Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Student Movement: Beware of Becoming What You Denounce

Student Movement: Beware of Becoming What You Denounce
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
A Translation
April 9, 2014

Summary: Week three will be a test for the student movement. We hope that upon emerging from the legislature their members will become more mature. We hope they will not replicate the dirty politics they themselves deplored. We hope they will not become replicas of the very people they criticized.

Full text below:

Wang Jin-pyng provided the student movement a bully pulpit. The student movement reciprocated by rolling out the red carpet. This is how the 3/18 student movement announced a peaceful conclusion to the protests. Many are relieved. Many others are worried. Why did this high profile student movement seem so familiar? Why did it exhibit so many of the same traits as realpolitik?

Conclusions about the 3/18 student movement may be premature. After all, the students have yet to actually vacate the premises. Also, the students have threatened to expand their protests into the community with a "May the Flowers Bloom" movement. What happens next remains to be seen. But overall student movement mobilization was successful and its public relations were impressive. The movement's impact on the CSSTA exceeded expectations. These are worthy of affirmation. More importantly, they allowed the younger generation to express its views on cross-strait issues. Their strong attitudes surprised the older generation.

But from another perspective, the student occupation of the legislature was illegal. The student leaders' manner of addressing government officials showed a lack of respect for others' dignity and equality. The manner in which they demanded that legislators sign a letter of consent was high-handed. The manner in which they called for public demonstrations of solidarity was flippant. The manner in which they demanded legislative approval of their "Articles for the Supervision of Cross-Strait Agreements" without question was self-righteous. It lacked any understanding of democracy and its manner of operation. These are faults that the young people who led or participated in the student movement, including those who merely stood on Ketegelan Boulevard, must contemplate.

Student movements invariably demand reform. This is why the 3/18 student movement has won respect. The public is willing to listen to young people. After alll, the government is obligated to build a better future for the next generation. It has a responsibility to amend existing policy. But respect for the protesters' right to free speech, does not mean endorsing everything they do. Still less does it mean that all the students' demands should be fulfilled unconditionally. If students are laboring under that sort of delusion, they have underestimated the complexity of a nation's operations.

The day student leaders announced they were withdrawing, other student movement members on the legislature floor opposed any sort of withdrawal. One radical member was so incensed he denounced the decision to withdraw as "black box operations," arrived at without public debate. He said any decision to withdraw should be subject to an "All Peoples' Forum." This brief interlude shattered the student movement's democratic pretensions.

The 3/18 student movement was ostensibly a protest against the ruling KMT's "black box operations" vis a vis the CSSTA. Consider the epithet "black box operations." It is such a self-righteous slogan. But a mere three weeks later, a dispute over whether to withdraw has resulted in the "black box operations" epithet directed at student leaders by their own comrades. This boomerang effect confirms that critics must also accept criticism. The students should be feeling the sting by now.

Should the students withdraw? Is there any way to hold an "All Peoples Forum" before making a decision, as one dissident demanded? Of course not. Where are "all the people" amidst this mass movement? For 20 odd days, the student movement protest site has brimmed over with such sloganeering. The students held a "People's Assembly" in the Legislative Yuan. Chen Ting boasted, "We are the masters of this island!" Lin Fei-fan shouted, "President Ma, obey The Peoples' commands." The crowd has made the term "The People" sacrosanct. These "commanders" have designated themselves the personification of "The People." But they simultaneously ground elected heads of state and elected representatives underfoot. For democracy, the scene was contradictory, ironic, and absurd.

The student movement experienced three schisms. Schism One. The hawks and the doves clashed. The result was the violent occupation of the Executive Yuan. Schism Two. The elites and the unwashed clashed amidst a class struggle. The result was an "Untouchables Liberation Zone." Schism Three. Differences over whether to withdraw may have led to the "May the Flowers Bloom" compromise. These differences and disputes were not necessarily bad. They may at least prompt key members of the student movement to reflect upon the need for organization and communications. From the outside, this marks the inevitable tarnishing of the student movement halo. Political movements, after all, are merely temporary means of mobilization. They are not the norm. Therefore three weeks is long enough for the sanctimonius, imperious student movement to reach the end of their rope.

We admire the student movement's organization, mobilization, public relations, and maintainence of order. The younger generation made full use of its advantages. But the student movement's violent occupation of public buildings, supercilious rhetoric, and blanket rejection of dissent, are hard to countenance. In particular, the student leaders blindly demonized the officials who signed the CSSTA. Yet they gave the ruling and opposition legislators who failed to review the bill a free pass. Privately, they engaged in under the table transactions through go-betweens. This is probably the the student movement's mos serious blind spot and failure. 

Week three will be a test for the student movement. We hope that upon emerging from the legislature their members will become more mature. We hope they will not replicate the dirty politics they themselves deplored. We hope they will not become replicas of the very people they criticized.

2014.04.09 04:48 am











No comments: