16 Nov 2008

[Taipei Times] Sit-in: A lesson in preserving democracy

By Lin Huan-yi 林奐怡

Wednesday, Nov 12, 2008, Page 8

When I searched for Songs of Taiwan (台灣之歌) on YouTube recently, I was stunned by what I saw. I could hardly believe that what I found was really the Taiwan I know. I support communication between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, but when the national dignity and freedom of speech that we are so proud of are trampled like this, how can one not feel pain? I was moved to voice my discontent with the government.

I learned about the “Operation Seige” protest against Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) from the newspapers. Despite the chance that I would be labeled a supporter of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) if I joined the protest, I still went.

However, once there all I heard and saw was nationalistic shouting and confrontations, with demonstrators egged on by politicians delivering sensational and theatrical speeches. This did not reflect why I was participating. I am unwilling to downgrade myself and become a tool in the hands of politicians. Besides, I felt that the protests were not aimed at achieving social justice as I had expected, so I quietly left and went home.

After I got home, I went online and learned that a sit-in petition organized by Lee Ming-tsung (李明璁), an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at National Taiwan University, had already attracted much attention on PTT2, which is one of Taiwan’s biggest bulletin board systems. After reading the posts carefully, I felt that the protest dovetailed with my pursuit of social justice and resolved to join the sit-in.

Later in the evening on Friday, protesters were expelled from the site of the sit-in near the Legislative Yuan. Hundreds of teachers and students, including myself, were bundled into police vans and dropped off at different locations around town. However, it was not long before we made our way back downtown and gathered again, this time at the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall.

This is a living lesson in democracy. I talked to a teacher who said that democracy does not appear by itself and is often a result of street movements. Sadly, the democracy that results from such street movements is often destroyed by those in power. The concept of civil disobedience did not appear in my school textbooks, but I have now learned about it firsthand. I have also witnessed how the media sensationalize and distort simple appeals for human rights.

The pursuit of social justice must go beyond political camps. Take my schoolmate, for example: She took part in the “red shirt” campaign against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), but she is also participating in the sit-in protest this time. To which camp or party does she belong, then?

Unfortunately, Taiwan is still trapped in a blue-green dichotomy. Why should students be labeled as one or the other when expressing discontent with the government? Does this also mean students are deprived of their right to discuss public issues? This is ridiculously unfair and should never happen.

On Saturday, I sat in the rain all day under the cover of a wide-brimmed farmer’s hat. Despite the miserable weather, I felt fortunate to participate in the student movement and I am certainly proud of the teachers and students who sat in the rain with me. We are safeguarding the universal values of human rights and democracy through a peaceful and rational process.

Lin Huan-yi is a student in the Department of Graphic Arts Communication at National Taiwan Normal University.



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