Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - Page 8 News List

The power to create or to destroy

By Pan Han-shen 潘翰聲

The powers-that-be have been trying to cast the protesters peacefully occupying the legislative chamber as thugs.

This is a tried-and-tested ploy often rolled out by the authorities in these kinds of situations.

The protesters have been broadcasting live footage of their actions online, using their own devices, enabling them to mobilize members of the public to come and support the protest. This role used to be the responsibility of the traditional broadcast media, with a much larger budget behind it. This new access to the ability to broadcast information at low cost surely presages the rapid decline and perhaps demise of the big budget broadcast media.

This protest against the handling of the cross-strait service trade agreement has one major thing in common with previous protests against nuclear power, low wages coupled with high prices and property speculation, in that none of them have been directly addressed or dealt with effectively. Politics is the area in which Taiwan still lags far behind many other countries, and it is also the thing that has set the country on the path to extinction.

Commenting on the current crisis, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) warned the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) several days ago not to be on the wrong side of history. Given that Taiwan presently teeters on a razor’s edge, on the verge of tipping into revolution, hopefully peaceful, Ma might want to heed his own advice.

In Taiwan, if people are to demonstrate on the streets, they are asked to clear it with the government first, and to turn off their loudspeakers, klaxons and megaphones when passing schools and hospitals. This is out of deference for the inhabitants, and they should walk past silently. When the protest is over, they are expected to act like good citizens and pick up their own garbage, making sure the streets are left as tidy as they were before the protest began. They are not to jostle the police crowd control barricades, and hurling Molotov cocktails or projectiles like stones or sidewalk tiles has, of course, long been banned.

If anyone goes against any of these conditions, no matter how justified their cause, then the state, with its hegemonic mindset, will set the dogs of the media biased in favor of the establishment on them.

Non-violent movements, by definition, start off peacefully. Nevertheless, they necessarily involve large numbers of people, and are therefore, by their very nature, unpredictable: They always have the potential of violence.

That inherent menace is necessary. A blunt straight razor may be safer, but it is also useless. To a large extent, this menace has been tamed in Taiwan, so there is very little risk of violence erupting in protest marches here.

Nowadays, marches are symbolic shows of numbers, to whose causes the Presidential Office merely needs to pay lip service, assuring the crowds that it has “heard” them.

The government, thick-skinned as it is, has little to actually fear.

Protest rallies and marches in Taiwan are probably some of the most peaceful and rational examples that you will see anywhere in the world. However, when the authorities continue to push people, and to increase the level of discontent among the general public, the traditional media, seeking to profit from its ties with politicians and big business, becomes increasingly complicit.

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