Interview: Meredith Huang
Meredith Huang is currently a city councilor representing the Shilin-Beitou area of Taipei for the New Power Party. During the Sunflower Movement, she was a member of the Black Island Youth Front and served as a spokesperson for the occupation. The following interview was conducted on March 14th, 2019.
Brian Hioe: The first question I wanted to ask is, how did you begin participating in social movements? What kind of issues did you participate in?
Meredith Huang: Most students in Taiwan or most kids—well, maybe not now, but at least then—wouldn’t know too much about social movements. You might not have the opportunities to encounter social movements either. So before college, you might only know that you were interested in the humanities, or history, or these kinds of subjects, and you may see books that discuss ideas such as human rights, or liberalism, or democracy. But you might not personally encounter social movements.
That was true for me until college. I studied at the department of humanities and social sciences at National Tsing Hua University. At the time, when I became a college student at Tsing Hua, that was the first year that the National Tsing Hua College had been formed. On some level, I decided to study at the department of humanities and social sciences, because of the Tsing Hua College.
Photo credit: othree/Flickr/CC
I thought that both were places very suitable for me. The teachers in both encouraged us to participate in public issues, as well as social movements. When I attended college, there were some upperclassmen and friends who attended social movements.
But in the beginning, I wasn’t like one of those people who began participating in these issues from as early freshman year. My first year of college was the year of the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008 when Chen Yunlin came to Taiwan. I knew that this was something controversial. But because Tsing Hua is a university that is still focused on engineering and the sciences.
So at the time, there were some upperclassmen in the sociology department or maybe the anthropology department, though there might not be a lot of them, they did a similar sit-in activity on campus.
What left a deep impression is that I just walked by them at the time! [Laughs] What I mean is that I was that kind of person who would just walk by in the past. I would see people having a sit-in, not really know why they were doing that, and just walk on by.
At the time, I had a classmate in the same department, Wei Yang. [Laughs]
Brian Hioe: I interviewed him last week.
Meredith Huang: At the time, Wei Yang had just directly took a bus to go to Taipei, and went to sit there at Liberty Plaza. He posted on Facebook that he was at Liberty Plaza. I wasn’t that kind of person. I wasn’t a person who was familiar with social movements back then.
But at the time, there were many people around me working on social movements. I began by playing a support role. In order to express the legitimacy of a demand, you have to have enough people. Of course, it’s hard to say how much people you need. It may depend on the movement, or what place it’s at. I would be one of those people that friends might ask if I had time to go help out as a volunteer.
I’m someone that likes to do things once I get somewhere. I’m not a person that can just sit there. So I would go and work as a volunteer. I would help record things or hand out food or water. I like to do things. I often went to go help.
When did I start to not only be someone that just helped out, but be a direct participant? I would feel myself that it was probably from the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement. The Anti-Media Monopoly Movement, on some level, was the first movement that I might have actively participated in on my own.
It was a long-term movement, with many actions. One of the actions was by the Want Want Group’s buildings. I was one of the people that went and helped to take pictures then I wouldn’t say that I was one of the key participants then, since I really wasn’t. At the time, I was already a graduate student.
But I decided to participate at different events from the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement. I decided to participate without anyone asking me to go there and help. I thought that it was important for me to be there, so I went there.
With that kind of change in perspective, I would decide that I had become a participant then. Even if I didn’t have anything to do and I’d just end up sitting there, I’d be willing to go. In the past, I would think, “Why do I need to sit here?”
Of course, before that, I also participated in some other events. My roommate at Tsing Hua was part of a student activist group there that had close ties with the Taiwan Rural Front, so I participated in Dapu events. I participated in many events, but I didn’t feel that I was an active participant, I felt that I was more just a supporter.
In these few years, that led me to feel that participating on-site was very important. To that I would want to drop everything else and participate in this. So I began from the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement. Later on, on-campus, there would also be different actions and movements that took place. I also did some work organizing those.
Brian Hioe: You were later with the Black Island Youth Front.
