Many people may have had reservations about whether the loosely-knit Wild Strawberry Student Movement would be capable of staging a successful and peaceful rally as planned when they heard that the students had decided not to report their planned protest to the police in defiance of the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法).
Even Ho Tung-hung (何東洪), an associate professor of psychology at Fu Jen Catholic University and a participant in the Wild Lily Student Movement (野百合學運) of the 1990s, expressed reservations when talking to the Taipei Times several days prior to Sunday’s demonstration.
Ho, who had been offering advice to the Wild Strawberries as a student movement veteran, had expressed doubts about whether the students would be able to handle such a large-scale rally.
Some people opposing the Wild Strawberries also left messages on the students’ official Web blog (tion1106.blogspot.com), alleging that violence and chaos could break out during the rally.
But the students’ peaceful 2.7km march to the nation’s major government branches on Sunday and the large number of participants the parade attracted proved the skeptics wrong.
The Wild Strawberries were able to maintain order with a team of students tasked with keeping the peace. They had been trained by several non-governmental organizations experienced in staging rallies.
Although they seemed inexperienced, the team helped control traffic and the pace of the parade as the protesters marched down Zhongshan S Road, Zhongxiao E Road and Ketagalan Boulevard, which are among the busiest sections of downtown Taipei.
The civil disobedience training the students had received prior to the rally, given by Chien Hsi-chieh, director of the Peacetime Foundation of Taiwan, also proved successful, as the students resorted to applause and cheers instead of violence when stopped by police officers on several occasions.
The enthusiasm of the students appeared to have also infected hundreds of supporters of the movement who marched with them, even though some of the supporters were overheard saying that “the students’ action would not be as effective as throwing gasoline bombs, like we did in the old days.”
The police’s tacit agreement to allow the students to finish the rally also helped keep the demonstration nonviolent. An officer from the nearby Zhongzheng First Precinct was overheard saying that the police had decided not to block the students’ demonstration.
But the students still struggled to prevent other civic groups from stealing their thunder.
As the students were discouraging a group of elderly people from holding banners advocating de jure Taiwanese independence, one of the elderly protesters complained about the students’ interference.
“They are fighting for our freedom [of speech]. How can they limit our freedom?” the man said.
The students also spent quite some time persuading two participating vehicles to remove their political flags.