we let it get that far (and I do think labor has the potential to be that, but few seem to agree) - an angry group of activists up against insane odds. Perhaps the nation is still a bit hungover from the last big movement, and wants a break, to achieve something that can actually be done.

Hell, the New Power Party has a pretty strong labor platform (though as always I do not agree with their past resistance to relaxing the laws governing foreign workers), and they can't seem to get anywhere. If they can't bring the crowds, or effectively stand up to the Boss Class, how can anyone?

Marriage equality, though? Dude, we can do that.

It's not really clear, due to deliberate muddling, what the labor movement really means or stands for

Which labor movement are we even talking about? The one opposed to pension reform? The tour guide protest? The fakey-fake "Sunflower imitation" protests the KMT organizes because it just does not get civil society at all? Or the real labor protests? It's easy to be confused. I often have to think hard about a demonstration - if I even know it's going to happen - to see if this is a group I actually agree with, or just more civil servants unhappy about pension reform when most workers in the private sector don't even have pensions, or only nominally do. The labor movement needs to clarify who they are, what they want and who they are not, or they're just not going to bring the crowds.

Workers themselves seem to vacillate between grumbling about the situation - and I agree that it is dire - and talking about how "this is just the way things are", not complaining, not talking to their bosses, not going to the company to air grievances. If workers won't even tell their bosses what they don't like, how can we expect them to get riled up enough to protest? And how can we expect others to come out on behalf of them when they won't stand up for themselves at work?

The fight for more vacation days was, to be honest, uninspiring

I'm sorry, I just can't work up a lot of screaming, placard-waving enthusiasm over keeping Chiang Kai Stupid Shek's Stupid Birthday. I know a vacation day is a vacation day and I shouldn't fret so much, but...I just can't get over that. I don't know about the rest of the Taiwanese public, but it's not a galvanizing message.

Add to that the fact that we've only had these extra seven days for one year: in the past ten years in Taiwan I never had those days off, and suddenly I do. It's very confusing, and I don't feel passionately about keeping them because they sort of randomly appeared this year rather than being something I'm used to that fits into the rhythm of the year.

So, it just doesn't seem like a smart route to go in terms of igniting a fire in people to come out and fight.

It is uninspiring to fight for better labor laws when the ones we have are not enforced. 

A friend brought up this point (and the point above about workers who don't complain) and I agree enough to include it. Sure, we need better laws, but what good is it if the ones we already have are more or less never enforced? Who cares if a new law limits overtime if you can't get your boss to abide by the current laws regulating overtime? What are we fighting for, exactly?

That young marriage equality crowd has free time, workers just have stress

...and workers generally do not.

Those that do face family pressure - always a big deal here - to keep their shitty job and not rock the boat, or to 'take what you can get'. It's a society that is very accepting of market trends in terms of how workers are treated - in the US the left screams and howls, rightfully so, when capitalists say that a fair wage is the lowest wage someone is willing to work for, but Taiwan is far more accepting of this explanation. Something about that "this is the best we can do, this is the market, we have to accept it" attitude has to change.

Workers are also less idealistic. They've done jobs, they know how the world is and how most of us eventually get sucked in (for the record, I'm in my 30s and have still managed to not get sucked in, but I may well die old and poor). They are often focused on themselves and their families - by then, most have them - and improving their own lot rather than fighting for the betterment of all. This is another attitude we have to change.

In the meantime, though?

Honestly, you'll find me in the street, rainbow flag in hand.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Supreme Pain for the Tyrants

IMG_6163Our work is not done.

This coming Saturday, 12/17, is Taichung Pride, and once again we need to beat the numbers of anti-equality protesters who gathered in that city (I think 40,000). As much as I'm not a fan of Taichung and its near impossible transportation, I would go if I didn't have work in Tainan that day.

The day after Christmas (12/26 just in case I have to make that clear) is the date of...well, I'll let Taiwan Law Blog explain it (from their comment on my previous post):

December 26 is a committee meeting where they will decide whether to refer the bill(s) to the entire Legislative Yuan. The plenary session that includes all 113 members will be the second reading, which won't take place until February at the earliest because that's when the next legislative session starts. Also, all three bills in the committee amend the Civil Code, though Yu Mei-nu's doesn't not change the language throughout (are you referring to hers when you said 'append to it'?). There are no civil partnership bills on the table now. Some DPP legislators may introduce one before December 26, but the KMT has said it will not.

There will be protests.

There will be rallies.

I hope many of you will consider going to one or both of these events, lending your bodies once again to provide physical proof that the Taiwanese want marriage equality.

The anti-equality advocates are as organized as ever, and they're not going to stop. It doesn't seem to matter to them that they are in the minority, nor that a huge number of them want to inflict Christian-doctrine inspired law on a country where less than 5% of the population are Christians. Nor does it matter to them that, even if Taiwan were a majority Christian nation, that it is not right for one religion's doctrine to be the deciding factor in laws governing a pluralistic society. The idea that one cannot legislate one's religion, or that one is not entitled to insist that their culture is a certain way (that is, conservative, traditional) when the clear numbers show that it's not, is also lost on them.

