It has been going on for several months. And with the passage of time and exposure to the elements, their skin color has been darkening, their bodies becoming leaner and the battle wounds — a scratch here, a bruise there — have been adding up.
Over the past year, hundreds, perhaps thousands of young Taiwanese, most university students, though some still in high school, have mobilized against a variety of issues. They have protested across Taiwan, organizing information sessions and concerts, developing a slew of Web sites to monitor developments and to provide documents, photographs and film clips.
With the exception of the anti-monopolization of Taiwan’s media industry and protesting against China’s growing influence within the sector, all the causes have been what we could describe as “local.” In Taipei’s Huaguang Community (華光); in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Sinjhuang District (新莊) at the Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium; and in Miaoli County’s Dapu Village (大埔) the young activists have rallied to try to stop the destruction of homes and livelihoods.
They have fought against the construction of wind turbines close to homes in Yuanli (苑裡), again in Miaoli County; a hotel resort on Aboriginal land on Taitung County’s Shanyuan Beach (杉原); and a cement factory in Dongcing Village (東清) on Lanyu (蘭嶼).
To do this, they have pulled all-nighters, compromised their studies and their health in Taiwan’s intense climate, undergone surveillance and been taunted, arrested and beaten up.
They did none of this for the sake of self-aggrandizement, as some critics have proposed, but rather to draw attention to causes whose outcomes they believe are key to their homeland’s identity.
Leaders have emerged in the process, doing so well that their efforts have been attacked, for example by those incredulous at their ability to raise large sums of money. Others have come forward as reluctant public figures, pulled from obscurity, among a maelstrom of greater forces threatening to destroy lives in the name of “progress.”
Through their efforts, acts of injustice that would likely have gone unnoticed have intensified into issues that speak to the nation at large, attracting local, and in some instances international, media attention.
They have brought out the very worst in individuals in positions of authority, forcing them to show their true colors. Government officials have been exposed as liars, corporate leaders as thugs, media moguls as unprincipled, legislators as self-serving and county commissioners as crooks.
To understand the depth of their determination, one needs to be there, in their midst, repelling PVC shields and muscle, seeing the tears and the rage on muddied faces, as protesters and victims fight for what they believe in, or for something as basic as the right to keep a roof over one’s head.
There are the lesser reported angles of the story: the police officer’s sympathy for the protesters as a youth is taken into a police station (“if someone built wind power units this close to my home, I’d be protesting, too”), the hired muscle who calls it quits as he no longer wishes to fight “his own people,” the cop crying as people sing old Taiwanese songs outside the Legislative Yuan, another officer with tears running down her cheeks as an old farmer, her way of life threatened, confronts a member of the Executive Yuan.