Feature Photo Credit: www.dronethusiast.com
In the wake of the Occupy Parliament movement that was led by Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, I met with congressional aides in Washington D.C. One of the legislative aides asked me, “How do I explain to people the legitimacy of the students since they are illegally entering and occupying a government building? What would happen if people tried to occupy the Hill?”
To this, all I could say was that extreme measures were taken for extreme cases. However, two years later in 2015, as Taiwanese high school students tried to take over the Ministry of Education, I couldn’t help but feel that students are starting to believe that storming government buildings is the only way to get proper attention.
Logistically, government officials have no obligation to follow protesters’ demands. However, the government plays a large part in why these protests are so extreme. Protests are not done in the spur of the moment, but rather serve as a release of discontent built up from an extended period of lack of response and inaction by the government. For example, in 2009, Miaoli County decided to raze four houses in Dapu to increase the complexes in Maoli technology park. Responding to many complaints to the government, in 2010, Premier Wu Deng-yih chaired a negotiation resulting in the decision that the households in Dapu would not be taken down. However, in 2013, the new premier, Jia Yi-huah, declared that the government would continue with its original plan, causing much debate. This led to a growing protest against the government until the excavators were turned on and the houses were taken down:
We all knew it was going to happen eventually, that efforts over three years by residents and their supporters, lawyers, journalists and academics to prevent a local government thug from destroying their homes would likely fail, but when the outrage was actually perpetrated on Thursday, the cold, hard reality hit home. On that day, as hundreds of people protested in front of the Presidential Office, the bulldozers rolled in and razed people’s homes in Dapu (大埔), Miaoli County, pulverizing wood, concrete, dreams, lives lived, memories — and faith in people’s ability to rectify government abuse through legal and peaceful processes.
-J Michael Cole, Things coming apart, the Dapu outrage as a catalyst?
With shattered faith in getting the government’s attention through legal and peaceful procedures, students unsurprisingly started to take to the streets and break into government buildings in various movements that followed. However, even these occupations may fall onto deaf ears or whittle away when the cameras turn away. Protests are a good start, but something bigger is needed. With the lack of media appeal, these issues die out for the general public after such protests and demands, which means that they’re no longer issues for politicians. Years later, the same protest could happen again and a vicious cycle ensues, which is why the Dapu incident happened over a span of four years.
Student occupations should not only demand immediate change, but also urge the public to elect representatives who will stand up for these protested issues in order to ensure that no such protests will be needed . An example of an effective follow-up is the Appendectomy Project, which targets legislators to be taken down. Eradicating legislators who may pass citizen-enraging-laws will help decrease the frequency of such large-scale protests.
Taiwan’s democracy was fought for and won through protests, but, as Taiwan transitions to a democratic system, exercising one’s own voting rights is the only way to ensure that countrywide peace and stability is maintained. With a multitude of candidates in each party, large or small, the Taiwanese should find the candidate who will best represent them on pressing issues.
With that in mind, citizens should vote as their new form of protest: throwing rhetoric instead of shoes, casting ballots instead of eggs and storming voting booths instead of government buildings.