Though I had to leave Taipei and continue my trip around the island, it didn’t take long before I encountered another manifestation of the Sunflower Movement. The students of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city in the south of the island, have organized a nightly ‘citizen’s forum’ in Kaohsiung Central Park from 7-10pm. I asked one of the organizers how long these forums will go on, to which he responded: “until it’s over.”
There are three speakers each night, most of whom are professors from nearby universities. The topics discussed seem to range from the purely economic (indeed the lecture I saw was mostly to do with market regulation and housing prices), to the ongoing political crisis surrounding the service pact with China.
At risk of sounding like a broken record, the Kaohsiung citizen’s forum provided further proof of the economic factors that are helping to drive the Sunflower Movement. Speakers lamented the lack of vision shared by both political parties (check), increasingly unaffordable housing prices (check), the challenge of trying to regulate global capital (check), and the importance of protecting Taiwan’s natural environment (aaaand the movement checks out, please welcome the sunflower students to the global Left).
The idea of a citizen forum is refreshing on two counts. For one it does away with the oversimplification and, well, outright lying inherent to several mainstream media outlets. Attendees are given the opportunity to take the mic and ask the speaker questions about the lecture or any other matter of concern to them, thus giving the public direct and uninhibited access to the “experts.” It also allows for the free exchange of ideas and opinions on the issues that actually matter to the public. Witnessing such a spirited exchange firsthand throws light on the huge extent our media and politicians have evolved their own proprietary language, one that grows more incomprehensible to many of us with each passing day.
The limited size of the forums is what makes them so effective, precluding the possibility of them erupting into some great Athenian wave that saves democracy in Taiwan and – why not – the Western world as well. But they do stand as a stark reminder of Taiwan’s democratic credentials which, though relatively new in historic terms, will continue to be defended and nurtured by Taiwanese people everywhere.