Their leaders are acting like tyrants, trying to push beliefs that the majority of Taiwanese have rejected onto the nation simply to satisfy their own dogmatism and prejudice. They are causing real pain to many LGBT Taiwanese who simply want legal recognition of what is already true: legal recognition of relationships that will exist regardless of the law.

Some of them can be talked to, perhaps a few can be convinced. A large number, I suspect, are ensconced in their roles as mini-tyrants, trying to dictate culture to, and inflict unwanted religious dogma on, a populace that doesn't agree with them. All we can do is show the government that they are in the minority and we not only have the numbers, but progress and moral right on our side. If we cannot sway them with compassion, we have to let them feel the pain of losing.

We scored a major victory this past Saturday, 250,000 coming out (pun intended even though I'm straight) to stand for marriage equality, decisively crushing by the numbers those opposed to equality. It's all the more satisfying because the media, in a rare turn of accuracy, reported the more correct crowd estimates for this past Saturday, rightly ignoring the clearly skewed police estimate of 75,000.

The lower estimate given by police, compared to the "200,000" number bandied about for the anti-equality protest, is not an accident. It is deliberate misinformation. It is the essence of fake news. They did the same thing to the Sunflowers, if you remember.

15338733_1221657311242885_590698434348351531_nFrom here

We not only have to bring down the culture war tyrants, but fight back against attempts to minimize the proof that the Taiwanese know what they want, and that that's equality.

We have to keep beating them at the media game, and keep beating them by the numbers. We have to call them out, and we have to refuse to listen to their obfuscatory tactics masquerading as logic. When they quote a debunked study, or post links to a website with an agenda as "proof" of the correctness of their views, or claim falsely that they are the "silent majority", or speak in dogmatic, generalities and deliberately confused and jejune metaphors (for example: "children need an apple and an orange for complete nutrition, not two apples or two oranges"), we must refuse to listen.

When they say this is a Western import, and not intrinsic to Taiwanese culture, we must again refuse to listen. Nobody (except possibly the voice of reason) died and made them emperors of what is and is not Taiwanese culture. If this idea were being forced on Taiwan by Western countries, 250,000 Taiwanese wouldn't have shown up last weekend to insist otherwise. They are the minority and they are the voice of reactionary bigotry, and it's time they felt like it.

As J. Michael Cole put it, this isn't just about marriage equality (link in Chinese) - it's also about what the Taiwanese want their country to be. It's about the process of national identity. Does Taiwan want to be a country of inclusiveness and tolerance, or does it want to deny equal rights to 10% of its citizens because a few people are uncomfortable with it?

This is not a foreign issue. It is not a foreign import. 99.9% (or so) of the attendees on Saturday were Taiwanese - young Taiwanese, but Taiwanese nonetheless. This is a Taiwanese issue, facing a society that, at its core, is accepting, tolerant and progressive by Asian standards.

Taiwan has a beautiful name, and the truly touching show of support last Saturday showed it also has beautiful ideals. We're not done yet, though. We need your bodies again, in the 17th and the 26th, to turn those ideals into legal reality.

Please come.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Of false flags and outdated self-congratulations

Okay. So. That crazypants video of a woman (Hung Su-Chu, not to be confused for my non-Taiwan readers with Hung Hsiu-chu, the KMT Chairperson mentioned below) who seems to be allied with fringe groups in the pan-green camp berating an elderly KMT veteran. Ugh. I don't think I need to say that such behavior is disgusting and unbecoming, and that people with these beliefs represent an infinitesimally small minority of Taiwanese, the vast majority of whom are, like most people, better than this.

There has been a lot of discussion on a.) what this says about the fringe elements of the generally green side and the bigotry many of them display (which is a provably true phenomenon - they aren't off the hook because they're on generally the same side I am, and it's one major reason why I've started having a lot more faith in youth activists and the New Power Party of late) and b.) whether this is a 'false flag' fake scandal manufactured by pro-unification fringe elements on the other (blue) side, as evidenced by an old online post by Hung talking about how pro-independence people are seeking to divide and lie to the Taiwanese  (at least that's the best I could get from that incoherent mess of a post - she does not seem to support at all the petition linked to) and talk that the woman's parents were also a part of the KMT diaspora. The idea would be to make the pan-greens, currently in power, look bad both to the Taiwanese and as fodder for Chinese media - though as I mention below, I'm less concerned about that latter point.

On the other hand a friend of mine pointed out that this woman has been involved in deep green fringe groups for awhile - although the group she is said to belong to, the Taiwan Civil Government, claims she is not a member (also check this link for good discussions of positive identity). I would also note that gossip is gossip, and images of status updates can be photoshopped (though I am not sure this one is - she sounds genuinely nuts, to the point that all I can tell is  So, what of it?

I don't know - but I do think the truth is important. I've heard a few calls for taking this at face value first because the evidence isn't quite enough to say it's definitely an opposition attempt to discredit the entire green camp by manufacturing a scandal involving one of its crazier outlier groups, and second because redirecting conversation to whether it's a 'false flag' operation or not takes away from the conversation about bigotry on the pan-green side, as fringe as it may (or may not) be.

