Perhaps befitting of the means by which we can structurally situate the Sunflower Movement alongside other global reactions against free trade in recent years, particularly alongside other social movements spearheaded by youth activists, the Sunflower Movement drew from the 2011 Occupy Movement in the United States. In part, this returns to the significant cultural influence of the United States upon Taiwan, attendant with the large role that the United States has played in postwar Taiwanese history.
Photo credit: othree/Flickr/CC
We can see influence from the Occupy Movement not only in the emphasis upon an occupation-style encampment and self-organized space, attempts near the end of the movement to hold general assemblies similar to those held by Occupy Wall Street, but also that V for Vendetta masks were popular among demonstrators. Leaders of the Sunflower Movement as Chen Wei-Ting (陳為廷) and others in fact participated in the 2011 Occupy Taipei demonstration in Taipei 101 (台北101). The more politically radical elements of the Sunflower Movement also saw parallel insofar as they understood the movement as opposing free trade and dominance of an elite 1% over the 99% of society, much as the Occupy Wall Street opposed Wall Street, and grew out of the legacy of anti-global summit demonstrations from the 1990s.
This is readily visible with messaging from the movement to the world framing the occupation as “Occupy Congress”. Some also saw inspiration from the 2010 Arab Spring, particularly where the important role of social media in the movement was concerned or with regard to police violence.
And so activists often saw parallels and lessons to be learned from the successes and failures of the Occupy Movement, as well as from the 2011 occupation of Wisconsin Senate chambers from February 2011 to June 2011. This was an event which had obvious parallels to the Sunflower Movement and involved up to 100,000 people at its peak, although the Sunflower Movement was of course much larger in scale. As American analytic Marxist sociologist Erik Olin Wright was visiting Taiwan during the time of the Sunflower Movement, talks he held on the Wisconsin occupation were attended in large numbers. In particular, as the occupation neared its end, occupiers wanted to know based on the Wisconsin example what successful exit strategies for an occupation-style movement were in order to wrap the movement up without losing momentum.
Diagram of hand gestures used during the People’s Assembly. Photo credit: NewseForum
Likewise, particularly near the tail end of the movement, in response to criticisms from the Untouchables’ Liberation Area, Le Flanc Radical, and other groups of the movement leadership lacking transparency in their decision-making and establishing a “black box” process in a moment aimed at opposing undemocratic governance lacking transparency, the movement’s central leadership began to advocate for “civil constitutional meetings” and Occupy-style general assemblies as a new form of decision-making they hoped to promote for the movement and for Taiwan as a whole. Occupy-style hand gestures were used during these assemblies.