Activist coffee shops and cafes played another role in the establishment of Taiwanese youth activist subculture as gathering places for youth activists to meet up, socialize, work, plan actions, or listen to performances by activist bands, if those cafes doubled as live houses. Ubiquitous features at Taiwanese activist coffee shops and cafes would be the “No Nukes! No More Fukushima” anti-nuclear banner as well as the “I am Taiwanese, I Stand For Taiwanese Independence” banner. Oftentimes, in front of the cafe or bookstore, a stack of literature and posters in the front might list or detail upcoming activist events.
Sometimes talks, discussions, or panels were held at activist cafes for activists to discuss certain issues. The most prominent of these may be Cafe Philo (慕哲咖啡) in Taipei, whose “Philosophy Friday” (哲學星期五) panel events later spread across the rest of Taiwan and internationally among Taiwanese international student communities as a way of discussing the social issues of the day.
Photo credit: Cafe Backstage 後門咖啡
Likewise, pointing to the intimate tie of activist independent bands and activist subculture, sometimes independent bands and artists made their debut at activist live houses. Many independent bands and artists debuted at the feminist cafe Witch House, for example, Kafka on the Shore (海邊的卡夫卡) by NTU, or other venues, such as the venue Underground (地下社會) in the NTU area, which was later closed in a highly public incident, or independent rock venue The Wall. Bookstores such as FemBooks (女書店), Taiwan’s first independent publishing house and bookstore focused on feminism, or Public Toilet (公共廁所), formed after the Sunflower Movement, catered to those interested in certain social issues.
Activist coffee shops were noteworthy as marking where specific activist milieus gathered and originated out of. Halfway Cafe (半路咖啡) and its predecessor G Straight Cafe (直走咖啡) were, for example, oriented heavily towards radical left politics and individuals tied with the Untouchables’ Liberation Area. Cafe Backstage (後門咖啡) by NTU was a frequent gathering spot for the founders of post-Sunflower leftist publication New Bloom Magazine and a space where New Bloom held events. Thinker’s Corner, run by hip hop artist Chang Jui-Chuan, and Match Cafe, run by noted activist designer Denis Chen (陳致豪, better known as 老丹), both located in Taichung, are other examples outside of Taipei.
Such developments go back to the Wild Strawberry Movement, which attempted to form a headquarters for the movement in its aftermath called “WildBerry House” (野苺之家), although this was brief-lived and closed on June 30, 2009. Activist coffee shops are also part of Taiwan’s rural movement, insofar as young people hoped to establish cultural centers in the Taiwanese countryside, where performances and other cultural events could take place.
In part, the rise of activist coffee shops and venues marks young people creating spaces for themselves under conditions in which young people do not have spaces for themselves because of financial hardship and the poor economic conditions which confront young people in Taiwan today.
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