Why the youth
By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將
How refreshing the past few months have been. At long last, a group of young
people — still relatively small in number, but certainly active and extremely
canny — has achieved things that well-funded and established political parties,
concerned as they are with continuity, can only dream of accomplishing.
This new phenomenon, which sprouted legs sometime in the middle of last year, is
the youth movement, which over time has expanded from a single-issue group into
a multifaceted and cross-pollinating entity that mobilizes wherever injustice
rears its ugly head. From the defeat of Want Want China Times Group chairman
Tsai Eng-meng’s (蔡衍明) efforts to create a media goliath through the acquisition
of four of Jimmy Lai’s (黎智英) Next Media outlets in Taiwan, to an ongoing
campaign against the destruction of the Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium and the
forced eviction of elderly residents of the Huaguang Community (華光) in Taipei,
the several hundreds of highly educated, connected, Internet-savvy young people
who form the core of this group are showing Taiwan the way forward.
It would be easy to dismiss their protests as simply for show, of being protests
for the sake of publicity, were it not for their acts serving as instruments of
education. The social media platforms that have been created in parallel with
the protests are often more current and learned than anything one will find in
the mass media.
Furthermore, their mobilization, with support from a number of academics, is
engendering essential public debate on issues that otherwise would be ignored.
Even more important is that their protests are actions, not the hollow talk
usually served by politicians from both sides of the political divide. Those
actions are, in turn, prompting reactions. Occasionally, those reactions are
overreactions, such as the targeting of young students, like Chen Wei-ting
(陳為廷), by both Tsai’s media empire and government authorities, or just this
week, the Miaoli County Police Department’s handling of the protests over the
wind turbine project in Yuanli Township (苑裡).
Through its actions, the youth movement is bringing out the best and the worst
in government officials and ordinary people alike, which inevitably creates a
clash in values and interests.
When peaceful protests in Yuanli are broken by police who ride on Thursday last
week roughshod over the law, using disproportionate measures such as handcuffing
activists, or threatening their immediate arrest if they turned out again, it
forces people to scrutinize how our law enforcement agencies, along with the
Ministry of the Interior, are abiding by the rules of the nation’s democratic
system. Using every electronic tool at their disposal, the young protesters,
aided by a pool of stalwart journalists, are making sure that everything is well
When the authorities fail, as they evidently did in Miaoli in the past week,
senior officials come under fire, as occurred on Wednesday, when Minister of the
Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) and other top officials faced heated questions in
the legislature, prompting Lee to promise an investigation. It was fascinating
to see how the subject focused the minds of the Democratic Progressive Party
legislators, who led the charge.
When was the last time that political parties forced the public to look at
articles of the law, or to think about such fundamentals as freedom of the press
or the right to property?
In the past year, the youth movement has dared to dream and to take a stand in
the defense of the values that are supposed to serve as the foundations for this
nation. Unlike the politicians who speak in abstract terms and often seem to
take those values for granted, this nascent youth movement is willing to fight
for them, and to teach us lessons in the process.
The time has come for rejuvenation, and for that to happen, what is required is
action — physical involvement, and the catalysis of anger in the face of
injustice. Yes, such mobilization causes disturbances and sometimes leads to
clashes, but it is now clear that this is what is necessary to shake the
majority of Taiwanese out of their comfortable stupor before it is too late.
J. Michael Cole is a deputy news editor at the Taipei Times.