Meredith Huang: At that time, at Tsing Hua, you would naturally end up participating in many social movements. That holiday, I did an internship in Taipei, and that happened to be at the Community Empowering Society. So at the time, there was no Black Island Youth Front, there was the Democratic Front Against the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement. It was also a number of engineers linked by Lai Chung-qiang, as a platform. In 2013, at the end of July, they organized a rally on Jinan Road.
You know what rallies are like for social movements. They’ll get some scholars or experts to have short speeches and try to get people to come. We’re all very used to this now. There is probably some space for improvement, but we all just do this now. So it’s not easy to attract new people.
That’s why you end up having an echo chamber. At a place like this, you always end up encountering the same people. It’s always those people. As soon as you start walking to Jinan Road from the Shandao Temple MRT, and you know how there’s a 7/11 in the corner? As you turn in that direction, you start running into people you know. And you’ll be saying hi to people after that. It’s always different people that you’ve met in different movements or in different places. That’s the echo chamber.
It was a rally like that. I originally went to that rally to help maintain order. I remember Zhou Fu-yi, Lu Jia-hua, Wei Yang, Lin Fei-fan, but not Chen Wei-ting, were there. I’m not sure if Lai Chung-qiang was there or not. Hong Hong was there. Jiho Chang, Wu Pei-yi, others were there. You know how NTU has a male dormitory by there? They said there would be an action there by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
But that this would be a more secretive action, since there might be some legal issues, and we were going to throw balloons filled with red paint at the sign of the Ministry of Economic Affairs to express our demands. We all knew that if we were too open about it, the demonstration would fail. We were planning this out, so we had a meeting. And after the meeting, everyone thought, apart from this action at the Ministry of Economic Affairs today, are there any other actions we can do?
Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC
So that day at night, we decided that two or three days later, on July 31st, we would go to the Legislative Yuan. We would have a larger activity, that could attract more people. We would discuss how to publicize this and prepare for this activity.
Looking back, it seems a bit impractical. But we were thinking of slogans about how to attract people, so that they would feel that it was important to come. One of the slogans was “Youth occupy the Legislative Yuan.” Though it was to be in front of the Legislative Yuan.
We decided to hold this activity. Quite a lot of people came that day. I was also the media contact that day. For a social movement activity, I think that day’s protest was quite successful. But someone got hurt. I remember it was an upperclassman from Tsing Hua, a woman. I still feel quite bad about her getting hurt, although it wasn’t my personal responsibility. But as an organizer, I would feel that.
The action was probably around 1 PM that day. At the time, everyone felt that if we were going to work on more demonstrations regarding the CSSTA, we would invite everyone to stay. That day, we went to the Taiwan Labour Front’s offices. We decided on the name Black Island Youth Front then and that afterward, we would participate in opposing the CSSTA together.
Brian Hioe: What were you doing when the Sunflower Movement broke out?
Meredith Huang: At the time, probably for the first two months of 2014, I may have been more focused on labor rights for graduate students at National Tsing Hua University. There was controversy over teaching assistants. Many graduate student assistants didn’t have insurance and there were issues regarding that. I was also working on things for the Black Island Youth Front, but this was more through the Internet.
Coordination wasn’t so direct. In December 2013, I remember that with the People’s Democratic Front, we had a protest. It rained that day. After that protest, participation wasn’t as active. It seemed like a low point for the movement. Everyone had been working on it for half a year. So I primarily participated in online discussions at that point. We discussed many things online then.
The Black Island Youth Front was quite a strange organization, since the majority of our members weren’t in Taipei. But everyone would hold meetings in Taipei. So for three or four months, Wei Yang and I had to take the bus to Taipei for meetings every weekend.
The day before 318, we had come to Taipei because on the morning of March 18th, we had a press conference in front of the Ministry of Education. That was about graduate workers’ rights. Wei Yang and I were both there. At the press conference, I ran into Chen Ting-hao. He told us that in the afternoon, there would be a meeting. He said that he had been called over by Zhou Fu-yi as well. He said that they had talked about it the night before. Because they hadn’t found me then, I didn’t know what they discussed the night before. Chen Ting-hao said that we should find him after the press conference ended.
