Mon, Apr 12, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Politicians manipulate protesters

By Ku Er-teh 顧爾德

Since demonstrators took to the streets following the March 20 election, media commentaries have tried to categorize the protesters, while, at the same time, political figures have employed the media to carry out their political propaganda and manipulate events to their advantage.

The protesters on Ketagalan Boulevard have been described as rational, non-violent and middle class by the media. Such categorizations may have two purposes. First, the media are attempting to cast a bad light on the image of protesters mobilized by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) during the tangwai (outside the party) period and to justify the moral legitimacy of this demonstration. Second, the media mean well by praising the demonstrators so that they may make the street movement develop in a positive direction, as the media have wished for all along.

Yet these efforts proved futile on the night of April 3 when the protesters started to act irrationally, just like their former counterparts, by attacking the police. It would be useless to hold that these people did not represent the majority of the protesters.

Street protesters are all the same. From the tangwai period to today, they are all dissatisfied people. The causes for their dissatisfaction may vary but street demonstrations work as an outlet for their dissatisfaction. It is unlikely that every demonstrator would behave rationally and take to the streets with a noble motive.

The anti-globalization protest in Seattle, for example, was violent as well as significant for progress. This is the nature of mass action.

People's power can be either constructive or destructive. It is not enough to simply ask them to be calm and exercise self-control.

It is more important for the leaders of the movement, intellectuals and the public to provide mechanisms with which to alter the direction in which the movement is heading than it is for them to categorize the movement.

Protesters are a bunch of dissatisfied and anxious people asking for specific answers. However, leaders are the ones that have visions, insight and abilities that surpass those of ordinary people. This is what makes them leaders. If they are unable to direct anger in a direction conducive to a positive historic development but instead only chime in with the crowds, they fail in their social and political responsibility.

Similarly, if intellectuals and the elite only blindly and subjectively wish the crowds to behave in a certain way without offering them mechanisms to realize their expectations, it becomes nothing but a placebo for putting their social conscience at ease.

The even lower kind of politicians are those who dare not lead the masses, nor answer the protesters, but manipulate them for their own political ends. This, unfortunately, is what we have seen in the recent development of demonstrations.

The pan-blue politicians claimed that they did not mobilize these demonstrators so they did not need to take care of them. To one's surprise, the Taipei City Government and the Ministry of the Interior in this incident thought it appropriate to criticize each other in press conferences. Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) soft persuasion proved to be useless, but that did not thereby legitimize the ministry's decision to dispel the crowds forcefully. It only showed that Ma was politically inept and trying to curry favor with both sides.

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