Sunflower student leader vows to keep up activism

YES, WE CAN::Tseng Po-yu never dreamed she would one day spur hundreds of activists to seize a building, and seeing that she can has bolstered her activism

By Lin Hui-chin  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Apr 18, 2014 - Page 3

For Tseng Po-yu (曾柏瑜), a sociology student at Taipei’s National Chengchi University, being able to rally hundreds of people to occupy the Legislative Yuan in Taipei on March 18 to protest the government’s handling of the cross-strait service trade pact was a feat beyond her wildest dreams.

“We were having a rally outside the Legislative Yuan complex that night, hoping to raise awareness about the cross-strait service trade agreement and how it was being handled,” Tseng said.

“The rally drew about 400 or 500 people, but we [the Black Island Nation Youth Front behind the Sunflower movement] only had 20 people on the scene,” she said.

“We had planned to ask some of those in attendance to join us in storming the legislature at 9pm, but we were not sure how many would agree to do so or how many would actually follow through,” the sociology student said.

“Little did we know that hundreds of protesters were willing to climb over the wall surrounding the Legislative Yuan when we issued the call. The extent to which people in this country care about public issues was beyond what we could have imagined,” Tseng said.

The seizure of the legislature’s main chamber evolved into the nationwide Sunflower movement, gathering huge crowds of supporters against the government’s handling of the trade deal with China.

Since the start of the occupation of the legislative chamber on March 18 until the end of the siege on April 10, Tseng was constantly appearing on television talk shows, where she defended the students’ actions and appeals.

She managed to stay composed in the face of difficult questions posed by politicians on the talk shows, calmly pointing out what the protesters see as the problems with the cross-strait agreement.

“Maybe I am good at arguing,” Tseng said, when asked why she was tasked with being one of the movement’s public faces.

Tseng said she had originally hoped that more people would realize the problems with the pact after watching her debate lawmakers or politicians on TV, but as the siege continued, she found herself constantly having to respond to allegations against the protesters made by the government and media, which she said was a pity.

Aside from the Sunflower movement, Tseng has also been an advocate in several other social campaigns, including against monopolies in the media, striving for a nuclear-free Taiwan and gay rights promotion.

Tseng said that she started studying the potential impact of the cross-strait service trade agreement in September last year, when the Black Island Nation Youth Front hosted a two-day workshop about the treaty.

She said that after learning about the criticisms of the pact, she decided to join the group’s efforts to alert the public to these issues.

“That Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] Legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠) was able to announce the passage of the pact 30 seconds after the review meeting [of the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee on March 17] began showed that Taiwan’s representative democracy is out of order,” she said.

Saying that she believes that “social movements are a powerful force propeling the push for reforms in a better direction,” Tseng said she would continue on the path of social activism to drive positive change.