Because he knew that after Wei Yang finished the press conference, he would go to the Legislative Yuan as an MC. He told Wei Yang and I go to the meeting afterward. I said that was fine. Once we finished, those of us in the sociology department went off to find food and Wei Yang went to MC, and as we were going to go eat, we were walking in the direction of Qingdao East Road.
We passed by Zhenjiang Road. That day, because the Democratic Front had already announced an action for that day, and Chang Ching-chung passed the CSSTA in under thirty seconds already.
When the CSSTA was passed, I was in Hsinchu. I was already there. I was already very angry.
You would feel that that night, you had to do something. One aspect of it was that the next day, I had to go attend a press conference at the Ministry of Education. But sometimes, the press conferences on weekdays in front of the Ministry of Education, we wouldn’t attend. We thought that because there was a rally regarding the CSSTA, we thought we’d go over together.
Returning to noon of March 18th, that day, we went to eat and we passed Zhenjiang Road. After passing Zhenjiang Road, the police were occupying the entire road. They were all arrayed in row with their shields. Because we were still carrying out signs from the press conference. So we would notice that the police would be more on guard when we passed by. They would look at us and we would look at them. And we knew that Zhenjiang Road was blocked off.
We went to eat Qingdao Ribs. [Laughs] Later on, some people had to go back first, because they had things to do in Hsinchu. So I brought up the meeting that night with the others, that we weren’t sure if there was anything which would happen at night. That if nobody had anything to do, they could stay in Taipei. Some people had to go back and some would stay in Taipei. But nobody else went to the meeting with me.
I went back to the Legislative Yuan to find Wei Yang. I couldn’t find him. It seemed like he went to go eat on his own. [Laughs] This kind of thing happens often. Oftentimes, when you set up a meeting in social movements, it’s very casual. People are so free! You set up a time and a place for a meeting and then you suddenly find there’s no meeting.
It was a bit complicated then. Some people from the sociology department, Radical Notes, some other classmates were all by the Legislative Yuan. I saw someone post where they were with Wei Yang, so I called up an underclassman to see where Wei Yang was. There were some classmates who had attended Black Island Youth Front activities, so I found some of them to go have a meeting. I later looked for Chen Ting-hao, Zhou Fu-yi, and Huang Kuo-chang. We went to the Taiwan Citizens’ Union’s offices. I only knew later on that those were the Taiwan Citizens’ Union’s offices, I didn’t know at that point.
It was during that meeting that we came up with the plan for 318 then. That action that night.
Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: What happened then?
Meredith Huang: Maybe I should back up. We only discussed the plan for the occupation of the legislature that afternoon. Huang Kuo-chang originally wanted to occupy the side gate of the Legislative Yuan. I felt that the means and aims of the movement should be consistent. If you call everyone to an action, you have to explain what the relationship between what you want everyone to do and the aims of the movement was. It’s only meaningful then.
We decided that the idea would be ineffective. We then decided that the general assembly chamber of the Legislative Yuan. It wasn’t originally discussed, it was me and Chen Wei-ting that proposed this. I raised it and Chen Wei-ting backed the idea. Then people thought it was possible. Certainly, one reason as to why the movement received so much attention was because nobody had ever occupied the general assembly chamber before.
During protests against the CSSTA, there was one time that to oppose Wang Jinpyng entering to hold a meeting, students opposed the CSSTA had entered the garden of the Legislative Yuan from Zhenjiang Street. It was very close to the back door of the general assembly chamber.
I thought of that action, and so I raised that we could try and occupy the general assembly chamber. I proposed that because I really didn’t want to occupy the side gate. For me, it seemed like it would be an ineffective action. I myself might not want to participate. [Laughs] I’m not sure I could convince others to.
We knew that once the gate of the Legislative Yuan closed, the other doors will be closed by the guards right away. The Legislative Yuan has a wall around it, then there are buildings, and there are small doors through which you can enter various buildings. Once you get into the main gate, guards close the doors. So our experience from many attempts to hold protest actions by the Legislative Yuan made us realize that it’s very easy for an attempt to charge into the Legislative Yuan from the main gate to fail.
We thought of what else to do. We decided to try the general assembly chamber. Because student opposing the CSSTA had gotten into the back door before.
