The government fools no one when in response to 1 million people taking to the streets in protest, it trots out platitudes such as, “we have heard you,” “we will look into the matter,” or the even more deplorable “thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.”
When people hear this kind of thing, they know full well that their protest has fallen on deaf ears and that all has been in vain.
Who can forget the look on Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung’s (劉政鴻) face during the sorry affair concerning forced demolitions of homes and businesses in the county’s Dapu Borough (大埔) last year? The white T-shirt vigil organized over the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) was met with similar disdain and insincerity by the authorities.
The larger the protest, the greater the sense of helplessness at the lack of response and the more profound the reaction. Some feel that punishing the government at the next election, given that big money has such control over politics, is useless and that the fate of the younger generation is already sealed.
Such is the state of democratic politics in Taiwan. When demonstrations do no good, nothing gets changed, and nobody holds out any hope for elections, occupying the legislature becomes the new way forward, the new way of voting.
It was the younger generation at the forefront of this movement. The opposition was glad it happened, although it could not be seen to be aiding or abetting it, let alone taking a lead. The movement certainly has been a wake-up call for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) alike: It has weakened their position and their legitimacy. While DPP supporters are saying the protests have been a good thing, it has marginalized the party somewhat.
How did a small band of students come to stage an occupation of the national legislature? The final analysis is that the nation is in the grip of money politics, the younger generation fears for its future prospects and the vast majority of the public are profoundly disconcerted and worried. This is why the movement found such a high degree of support among wider society.
More recent causes include the emergent conflict between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and if the public could see through Ma’s machinations, they were even more keenly observed by Wang, who would have been even more angered as a result. When the students suddenly broke into the Legislative Yuan, the small number of police stationed there were unable to respond in time. Before long, the students’ demands received popular support and there was a deadlock.
This phase of the crisis is now over. There will be no more blood spilled for the time being. Going forward, it will prove to be a mirror held up to the face of Taiwanese politics, showing its true likeness, warts and all and highlighting the mendacity of the nation’s politicians. The protest movement will deepen the maturation of Taiwanese society: It is part of the process of social progress.
The hope is that this protest, unlike those that have gone before it, will not prove to have been in vain, for if so, there is a risk that the sense of helplessness and the reaction to it will be all the more profound.
“The people who surface in the next wave of dissident leaders will be the ones who can command a following and crowd-source their online support, who have demonstrable skill with digital marketing tools, and, critically, who are willing to put themselves physically in harm’s way,” Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said. It would be hard to find a better footnote to the protest movement.