Tue, Nov 26, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Organizer credited with peaceful march's success

By Tsai Ting-I  /  STAFF REPORTER

After tens of thousands of farmers and fishermen demonstrated peacefully in downtown Taipei Saturday, observers said that the event marked a breakthrough for farmers and fishermen, whose ability to mount organized, peaceful demonstrations in the past has been lackluster.

Protests by farmers and fishermen in the past have been characterized by violence and low turnouts of less than 10,000 people. Saturday's large-scale peaceful event, however, has demonstrated the ability of the two groups to organize and mobilize in force and to do so peacefully.

It also shows, say analysts, that minimal political party involvement leads to a successful demonstration.

The success of the demonstration, the first ever to be led by farmers' and fishermen's associations, testifies to the effectiveness of the organizational efforts of the associations, which, as key beneficiaries of KMT favors in the past have always been hesitant to engage in political protest.

"The march's success is because of the organization's clear goals. And its capability of mobilizing so many people in such a short time is another element of this significant march," said Chiu Hei-yuan (瞿海源), a sociologist.

Chiu said that many political elements would would love to be involved in such a mass demonstration and prohibiting them from doing so is very difficult.

"If the organization's theme to the march is vague, such events can easily be manipulated by political forces," Chiu said.

Upset by the government's financial reform plans, Taiwan's 344 farmers' and fishermen's associations founded the Taiwan Agro Fighters United (TAFU) in September and chose Chan Chao-li (詹朝立), who has been involved in the organization of agricultural protests since the 1980s, as the lead organizer.

Over the past 90 days, Chan spoke to numerous labor groups about arranging buses and rallies, including the most active labor group since the 1980s, the Committee for Action for Labor Legislation. He also found Internet materials from the most recent national protest, launched by the National Teachers' Association on Sept. 28, in which an estimated 60,000 teachers participated.

As an experienced campaigner, Chan vowed to keep an equal distance from all of the political parties from the beginning, saying "A social movement should keep its own independence, purity, and idealism."

Chan said that the opposition parties were enthusiastic about helping to plan the event, but the TAFU turned down their requests.

Yan Jian-sian (顏建賢), secretary-general of TAFU, reacting to all of the DPP legislators' political accusations about the march said, "The marchers simply wanted to urge the government to set up clear agricultural policies. The march's success proves that we should deal with the nature of the problem and exclude politics from the issues."

Chien Hsi-chieh, the Peacetime Foundation's executive director and a former DPP legislator, who was one of the DPP's active campaigners in the 1980s, however, criticized the administration's condemnation of the march as innappropriate.

"Condemning the march would just make the protesters more united. The government should communicate with the demonstrators, but not try to make them look bad," Chien said.

Political observers said that the event's mobilization serves as a warning to the government because even if the farmers and fishermen can carry off a peaceful demonstration, that doesn't mean that they won't come back with different intentions.

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