During the year-end celebrations, Taiwanese youth and students showed they care about society and helping others by initiating rallies and lending movements their boundless energy and creativity, from picking up street trash and protesting against monopolization of the media to supporting laid-off workers.
This is a dramatic change from the recent past, when youth and students often gave the impression that they were self-indulgent, engaging in frivolous activities, thrill-seeking, all-night parties and shallow celebrity worship.
However, the situation was markedly different at the New Year’s Eve event at the plaza in front of Taipei City Hall. More than 100 young volunteers of the “Hug the Earth with Smile Youth League,” donning bright red and yellow vests and light sportswear, went through the partying crowds to pick up litter.
At the same time, members of the Tzu Chi Young Volunteers organization, which consists of students from various colleges and universities, cleaned up venues at five other New Year’s Eve events across the nation.
Shouting the slogan: “Your hands that click ‘Like’ on Facebook can also clean up the environment,” they led by example to instruct people on sorting and recycling different types of garbage.
Wang Jui-ming (王瑞明), a student who participated with the Tzu Chi Young Volunteers, said that before, he thought New Year Eve’ events were only for celebrating and having fun.
“This year, I joined with other volunteers to go into the crowds, sharing with others how to protect the environment, how to cherish the earth’s limited resources. We received lots of support and positive feedback. Now, I feel there is hope for our earth’s future,” Wang said.
It was not just the environment that young people were concerned about. Hundreds of students and supporters of the “Taiwan Youth Union of Anti-Media Monopoly” gathered for an overnight vigil outside the gate of Liberty Square in Taipei, and later proceeded with a sit-down protest on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office.
They raised their concerns with protests against the trend of media organizations being bought up by conglomerates and concentrated in the hands of a few tycoons, who often have ties to China.
Besides the leading figures of this students-against-media monopolization movement, Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) and Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), the young people who showed up to support this protest acquired information from BBS, Facebook, Plurk and other social media sites. By doing so, these youths and students made their own networking connections, and through their own initiatives, ,joined the event and other social activist rallies.
Chen Cheng-liang (陳政亮), an assistant professor at Shih Hsin University’s Graduate Institute for Social Transformation Studies, said that active participation by students can be seen in the anti-media monopolization movement, protests by laid-off workers and other demonstrations on social issues.
“With these actions in recent days, the young people have made a worthy end to the year, encouraging everyone to reflect on and review the series of protests and social movements this past year,” Chen said.
“The young people have made their voices heard. They called on both the ruling and opposition political parties, as well as the media, to remember all these movements of the past year. These series of protests and social movements have been done with good strategy and planning throughout,” he added.
Chen said that active participation in and leading of social movements by students have flourished with such an abundance of energy and wide participation because of an accumulation of results through several years.
He said a number of the leading figures behind the student movements on social issues have “fought many battles” to protest against government, big business, exploitation and social injustice.
Chen listed these “battles” as including the fight to preserve Lo Sheng Sanatorium in New Taipei City (新北市) against demolition, beginning in 2005; the Wild Strawberries Student Movement of 2008 and 2009; environmental groups’ opposition to Kuokuang Petrochemical Refinery project in Changhua County starting in 2008; the fight against the Miramar Resort project development on the coast of Taitung County in recent years; protests against the demolition of resident housing under the urban renewal project in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林); and worker protests against Huanlong Textile Co in Miaoli County over fraudulent bankruptcy and unpaid wages last year.
Chen Cheng-liang said the ability of students to organize movements, mobilize and get their message out is becoming more mature, whereas government officials and politicians from both major parties are slow to respond, or even display an uncaring attitude or do not know how to respond.
Hsu Tao (徐韜), a spokesperson for the “Hug the Earth with Smile Youth League” and a history major at the Tunghai University, said that in the past, student movements tended to give people the impression of “angry youth” in action.
“Students have gradually changed their tactics in recent years. We are now taking a gentle, proactive and positive approach. By using ‘hugs instead of anger,’ our actions are more acceptable to the public,” Hsu said.