Beauty and ugliness have been witnessed throughout. Some Taiwanese have donated money, rented tents, provided shelter, food and encouragement. Others — including legislators from both sides of politics, who should know better because three decades ago they (and their parents) were storming the barricades — have libelously referred to the activists as “professional protesters,” or accused them of undermining social stability.
Others have accused the youth of being naive, of being played by unseen corporate forces, or of being mere pawns in the struggle between — in one case — the nuclear and wind power industries. Yet as anyone who bothers to get to know them will quickly realize, those same protesters — many graduates from the top universities — have mastered their subjects to a tee, and often offer commentary that goes well beyond the simplified accounts in the media or those given by officials.
Then there are those who will give the young activists a patronizing pat on the head, but urge them to grow up and tackle “real” issues that touch on Taiwan’s relations with China.
However, there is shortsightedness in regarding “local” protests as if they are somehow disconnected from the larger problems of cross-strait relations, for in fact, the two are closely related. After all, how can we expect this government to keep Taiwan’s best interests at heart in its negotiations with China when it cannot play fairly with its own citizens?
How can Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), who many believe has presidential aspirations for 2016, be a credible candidate when time and again he has proven the reason for his unflattering nickname (hint: it rhymes with “friar”)?
Equally, how can people place their hopes in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) when it selects issues based on their value as a tool to make the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) look bad ahead of important elections?
Or when one of its most esteemed legislators, who comes from a family with an unassailable tradition of opposing injustice, browbeats other DPP legislators into silence over a project that involves a form energy that she has espoused, yet the implementation of the project has led to undeniable (and repeated) violations of human rights?
How can people place their hopes in a party that itself acted inhumanely when in power, sometimes on the very issues that engender protests today?
In fact, all these “local” issues are directly related to national ones. Keeping officials honest, while ensuring that the rights of all inhabitants on this island are respected — whether they are rich or poor, young or old — by those in power are inherently about Taiwan’s relations with China. This is because they speak to the nature, spirit and character of the government that rules over this nation.
If officials in Taipei cannot ensure that Ms Zhang’s house in Dapu isn’t bulldozed to make way for a road, despite promises by then-premier Wu in 2010 that such an outcome would be averted; if Mr Chiang cannot be treated fairly by a city government that wants to build a wonderland for the super-wealthy on the ashes of Huaguang, how can we possibly expect these officials to be fair when they strike deals with the authoritarian vultures in Beijing?
If crooks and miscreants are allowed to retain positions of power in Taiwan, they will remain crooks and miscreants in their dealings with China, except quite possibly in amplified form.