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Talk of the Day -- Old passions, new visions for social movements

2012/07/14 21:32:12

Taiwan ended 38 years of martial law July 15, 1987, an epoch- making change that helped usher in the country's democratic metamorphosis

Over the past 25 years, Taiwan has continued to remove the shackles of old political restrictions. More importantly, it has largely accomplished emancipation and liberation of personal mindsets, social culture and collective consciousness.

The thriving political scene and flourishing social activism have helped boost the development of the creative and cultural industries in recent years. They are fruits of the lifting of martial law in the late President Chiang Ching-kuo's twilight years.

The following are excerpts from a special report in the Saturday edition of the United Evening News on some social activists' reflections on their experiences in organizing social movements and their visions for future development on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the lifting of martial law:

Chi Hui-jung, chief executive officer of the Garden of Hope Foundation, said women's social movements have undergone significant changes over the past quarter-century.

Before the lifting of martial law, Chi recalled, few people would take part in women-themed social activities.

In the martial law era, there were few women's groups. The largest-scale women's social movement during that period was a drive to rescue child prostitutes in Taipei's Wanhua District, Chi said.

Although she and her colleagues at the Garden of Hope tried very hard to persuade the public to take part in its activities for the cause, they could only mobilize 100 to 200 people to take part each time.

"Therefore, women's groups usually promoted their causes by publishing magazines or organizing reading clubs," Chi said.

The situation has changed since the lifting of martial law. Many women's groups have sprung up throughout the country and their organic structures have become better devised, Chi said.

In addition to staging street rallies or demonstrations, she said, major women's groups have since devoted more efforts to pushing for legal amendments to better protect women's rights and interests.

"Women's social movements have changed substantially over the years. We have moved from the streets to communities. We have toned down our emotions and focused on educational work to have women's rights concepts take root in society. Even if we take to the streets on some occasions, we tend to present skits or organize carnival-style activities to promote our causes," Chi said.

In the future, she went on, local women's movements should devote more energy to the themes of global concerns such as human trafficking and women's employment amid ever-increasing globalization.

Moreover, Chi said, future women's movements should give priority to pushing for social structural changes for the benefits of women and to increasing disadvantaged women's ability to stand on their own feet, make choices and transform those choices into action.

Taiwan Rural Front spokeswoman Tsai Pei-hui said the end of martial law has offered local farmers more channels to communicate with the government on rural and agricultural issues.

According to Tsai, the 2010 Dapu farmland seizure for an industrial park development project in Miaoli marked a new milestone in local farmers' movements.

"The controversy stirred up wide attention. Besides farmers from other parts of the country, many academics, students and ordinary citizens also took part in street rallies against the farmland seizure," Tsai said, adding that the row was a watershed in local farmers' movements.

Looking ahead, Tsai said, farmers' movements should be more closely associated with daily life.

For instance, Yang Ru-men, who is nicknamed "the rice bomber" for planting explosive devices mixed with rice at several public sites in Taipei between November 2003 and November 2004 to draw attention to the plight of local farmers, has launched an "eat local and support organic farming" movement. He founded the 248 Market to allow small farmers to meet consumers to promote sales of their produce.

"Such a drive is inspiring and we look forward to seeing more similar efforts by the government to help our farmers," Tsai said, adding that the government should also do more to promote equitable distribution of wealth and stop the practice of developing industry at the expense of agriculture.

Ku Yu-ling, a former secretary-general of the Taiwan International Workers Association, said that domestic labor movements have lost some steam following two changes of the ruling party in the country.

"Labor groups should distance themselves from political parties or political forces and should instead associate with farmers and environmentalists to have their voices heard," Ku said.

Furthermore, she went on, labor groups should seek political representation on their own rather than delegating a specific political party to speak on their behalf.

"All labor groups should unite closely and organize their own political party to seek political power and better protect wage earners' rights and interests," Koo added. (July 14, 2012).

(By Sofia Wu)