Tue, Nov 18, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Bridging a generation gap through new protest

By Wu Yi-cheng 吳易澄

More than 20 years after the lifting of martial law, we find ourselves in an era exploding with information and ruled by the logic of business.

The younger generation has never experienced a war, but may have experienced the tail end of authoritarian rule. When they were little, they might have heard their parents say: “If you don’t behave, I’ll call the police and have you arrested.”

They now chat on the Internet, absorb knowledge from online forums and flirt with the opposite sex using text messages. The younger generation has also been given a nasty label by arrogant adults — the “strawberry generation” — because of their alleged inability to deal with pressure.

Perhaps no one has considered that behind the “geek” label and the indifference lies a silent protest against a society with too many opinions; the unwillingness to endure hardship could also be a rebellion against the paternal attitudes of society as a whole.

Nobody expected that during the visit of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) the government would resort to heavy-handed police tactics to disperse demonstrators and then refuse to take responsibility for police excesses. This vindicates our concern: The specter of authoritarian rule has come back to life.

On Nov. 9, student demonstrators at the gate to Liberty Square in front of the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall initiated the “Wild Strawberries Movement,” a name that was arrived at through a democratic voting process on the medium they know best: the Internet.

As the movement formed, CTI-TV broadcast exclusive footage of families of police officers writing a letter to Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), calling on her to ask the students to go home.

I don’t know if CTI was playing dumb, if it had failed to investigate the matter or if it was a simple case of audience manipulation, but the station viewed the students as a motley group of rebels that would dance to the tune of a particular political party. Even now they think the strawberry generation is so vulnerable that it is easily divided.

Just as the term taike (台客) was transformed from meaning “tacky” or “Taiwanese redneck” to become an alternative identity to the mainstream, the emergence of the strawberry generation also seems to be a humorous and self-deprecating way for youngsters to stage a “passive aggressive” protest.

The student movement seems to be focusing on the ill-designed Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法), but in fact it is also a criticism of those in power, including the government — which thinks it has authority on all matters; those who worry that youngsters do not care about social issues; and particularly those politicians and media outlets that smear and denigrate student protesters.

The seemingly vulnerable strawberry generation has emerged with a sense of humility. On the night the Wild Strawberries movement was named, Wu Rwei-ren (吳叡人), a participant in the 1990s Wild Lily student movement, said the demonstrators who had gathered together from all over Taiwan — without knowing one another but still excitedly claiming that “we are one” — were a manifestation of a book he translated, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities.

With enthusiastic support from the public, the students are bringing about reconciliation and coexistence between generations. Supporters and demonstrators have come to realize the arrival of a new age. As supporters bring warm clothes and ginger duck soup to the demonstrators in this winter of human rights, students are braving the rain and the wind and silently accepting the support, saying: “Yes, leave it to us.”

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