It is difficult to imagine how one could not have been moved by the thousands of young people who gathered on Saturday last week, armed with determination, humor, wit and a cornucopia of effigies, placards, banners and costumes, to protest against what they fear is the eventual emergence of a “media monster” should the Want Want China Times Group be allowed to expand its empire.
Although calculating turnout is never an exact science, it is fair to say that the crowd, made up almost entirely of young people, numbered in the thousands and was substantially larger than the organizers — journalist associations, student organizations and various civic groups — had expected.
In the days prior to the protest, held to coincide with Reporters’ Day, young Taiwanese launched sustained efforts online to mobilize like-minded individuals and encourage them to turn up for the protest. From videos teaching warm-up exercises and protest slogans to messages reminding people to avoid violence and not to litter, organizers of all stripes once again exhibited an uncanny ability to turn modern media to their advantage.
In many ways, this was reminiscent of the Wild Strawberry Movement’s use of Web casts in 2008 and 2009 to bring their protests against the Parade and Assembly Act (集會遊行法), which they deemed “unconstitutional,” to the world.
There is no hiding the fact that today’s young Taiwanese have a rather regretful reputation for not involving themselves enough in politics. It is often said that they care more about video games, KTV or dating (or heaven forbid, their schoolwork) than the fate of their country and its democracy. Judging from the usual composition of the crowds that turn up at large protests, such criticism would appear to be justified.
Confronted by such accusations, young Taiwanese will usually respond by stating their aversion to party politics, which they regard as a hodgepodge of cronies and cynics bickering not for the sake of the country, but rather for their own selfish interests. They will also point out that the majority of protests have been hijacked by the major political parties, turning perfectly legitimate expressions of dissatisfaction into mere electioneering opportunities.
This is not to say that today’s youth is unmoved by what’s going on around them, or that they will not act when their interests — and the issues that matter to them — are threatened.
Last week’s protest, the largest turnout of young people, it must be said, in 22 years, was evidence that young people can and will act, but will do so only when they are confident enough that by participating they will not become tools for politicians. One of the main reasons why the young turnout was so high was the organizers’ insistence that political parties not take over the protest or bring the usual party flags and paraphernalia, a request that was respected. (Former premier Yu Shi-kyun (游錫堃) of the Democratic Progressive Party and Lin Huo-wang (林火旺), a former adviser to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), were present, but kept a low profile and showed that when it matters, the green-blue divide can be transcended. One wonders if only young people have what it takes to make politicians work together rather than tirelessly snipe at one another, to the detriment of this country.)
The protest, added to the hundreds of young Taiwanese who mobilized in London and on the Internet during the Olympics this summer to protest against the removal, following pressure from China, of a Republic of China flag, gives us reason for hope. After all, the future of this nation depends on its youth, and its future leaders will also emerge from this generation. The world they inhabit will be a consequence both of what the current leaders make of it and of youth’s ability to shape its development.