Public figures, particularly those who engage with causes relating to justice and issues of critical national importance, are often perceived by members of the general public as paradigmatic “heroes” walking around with shining halos above their heads.
However, against the backdrop of the rise of social movements in the nation, it might be fair to say that the latest unfortunate controversy involving a high-profile figure from last year’s Sunflower movement serves as a timely reminder that when it comes to civic engagement, trumpeting social causes and serving as voices for the voiceless, the needy and the unjustly deprived, what is sacred lies in the messages — never in those who stand behind the megaphones.
At the center of the latest controversy is Liulin Wei (柳林瑋), a former National Taiwan University Hospital physician who has been active in the Sunflower movement.
After announcing over the weekend that it had temporarily suspended Liulin’s title of as one of its founding members due to “monetary issues,” the Citizen 1985 rights group that launched demonstrations against the mistreatment of soldiers by the military following the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) yesterday brought further accusations against him over monetary issues.
On Saturday last week, Watchout, an Internet media outlet established by a group of young people that calls for government and legislative transparency, said that Liulin would no longer represent the firm, adding that it dismissed him from his post as chief executive for “committing major mistakes in financial management.”
The news led many to recall how Sunflower movement leader Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) late last year was reported to have been involved in two sexual harassment cases during his sophomore and senior years in college, and was granted deferred prosecution for the first incident.
It is imaginable that opponents of the Sunflower movement could be thrilled at the emergence of Chen and Liulin’s cases, aiming to seize the moment to smear the movement in hopes of invalidating the legitimacy of the campaign.
However, what is important in the movement remains the messages themselves and never the messengers.
The important page in the nation’s democratic history that was written collectively by 500,000 participants in Sunflower movement rallies nationwide cannot be erased by the alleged improper conduct of Chen, Liulin or any other individual.
Throughout the Sunflower movement, participants showed remarkable levels of resilience and maturity, as well as a depth of understanding about the nation’s democratization.
These aspects of the movement touched the hearts of many — that participants took part in the rallies out of a genuine belief in democracy and a sense of duty.
The Sunflower movement also prompted the emergence of various new social advocacy groups such as Taiwan March (島國前進), Democracy Kuroshio (民主黑潮) and Democracy Tautin (民主鬥陣), composed mainly of young people working on their own initiatives.
That being the case does not mean that high-profile figures of the movement ought to bask in illusions of grandeur or heroism. They are not idols exempt from criticism or scrutiny.
Both Citizen 1985 and Watchout should be acknowledged and applauded for welcoming public scrutiny and the bravery to address their issues transparently — a clear departure from the standard operating procedures of the nation’s political parties, known for cover-ups, “black-box deals” and sweeping the truth under the rug.
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