It didn’t take long for the student organizations to hold national conferences for activist clubs and advocacy groups, and organize leadership training seminars and workshops. As Lin points out, student clubs provide a solid base for inter-campus discussion, which in turn provides opportunities for students to collaborate and make it easier for them to join forces and take part in protests. These include actions against the demolition of resident housing under the Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) urban renewal project in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林), the government’s planned science park expansion on farmland in Dapu Borough (大埔), Miaoli County and “land grabbing” by Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co (KPTC, 國光石化) in Changhua County.
“The 2008 Wild Strawberry [movement] provided a starting point for students,” Lin says. “The 2012 movement employed new techniques offered by social media and the old operation of the 1980s involving inter-campus connections. Also the level of trust is completely different. Now people know each other better because they’ve worked together.”
Activism in diverse forms
Hung Chung-yen (洪崇晏), a NTU philosophy major and a core member of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, says that the various protests over the past few years have raised awareness about social and political issues.
“More and more people have come to realize that democracy doesn’t just happen at the moment you cast your vote. There are important things happening anywhere and at anytime that requires our attention and action. To fight for our rights and maintain our democracy,” says Hung, who has participated in several social movements including the ongoing fight to preserve Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium (樂生療養院) and the worker protests against Huanlong Textile Co (華隆紡織) in Miaoli County over a fraudulent bankruptcy and unpaid wages.
Youth activism takes many different forms. Groups like Taiwan Rural Front (TRF, 台灣農村陣線) travel to remote villages, live with local residents and conduct surveys and studies. Former members of the Losheng Youth League work in unions and local, grass-roots establishments. Some form independent online media platforms, while others become protest singers.
“Politically, I was enlightened by the Losheng movement. The most important thing I have learned from the Losheng Youth League is that a social movement has to be rooted in life to continue and make real changes,” says Hung, who also works as a representative for NTU’s Student Congress.
Cans and Can’ts of Facebook
Meanwhile, Lin and other members of the youth alliance have been wondering why the number of the alliance’s Facebook fans has stagnated. They believe that to some degree, social media is a specialized field that requires knowledge and techniques to maintain.
“To attract more people, you need to convey your agenda in a way that is familiar to and easily accepted by the majority. But whether or not a social movement should adhere to the mainstream way of thinking is a whole different topic of debate,” Lin says.
NTU professor Ho says that since networking on Facebook is mainly through users’ interpersonal relationships, the medium is most effective in connecting a small number of people rather than reaching out to a large audience.