If you look at the movements before the Sunflower Movement, you rarely see events on Qingdao East Road. It’s a very boring road. You have the open areas of the Legislative Yuan there. Then you have the research building for the Legislative Yuan. There are not many stores there.
You see many events held on Jinan Road. But it’s very rare to see any social movement event take place on Qingdao East Road. So it’s a road that people often forget about and I raised that this was a way to get in. You can see that the general assembly chamber is closer to there if you just look on Google Maps. It’s farther from Jinan Road. A benefit of Qingdao East Road is that because there haven’t been many events there, so people don’t think about it. The police might not expect us to charge from there.
The second reason is like I said, I already saw that Zhenjiang Road was already blocked off, so it’d be impossible to go from there. If you really want to get into the general assembly chamber, then your only option is Qingdao East Road. Qingdao East Road just has one disadvantage. Which is that because it’s a boring road, there’s normally not a lot of people there at night. If we charge in, people will appear near there, but it’ll be quite unexpected. People aren’t normally there on that road unless you’re a legislative assistant working there.
We discussed this and decided that we should try this out. Because there was a sense of crisis. The view was that even if it wasn’t possible, we might as well try. When you have this sense of crisis, other people might feel that it’s impossible to rule this out. But because there was such a sense of crisis, everyone went with it.
At the time, everyone thought it was impossible. All of the people there at the meeting. Even I thought it was unlikely. But you also would need to target the general assembly chamber. It had already cleared the committee. So it could only be in the general assembly chamber.
Some people would also feel that it was quite sudden, that we were charging for an action we had just decided on the day of. But we had a few times experience for Black Island Youth Front actions that the information leaked. In October 2013, we tried to occupy the side door of the Legislative Yuan. Because National Day activities are always held there. We failed, since when we were going to act, we found that there was a lot of police there. So we realized that they probably figure out what was going to happen. The longer you wait until you carry out something like this, the easier is it to be discovered.
If the police found out, then this would all be impossible. If Qingdao East Road was full of police, we probably only had thirty or forty people. It’s not possible. On the other hand, that night, there was a rally. There would be people. Those people might be individuals that normally wouldn’t run into through our own networks. But when there are many people around, it’s easier to do things.
We decided that we had to do it that night. We decided that if we missed the opportunity, the chances of the action succeeded would be less. So we quickly divided up work. Some people said beforehand that they thought they would have no way to enter. Huang Kuo-chang had to go on a program that day to discuss the CSSTA, so after that meeting in the afternoon, he went to go on TV.
In dividing up the labor, there weren’t actually that many people who were able to attend the action that day. At that time, I was responsible for carrying the microphone, and watching the sound equipment. And after going in, I was also supposed to keep watching this.
If after going in, there was no microphone, that’d be a big issue. [Laughs] Many people that come to try and help out won’t know what to do. It’s very easy for things to become chaotic when nobody knows what to do. And if it were to become chaotic, it’d be very easy for things to fail.
All of us there knew that it was important to have a microphone. The person with a microphone might not be just one person. Maybe different people could take over the microphone at different times. But you definitely had to have one. And the microphone had to be somewhere where we could find it easily. [Laughs] That’s what is very important. The microphone is much more important than the person who has it.
Meredith Huang while campaigning during 2018 local elections. Photo credit: 黃郁芬 士林北投加分/Facebook
When I went in first, I was in charge of watching the microphone. The first day, after discussing that we wanted to target the general assembly and not the side gate, changing this occupation target in itself took an hour. Regarding what we should do if we got into the general assembly chamber, there wasn’t much discussion about what to do. Most people thought we would fail.
We even had Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and sub-plans and sub-scenariios, like B1, B2, etc. In case things happened. We came up with many hypothetical scenarios and back-up plans. But we didn’t plan out what to do if we actually got in. But in the end, we actually got in! [Laughs]
We got in around 9 PM that day. Around 10 or 11 PM, we found some people on-site that we knew from other movements to get them to participate in the action. That we way, we had more people. To get them to meet with us and we could divide up work.
