6 Dec 2008

A letter to WS students from Prof. Leigh

Sent: Monday, December 1, 2008 12:25:22 AM
From: James Leigh
Professor Emeritus in the College of Education
University of Missouri
Columbia, Missouri, USA

Dear Students:
I recently returned to the United States from a visit to your beautiful country,
where I had the opportunity to talk with other professors and students about my
professional work and interests related to the field of education. Even though the
purpose of my trip was entirely nonpolitical, during my visit I learned about the
Taiwan Wild Strawberries Movement, and I have read with interest the November 10
protest statement and many of the other postings on the TW Action website. After
returning to the U.S., I have been invited to share some of my thoughts and opinions
with you concerning the goals and activities of your movement.
Although the history and culture of our countries are quite different, when I was a
university student in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, there was a great amount of
unrest and turmoil in the U.S. between large numbers of university students and
faculty and others in the American society on the one hand, and staunch supporters of
government, military, and police authorities on the other hand. The protests and
demonstrations focused primarily on disagreement over U.S. policy relating to the
Vietnam war, but also grew to encompass opposing perspectives about other aspects
of American values and culture. Even though the Vietnam war ended long ago, there
are still lingering divisions and resentments harbored by many U.S. citizens as a result of the polarization and conflict from that era. I believe that some of that residual distrust and misunderstanding is now apparent in the socio-political distinction between “red” states and “blue” states in America, which in some respects is not unlike the designation of “blue” and “green” parties today in your country.
I cannot pretend to be well-versed in Taiwanese history and culture and its
complex relationship with the People’s Republic of China, so I will abstain from
offering judgments and specific recommendations regarding your current situation
other than to state that, as I understand it, your purpose appears to be not only just but noble insofar as it intends to protect and advance the cause of democracy and independence in your country. Of course, this position is to be expected from a
citizen of the country that declared its own independence in the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ...” This statement maintains that the members of your movement, and indeed all citizens of Taiwan, already have the rights that you advocate by virtue of being human. You are not asking any government to confer such rights that you already possess, but rather your goal is to ensure that your government recognizes and protects those rights.
Since I am not in a position to provide suggestions regarding the particular
strategies and resources your movement should employ toward this goal, I will simply
offer some thoughts to consider based upon my observations of and participation in
protest movements in my own country. For example, one important lesson I learned
is that people are seldom persuaded to a point of view by physical confrontation or
loud and emotionally-charged argument. If anything, such tactics generally produce
a defensive posture in philosophical adversaries, and often are regarded as rude and
arrogant and potentially dangerous by neutral individuals who otherwise might be
open to the message if it had been offered in a less threatening manner. Many of the
violent clashes between student groups and police in the U.S. in the 1960’s were
counterproductive, even though the students’ cause was worthwhile, because so many
citizens were repulsed by what they perceived as the mindless destruction of property, disruption of civil order, injuries, and sometimes even the tragic and needless loss of life.
As you pursue your purpose, I would encourage each of you to remember the
words of Martin Luther King as he wrote from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama: "We
are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." If this statement is true, as I believe it to be, the implication is that we must resist the politics of division and hatred in which our only concern and empathy is with those who support and join our cause, and in which others are regarded as enemies to be overcome. This does not mean that you should defer to or attempt to appease the opponents of democracy in your country, but rather that you should remember that it is their positions and policies that you seek to defeat, and not the people themselves. The implication of this distinction is that the fundamental humanity of all people must be respected, which rules out the use of violence or any form of degrading or demeaning attack, even in words, directed toward those with whom you disagree at this time.
Undoubtedly, you have already found that some of your members are well-versed
in the more substantive conceptual aspects of freedom and democracy and human
rights, while other members may only be caught up in their sense of the excitement
and adventure of rebellion and supporting a cause. Many who participated in various
American protest movements were well-informed and committed to their causes, but
it is also true that many were simply bored or dissatisfied young people for whom the
demonstrations and confrontations provided an outlet for their personal frustrations or a source of entertainment and a sense of belonging that they otherwise lacked in their lives.
In order to convince adversaries to listen to one’s perspective, it is necessary to be willing also to listen to and learn about their perspective. Positions and policies are not defeated by how loud and angry our voices of protest can be, but rather by how logical and convincing our reason is in undermining those positions and policies. In other words, to refute an idea, it is first necessary to understand it, which means learning about its background and history and the motives of those who subscribe to it and the positive and negative implications of adhering to that idea. Only then does it become possible to argue against the idea in a systematic, rational, and powerful manner that will appeal to those who are willing to consider differing perspectives.
Accordingly, perhaps your movement will provide an opportunity for your student
leaders also to serve as teachers, providing an education beyond university walls for
many Taiwanese citizens and future political leaders. Many great thinkers before you
have grappled with the notions of freedom and democracy and independence; authors
as diverse as Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Walt Whitman, G. K. Chesterton,
John Kennedy, Ghandi, Paulo Freire, Allen Ginsberg, Noam Chomsky and countless
others have shared their thoughts about such ideals, and you can read and study their
eloquent words today for guidance and inspiration and to translate and share with
your fellow citizens.
Finally, I offer my best wishes to you as you seek to foster a Taiwanese society in
which all citizens can pursue their goals and dreams and live their daily lives in an
atmosphere free from fear and oppression. I hope you continue to be strong and
courageous in your pursuits, resisting any and all attempts to deny your basic human
rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom
to petition, and freedom of the press. I also hope your movement will seek to achieve
its worthy goals, as much as possible without compromising the essential quest for
liberty and democracy, in a spirit of cooperation and inclusion and harmony with all
other citizens of Taiwan, including those with whom you may have disagreements at
this time, while remembering that it is not only the right but also the responsibility of citizens in a democracy to speak out against and non-violently resist any attempts by government to suppress or revoke such rights.

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