It may have been chaotic at first when about 200 students forced their way into the legislative chamber and occupied the space on Tuesday night last week, but a group of volunteers was quickly organized to maintain peace and order at the demonstration site outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei — and everything has become so regulated that visiting the area has become somewhat annoying to fellow protesters and the press alike.
“Please allow me to take a look inside your backpack. We need to make sure that no one brings in anything dangerous,” a volunteer at the only door providing access to the legislative chamber said to a protester wanting to go in.
“May I see your ID please,” the volunteer asked a reporter wanting to enter.
Inside the legislative chamber are a team of medical personnel, a team managing food and other necessities donated by the public, and a group of volunteers keeping an eye on charging cellphones.
Outside the Legislative Yuan, there are volunteers making sure that the tens of thousands of demonstrators are as safe as possible. They keep several medical and emergency passages unobstructed using ropes, and there are also medical stations, supply stations and cellphone-charging stations.
However, some reporters and protesters feel that the volunteers are exercising too much control over everything happening on the scene.
“I wanted to go into the legislative chamber, but the police guarding the chamber wouldn’t allow me to go in because I didn’t have a press pass issued by the legislature, so I turned around to go to the reception desk at the front gate to apply for a temporary pass,” a reporter said. “Before I got out of the restricted area, a volunteer saw me and yelled at me: ‘What are you doing here? Where is your pass?’”
“Having been around the legislature for the past few days, I could feel the urge to keep everything in order is getting stronger,” another reporter said. “A TV cameraman trying to do his job was told that he could not film in the area. Demonstrators are expected to sit down or stand up according to volunteers’ orders. Those who question the volunteers’ authority are told by volunteers that they were authorized ‘by their superiors,’ or are forced to follow as the volunteers lead the crowd in chanting ‘stay peaceful, stay rational.’”
Not only reporters feel uncomfortable with the volunteers.
“I have never attended a demonstration in which we had to walk, sit or stand as instructed [by volunteers],” said Chen Shu-ting (陳淑婷), a demonstrator.
“It may be praised as a clean, well-mannered and peaceful demonstration by the media, but we have not taken to the streets to be called good kids — we may break things, but we have the freedom to take part in a protest in our own way,” he added.
“I’m not blaming these kids who are working very hard. I just want them to understand that a street protest is not all about a single set of rules and strict control, it is about diversity and tolerating differences,” Chen said.