Tue, Oct 10, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Protesting must alter its form to be effective

By Ho Ming-Sho 何明修

The campaign against President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), which has lasted for more than a month, is preparing to adopt more radical strategies.

From a nationwide demonstration and strike to a protest on Double Ten National Day, each move risks escalating tensions and heightening political uncertainty. However, creating conflict is not necessarily just a way of showing one's strength; it may also serve to rally supporters and maintain momentum when morale flags.

I believe that initiators of a movement can exert greater influence over the public if they choose to give up their battlefield in the streets.

Take Taiwan's environmental protection movements for example. Sporadic environmental protests against pollution had already occurred even before martial law was lifted in 1987. After that time, the public began to air grievances that had long been repressed and the scale of street demonstrations also began to grow.

Later, when then premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) clamped down on the "environmental thugs," some activists turned to violence, and the environmental struggle reached new a level.

In 1991, there was a total of 215 protests. In the mid-1990s, as this country was striving toward becoming a democracy, the number of street demonstrations stood at 150 per year. The transition of power in 2000 further reduced the number of protests, and the figure fell to less than 100 in the following years.

The decrease in the number of environmental protests does not mean that environmental protests are disappearing. On the contrary, without the media attention and the participation of a passionate crowd, activists still manage to deeply affect the way people conduct their daily lives in relation to the environment.

More than a decade ago, a group of environmental activists returned to their hometowns from Taipei and began to instill into rural folk the concept of environmental protection and "caring for our hometowns." In addition, local residents learned to play an active role by turning themselves into community guardians rather than just seeking to oppose pollution and angle for compensation.

Professionals in the field also worked to enhance the knowledge of non-governmental organizations and taught people how to implement the idea of environmental protection in their daily lives.

The cause of environmental protection therefore no longer had to be expressed in the form of mass rallies.

The days of noisy street protests have led to community mobilization, policy consultation and new ways of living. It has become a silent revolution.

Over the years, activists discovered that protests could be sparked by revelations of the victims of environmental damage. While these protests could generate tremendous short-term impact, once the immediate environmental problem facing the public was solved, the public's interest would fade.

Social movements that solely depend on mobilization of protesters only have a superficial effect. Although they may prevent a specific environmental problem from degenerating further, they are rarely able to improve the situation.

Social movements cannot rely only on street protests to achieve their goal. In fact, the anti-Chen protests around the country are now constraining the effectiveness of the campaign against government corruption directed at him. If the rejection of corruption cannot be incorporated into the system of government, then the current protests will never be able to shake off the taint of being politically motivated.

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