So in the beginning, when we got into the general assembly chamber, it was unplanned, because nobody had a plan. And this was an unplanned situation. But, fortunately, we had found many people that we could trust, and who had shared experiences with. Because you had shared experiences with them, you would know what this person was suited to doing. We organized pretty quickly.
Again, I was responsible for the mic. I was also assigned to be the media contact.
Because the situation was chaotic on the first day, so it went on until very late. Maybe 4 or 5 AM. Only after that did it seem that the police weren’t going to actively drive us out of the Legislative Yuan. At the time, I was very tired. So I found somewhere and slept for a bit. I remember until 7 AM or so. I was woken up. Probably. I don’t think I would have woken up on my own.
It might have been Lin Fei-fan who woke me. But I woke up and I saw him, in any case. You know I said that after we got in, not too long after, around 10 or 11, we found some people we knew from social movements, held a meeting, and divided up work? We divided between who should watch the space.
Not as leaders or what have you, but we’d feel that you had to take care of some of the responsibilities there, and allow everyone to know what we should do. Or to lead slogans or call on people to do stuff. Sort of like being an MC. So we had three groups of MC. Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting were in one group. Another group was Jiho Chang and someone else. Maybe Na Su-phok. A third group was Huang Shou-da and someone else.
The reason that people frequently saw Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting was that the other two groups didn’t stay inside. It’s not that the people there decided that Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting should continue to take charge. But in a chaotic situation, in the process of trying to stabilize this, there would be some changes. Some habits would develop. People decided that Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting continuing to do this looked okay, so we would let them keep doing that.
It just happened to be that it was Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting that day. But anyway, I remember waking up and Lin Fei-fan hadn’t slept yet. He was going to go to sleep then. He told me that there was a lot of media over there that wanted to ask questions. Because I was the media contact person then. The other media contact person was Shih I-lun. At the time, Shih I-lun didn’t want to respond to questions, or maybe they couldn’t find him. Sometimes he wouldn’t want to resond to questions.
Fei-fan asked me to go over and respond to their questions. I said I would, because one aspect was because Lin Fei-fan and I had worked together since the beginning of the Black Island Youth Front. And I was part of the meeting the day before. Lin Fei-fan hadn’t been at the meeting before, since he was in Tainan. He had gotten there the night that this happened. I’m sure you heard from him.
He hadn’t slept either. He looked like he was near death. You’d be very tired and you’d be under a lot of stress. So I said, alright, and told him to go sleep.
But the way he talked about made it sound like there might be one or two reporters with a recorder. Like the way you’re here now. When I got there, I thought there must just be a few people with questions. I asked if there was anyone from the media who wanted some responses to questions and that I would be the person who responded. Someone asked me, “So you’ll be taking questions?”
I said yes. He turned around and, as you know, everyone there who was a journalist all knew each other, and said, “Someone’s here to take questions.” Suddenly, all these cameras came out of nowhere. I remember thinking, “Oh. So it’s like that.” [Laughs] So I went with it. You might have seen that. That was the first time I took an interview like that. My hair was all messed up then. I hadn’t thought that they would be taking photos or filming, I had thought they might just have an audio recorder.
I responded to their questions, as best as I could. In past protests, I had been the media contact person for some previous actions. My responses were okay then. So somehow after that one time, I became a spokesperson. The media needed to give some people titles, to explain what these people were doing. So Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting became leaders. I somehow became a spokesperson. But all I did was respond to people’s questions.
You wouldn’t see this in a normal movement. A normal movement wouldn’t need someone to act as a spokesperson like this. You’d have a spokesperson if, say, the Executive Yuan had a meeting and they had to report on this to everyone.
Brian Hioe: Almost like it became a political system.
Meredith Huang: That’s right! [Laughs] Being said to be a spokesperson then was rather awkward. It’s completely different in logic from how you participated in social movements the past. You’d think, “How did I become a spokesperson?”
Brian Hioe: Do you have any views on some of the big events which came after? Such as 324 and etc. Some members of the Black Island Youth Front felt conflicted, seeing as Wei Yang was caught up in all this.
Photo credit: 黃郁芬 士林北投加分/Facebook
Meredith Huang: It was quite complicated then. I think you could do an oral history on just this event.
