On Aug. 3, the Chinese characters for “injustice” and “truth” were beamed onto the tower of the Presidential Office Building via LED lights. About 250,000 people, mobilized over the Internet, came together on the streets of Taipei to express their strong opposition to the government led by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). It was the second recent street protest organized by the group known as the “white shirts.”
The activist group Citizen 1985 that brought the white shirts together announced that from that day onward, they would be using “the eyes of the people” to keep a tight watch on the government and would not rule out taking to the streets again.
There has recently been a lot of discussion about this new group of protesters, with some comparing them to the “red shirt” protesters who demonstrated against then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2006. However, they are essentially very different groups, and the white shirts are without a doubt a truly revolutionary movement, the likes of which the nation has never seen before.
The comparisons between the white and red shirts started at the protest on Aug. 3, when members of Citizen 1985 compared the two groups themselves.
They said that the number of people there that night surpassed the number of red shirts who protested in 2006. The number of people is a comparative basis for quantification, so we cannot say it is meaningless although it would be better viewed as being symbolic.
Red is just a color on the spectrum and lacks the connotations of black or white — or corruption and clean government. So naturally, this most recent protest was on a totally different level to that of 2006.
The gathering on Aug. 3 did not result from the appeal of politicians or opinion leaders. It did not emphasize heroism as the protesters clearly stated that they do not need heroes. No political parties got involved — it would have been difficult for them to do so anyway. The means the protesters used were simple. They did not carry out any large-scale public fundraising. Their demands were clear and devoid of complicated political goals. All of thesefactors are totally different to those of the red shirts in 2006.
It is especially worth noting that this new power was very different from the red shirts’ in one major way and that was along organizational lines. The red shirts had a lot in common politically and similar interests. To put it plainly, those with vested interests did not represent the majority of the recent protesters as they did in 2006. The group was thus defined as a force for improving society, which was dissatisfied with the “status quo” and demanded change and justice.
In the past, this force lay dormant, but it has now been brought to the forefront by people. Also worth noting is that this was all done via the Internet, which helped market the event to the public and received attention from traditional media that also helped expand its influence. As a result, this inspired everyone, especially the majority, who normally remain silent.
After the pressure that the white shirts created manifested itself, certain opposition forces — although careful not to totally dismiss the white shirts — started to help those in power try to shift the focus and shirk responsibility. For example, the white shirts worked in a transparent manner with various civic and social organizations. They said in front of everyone present that civic society owes them support and encouragement.