I'd say that the evidence isn't enough for me to believe it's a fake-out, but there is just enough for me to not wholeheartedly believe it is genuine. Assuming that this was a genuine ideology-motivated attack and refusing to consider that it might not be is just as jejune as a knee-jerk reaction among those of us who ally with the 'greener' end of the political spectrum that it MUST be a manufactured scandal just because the bad guys are green and so are you. It's deciding what you believe based on what you want to say, and how you want to appear, rather than actually considering what may have happened.

This is especially true if one is intent on avoiding looking like a pan-green apologist or knee-jerk defender who will cry foul at any criticism of that side, and so decides it must be genuine. Pointing out that it might be a fake-out might make you seem like just that sort of apologist!

Which, of course, is not true at all. Pointing out that one incident of green bigotry may be a false flag operation is not the same at all as saying that pan-greens are never bigoted (just as pointing out that Republican attacks on Hillary are unfair does not make one a Hillary apologist, or equate to thinking Hillary is 100% great. The two are not the same, not even remotely, and it's facile and stupid - perhaps even weirdly dogmatic but to a wholly different ideology - to conflate them when they are so clearly not identical worldviews).

Of course, we can all agree on one thing: that Taiwanese on both sides, or shall I say all sides, of the political playing field, by a vast majority, find this sort of behavior disgusting, and whether or not the woman in question is the real deal doesn't change that either way, she is a terrible person who did a terrible, shitty thing. That's true even if she's a faker.
So why does it matter? Because:

1.) This particular incident does not need to be genuinely motivated by political ideology for people to have that conversation about pan-green bigotry against the KMT diaspora and its descendants, because this one incident possibly being fake doesn't mean there is no bigotry in the pan-green camp

2.) Assuming the actions and sentiments behind them are genuine just because you'd rather have the above conversation about pan-green bigotry, as I've said, is facile and self-serving.

3.) Opposition attempts to discredit the other side, no matter where they are coming from, are a real problem and they do happen. Deciding to pretend they don't exist for your own rhetorical purposes just makes it easier for them to continue. There is a precedent for this sort of thing - I was present when gangsters tried to stir up arguments, setting off firecrackers and bothering Sunflower supporters outside of the Legislative Yuan in 2014. I'm not a reporter and I'm not a part of the movement - more of an observer, supporter and interested party - so I got the hell out of there and joined supporters on another section of road because I know I have a bit of a temper and there was no reason to stick around only to fly off the handle and possibly get deported. But, I was there, I saw it happen, I heard the information coming from the crowd on who these people were and what they were trying to do, so I know this is a thing that fringe groups on the other side *do* engage in.

That is also a conversation worth having, and an important one, as many in Asia (and not just Taiwanese - foreigners too) don't recognize these deliberate actions when they take place. They too take the news at face value and then wrinkle their faces in disgust at those 'racist DPP' (nevermind that the DPP had nothing to do with this attack, Hung is said to be involved with the Taiwan Civil Government, who are true nutters). Hell this sort of thing happens in the US (can we say "Benghazi"? I suppose it's a blessing that that has died down and the scandal that has taken its place at least has a real issue at its center). People - all people - need to learn to recognize it and consider the news accordingly.

Frankly, I find the former more interesting than the 'bigotry within the green camp' discussion, simply because I feel like it's already been had, and it's starting to sound repetitive and self-congratulatory.

Are there racists and bigots and awful people who align with the pan-green camp? Of course.

Is this a problem? Yup, but increasingly less so as these folks become more and more fringe. The mainstream has changed course for the better.

Should we do something about it? Yup.

Like what? Well, push for more progressive values and inclusivity on both sides.

Arguably that is something happening more quickly on the green side, as evidenced by rhetoric from the DPP on transitional justice and better inclusion of minority groups, the undeniably socially progressive views of the New Power Party (come on guys, drop the resistance to changing laws regarding working in Taiwan for foreign professionals already and you'd have my unqualified support!), the generally (though not entirely) green support of marriage equality, which was dead in the water under a KMT-controlled legislature, and the unified-yet-pluralistic and inclusive student movement which has true progressivism at its center. The folks running the show now are not the same Hoklo nationalist "KMT go home" bigots who had perhaps more power than they should have during the Chen years. I see it, that conversation has basically moved on. The things we need to do to improve our own side are already clear, and are already being acted upon. If anything they've been known by the student activists for quite some time and we older, often foreign commentators are behind the times.

Unless anyone has anything else to add.

What are we not doing that we should be to eradicate bigotry among those on our side of the political spectrum?

How can we better educate people to recognize manufactured scandals and false flag operations so we don't sit, politically neutered, as otherwise bad people pretend to be saviors and angels (I'm not that worried about Chinese news - if they didn't have a manufactured scandal they'd fabricate one that was never actually implemented. They're going to suck no matter what)?

Why can't we have BOTH conversations? Are we really so dumb and single-minded that we have to pick one?

And isn't this why the truth matters?