I was at the Executive Yuan then. On the morning of 323, I told the people in the Legislative Yuan that I wanted to go outside. There was a sharp divide between the inside of the Legislative Yuan and the outside in terms of the right to express themselves.
I couldn’t accept how things had become. The movement had become quite different than what we wanted, but that we didn’t have any way to establish equality between participants. But after all these years, I also realize that, as is probably also the case outside of Taiwan, it is not possible to have absolute equality between each and everyone.
To this extent, it wasn’t because some people didn’t want for there to be equality, or wished for this unequal circumstance deliberately. There might have been some influence, but it wasn’t the main one. It’s an ideal that couldn’t be achieved. But that was me then. It’s only after many years that I can have this conclusion.
Yet at the time, I was quite dissatisfied. [Laughs] You’d feel that the movement shouldn’t be like that. But since everyone was on a lot of stress, was receiving information from different sources, were facing different circumstances. And everyone on-site had different imaginations of what they hoped the movement could be. The differences between people’s states became larger and larger. I haven’t asked, but I think it was this way. Including with Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, during some periods, the differences between their states was larger and larger.
But at the time, we were seen as people on the inside of the Legislative Yuan. The people on the inside of the Legislative Yuan were more in the spotlight and had more of a right to speak, compared to those who were outside and the many organizations that were maintaining the outside occupation. They wanted to maintain an open channel for communications, but this wasn’t there at the time. It was quite disconnected then. Many groups on Qingdao East Road, Jinan South Road, Zhongshan South Road, helping to maintain the space there, may have only known what those inside of the Legislative Yuan were saying based on media reports.
I would feel that was quite unequal. Because for the movement to accumulate so much momentum, this depended on there being so many people on the outside. To put it bluntly, this was oligarchical politics. Now I would say it was that. But back then, it would be very difficult for you to accept. As a participant in social movements, you would feel that equality was important, that everyone should have the right to speak, and that we should discuss it together.
It was important for this to be democratic. So there would be a conflict between this and the logic by which you participated in social movements. I couldn’t handle these emotions and I couldn’t accept this. This was on the third day we went in, if the first was day was 318 itself, and the second day was the day I was interviewed, I began to move between the inside and outside of the legislature. Because I also felt that there many friends and collaborators I trusted and had faith in on the outside as well.
I kept going in and out, so I always had to climb the ladder up to the second floor. That ladder was very narrow. I thought it was quite scary.
Regarding 323 and 324, regarding the logic of social movements, 323 and 324 were no different than 318, Just the target was different. One went to the Legislative Yuan. One went to the Executive Yuan. Some people saw 323 and 324 as having harmed the movement while taking the view that the occupation of the legislature was a great and wonderful thing. There were many participants, maybe there were some that did have bad participants. I don’t know. But these two actions were the same, they just occurred at different times and occupied different places. The logic of occupation was the same.
You would occupy the inside of the legislature to demonstrate the CSSTA and you would hope to prevent it from advancing legally. The bill had already cleared the committee. According to legislative regulations, for it to pass its third reading, this has to occur in a general meeting of the legislature. And another rule is that this general assembly must be held within the legislative assembly hall. That’s why occupying the general assembly was meaningful. If there hadn’t been a regulation that this has to take place within the legislature.
There was a KMT legislator. It might have been Chang Ching-chung, or Wang Jinpyng, or someone, who proposed having a meeting on the ninth floor of the Qunxian Building to pass the CSSTA. But because of that regulation, that is why we would occupy the general assembly chamber. The law was that new laws could only be passed there. They couldn’t pass laws on the 9th floor of the Qunxian Building, in a coffee shop, or elsewhere. There’s no legitimacy otherwise and this isn’t legal. It needs to be in the general assembly chamber. That’s why it was meaningful to occupy there.
But why is the logic of occupation the same for the Legislative Yuan and Executive Yuan, in that case? The CSSTA was passed by abuse of executive power. The executive branch signe the agreement. The head of the executive branch, then-president Ma Ying-jeou, is also chair of the KMT. So he also used his power as head of the party to threaten KMT legislators, stating that if this did not pass, they would be punished by the party. For example, if you lose your status in the party, and you’re a party list legislator, then you wouldn’t be a legislator anymore. You would lose your job and that’s how they would punish you. There doesn’t seem to be any system to avoid this either.
