A special award ceremony for Taiwan Social Movement Persons of the Year was held by civic groups on Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei yesterday to honor the winners’ efforts in making a stand for social justice.
The award was shared by Taiwan Environmental Protection Union Changhua Division vice chairman Tsai Chia-yang (蔡嘉陽) for his efforts in stopping a Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co naptha cracker project in Changhua County, and Hung Hsiang (洪箱), chairwoman of the Wanbao Community Development Association in Miaoli County’s Houlong Township (後龍), for stopping the Miaoli County Government’s proposal to turn their agricultural farmland into an industrial park.
“Last year, Time magazine chose ‘the protester’ as its annual person of the year, because these people redefined the power of the people and changed the world,” the founder of the award, Ho Tsung-hsun (何宗勳), told the gathering.
“The Taiwan Social Movement Persons of the Year are also changing the future and destiny of Taiwan,” he said, adding that the winners were courageous in standing up for social justice and refused to compromise.
Hung, a woman in her 50s from a farming township and an initiator of protest campaigns against farmland expropriation, said she stood up to fight because she could not let their lives, land and possessions be taken away by the government.
“It’s a pathetic situation that many elderly farmers have to protest on the streets. In the many times we’ve protested, I didn’t see any governmental officials come and express their sympathies,” she said.
“I feel very sad when I think about the elderly woman [who committed suicide when facing land expropriation] from Dapu Borough (大埔) in Miaoli County,” a sobbing Hung said.
“No government official cared about the elderly people on the street. Is this how the government of a democratic country should behave? I wonder if it’s the government or us that are ill,” she added.
Tsai, who has been conducting research on waterbird habitats in wetlands along Taiwan’s western coast for 20 years, said he decided to protect the land because he could not stand by while the beautiful environment was being destroyed.
He said the success in stopping the Kuokuang Petrochemical project was not the result of one man’s efforts and that there were no heroes in environmental protection movements.
“People should understand the life and value of the land, and not use the narrow definition of economic development to judge everything by,” he said.
“Environmental protection movements used to be enforced by environmental protection non-governmental organizations, but many people from many backgrounds were pulled in to fight for the issue and made contributions in different ways,” he added.
He said policymakers should pay attention to the people’s viewpoints instead of reaching conclusions within a small group of people. The government should also enact and enforce a national land planning act, so that legal and reasonable land-use designations can protect the environment, she said.