Mon, Oct 02, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Reporter's Notebook: Watching the Shih-campaign crowd from the street

BOISTEROUS The campaign to oust the president has been criticized as a carnival lacking in gravitas, but its participants believe it is a profound social movement

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Participants in the anti-President Chen Shui-bian campaign eat lunch while taking part in the sit-in outside the Taipei Railway Station.

PHOTO: LIU HSIN-DE, TAIPEI TIMES

The protest movement launched by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) has been anything but conventional.

The demonstrations are a sharp contrast to those held by former DPP chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) in March 2004 to call for legislative reform, where protesters sat in solemn silence.

Shih's red-clad crowd, chanting a variety of slogans in its effort to oust President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), is boisterous and energetic.

It has become common for political commentators to describe the campaign as "sort of like a festival."

The protests began on Sept. 9 and have twice been forced to relocate to Taipei Railway Station from Ketagalan Boulevard.

During the day, the majority of the protesters taking part in the sit-in are housewives and retirees. In late afternoon and the evening, students, young adults and office workers often start showing up after school or work.

The venue has become a social hot spot, where young people decked out in red outfits can get together.

Every 30 minutes or so, the campaign's organizers lead the crowd in chanting slogans such as "A-bian step down!," and do "exercise dances" come rain or shine.

At nights, the protest becomes a stage performance, with actors, singers and artists taking turns entertaining the crowd with pop songs, dances and performances by talk show hosts and impersonators of the late president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).

Participants' enthusiasm was notable during the first week of the protest, during which people brought free food and goods to the site and gave them away to the protesters.

In addition to "Grandpa Chang's" free water booth, which was sponsored by an overseas Taiwanese residing in Canada, people distributed a variety of free goods, including foodstuffs -- ranging from traditional deep-fried bread sticks, lunch boxes, stir-fried noodles, cakes and hot ginger tea -- raincoats, tents and newspapers.

Around meal time, there is always a long line of participants -- and even some homeless people -- waiting to get the free food distributed near the campaign's headquarters on Ketagalan Boulevard.

According to the camp's organizers, there are also participants who make several trips through the lines to get as much food as they can.

When the sit-in was held on Ketagalan Boulevard, a "50-something" woman surnamed Lee and her neighbor said they went there every day, bringing folding chairs, books and water.

"The weather is changeable these days, so we wear hats and have raincoats and long-sleeve shirts in our bags ... We are becoming professional protesters," Lee told the Taipei Times.

With a red ribbon in her hair and wearing a red halter-top and matching mini-skirt, 19-year-old Chen Shih-ting (陳思婷) was attracting a lot of attention with her outfit.

"Young people should also care about politics and do something for our country," she said, after sharing her opinions last week on stage in front of the crowd on Ketagalan Boulevard, before the protest was relocated to the railway station.

Encouraging protesters to wear red and building a stage for people to share their opinions and entertain the crowd are just some of the ideas from campaign spokesman Jerry Fan (范可欽).

Some people criticized that the gimmicks decided on by Fan -- such as having protesters form imitation "Nazca Lines" in the shape of a giant drawing compass on the first day of the protest -- as blurring the movement's focus and turn it into a carnival.

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