The student-led Sunflower movement lasted for 23 days, from when the protesters first entered the Legislative Yuan in Taipei at 9pm on March 18 to the time they peacefully withdrew from the chamber, victorious, on Thursday last week at 6pm.
The movement will almost certainly be written about in history books and future generations will make of it what they will. History will judge whether it is successful.
Those who were there when the movement was happening can compare and assess the roles played by the four main players: the students, the authorities, the media and the criminal underworld.
One can look first at the nonviolent party — the students — and their actions. Colliding with a crippled, moribund system, and trying to rein in what they saw as out-of-control legislators, the students took it upon themselves to occupy the legislature.
They did this not for themselves, nor for any political party: They were motivated by pure and lofty ideals that stand up to scrutiny. Some feel that their behavior was criminal, while others believe they should be lauded for trying to protect democracy and justice. However the students are judged in the courts, history will be the final arbiter.
At the very least, Taiwanese can look back on the student movement and say that it was peaceful. This is difficult to refute. Were the slogans of the movement non-peaceful?
They objected to the lack of transparency in government and to the cross-strait service trade agreement in its present incarnation. They also wanted to see legislation of an oversight mechanism for cross-strait agreements before the review of the trade pact continues.
When the police at the legislature changed shifts, the students made way, applauded them and gave words of encouragement and empathy. Was this violent? Or when they raised their hands and called on the police to withdraw? When students and other demonstrators locked arms as they sat on the ground, trying to resist the police’s attempts to remove them using water cannons, was this violent?
On the afternoon of March 27, the leaders of the movement, Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), called a press conference in which they said 100,000 people, all dressed in black, would take to the streets on March 30 to join a march along Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei.
Sure enough, three days later, people turned up on the streets, all dressed in black, but there were not 100,000; there were five times that many. These people came in answer to the students’ call. They were not mobilized by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). To say that the DPP’s hand was behind this is to give the party too much credit; to say that it was people acting like sheep is to give Taiwanese too little.
It would be closer to the mark to say that the outpouring of support was in response to a feeling of empathy with the peaceful protest, as well as a denunciation of the use of state violence against the splinter group that tried to occupy the Executive Yuan on March 23. The nonviolent spirit of the movement was reflected in the 500,000-strong march that Sunday. Nobody was hurt, and as soon as the time for the march to end came, people dispersed in a peaceful, orderly fashion within 20 minutes, leaving behind no trash.
This year, it is the state that was disorderly, not the students.