Yet it’s a means of using executive power to oppress legislative power. The legislature should be a means of oversight over executive power, but this became a rubber stamp. Whatever was proposed by executive power, the legislature would appprove. Many people will criticize the current DPP legislature of acting as a rubber stamp, but if you actually look at this, the DPP will very rarely ask party representatives to vote a certain way regarding a bill on the basis of the party as a whole. I won’t say that it never does this, but it’s quite rare. The KMT, on the other hand, often does this. There is still this fundmental difference between the DPP being in power and the KMT being in power.
Returning to 323 and 324, in this case, the Executive Yuan stood in for executive power. So occupying the Executive Yuan has legitimacy. I would feel that, whether with regards to the law or views from society, the occupation of the Legislative Yuan and the occupation of the Executive Yuan are equal. If you criticize the Executive Yuan, you can make such criticisms of any occupation. However, it is interesting that people don’t criticize the Legislative Yuan on this basis. The occupation of the Legislative Yuan had already acquired a high level of legitimacy in society or among members of the public.
Photo credit: 黃郁芬 士林北投加分/Facebook
Jiang Yi-hua also came to the Legislative Yuan for a meeting that afternoon. Around 3 or 4 PM. He didn’t back down. Toward this occupation movement, which had so many participants, he was not willing to back down. He wasn’t willing to propose the government taking into account public opinion, given such widespread protest against the CSSTA, and to see if there were any other ways of addressing this. They had no interest in addressing this. And on 324, in the morning, Ma Ying-jeou made a statement.
As a msocial movement activist, you hope to push through a demand. But if the other side has no intention of making concessions, you have to make a choice. One of these may be to escalate the movement. Are there other actions to make those you are making a demand of listen to you? There would be a tension there.
Many groups around the Legislative Yuan were already discussing this. There was discussion of what to do, as what to do to increase pressure on the government–seeing as there was no response. This was something that would have happened sooner or later if people were not willing to disperse. An escalating action would have taken place. In this light, for 323 or 324 to break out was not very surprising for many organizers.
Of course, I must say that for 323 and 324, in terms of the process of decision-making until it took place, there were many mistakes which are worth examining and criticizing. But I think that these things that can be criticized don’t mean that this was an illegtimate action. The legitimacy of the action is not influenced by these things.
Brian Hioe: What did you do later on in the movement? I seem to recall that you went to America with Wei Yang later on.
Meredith Huang: That’s right. We left on April 7th. Wei Yang and I accepted FAPA’s invitation to go to America. FAPA asked us to go there, because there were many elders in America, who permanently reside in America.
But many Taiwanese people there remain concerned about the development of democracy in Taiwan. For such a large social movement to break out, they would also want to know what happened in a more concrete manner, not just to learn from media reporting.
FAPA had the idea of inviting us over. Everyone decided that Wei Yang and I would go. FAPA helped us pay for all of the costs of getting there and our housing while we were there.
I have to admit that I didn’t realize something at the time. [Laughs] Some people later said that Wei Yang and I went to raise funds for the movement. That wasn’t what happened.
It was a ten or eleven day-tour. For the first three days, we stayed in Washington DC, then we went to New York for one night. We didn’t even stay 24 hours, I think. Then we went to Houston, and I recall maybe two other places in the south. Then we went to the West Coast, there were three cities we went to there. Only for the first three days in Washington DC did we stay in the same place.
After that, it was all traveling. Our schedule went from morning until night. That entire week was like that. I would get up, be driven some airport, then wait for a plane. Then I would fly to another city. Get taken somewhere. You might get taken to Stanford or something. You could look around a bit. Then at night, you would give a talk to people at night and tell them what was going on with the Sunflower Movement. Why we needed to do this and what the situation currently was like. Then you would get brought to someone’s house to stay, then get brought to the airport, wait for the airplane, and then go somewhere else again. You might go somewhere that was famous again for an hour and get to look around, and then go talk, sleep, get up again, and then go to the airport again. The entire week was like that.
Later on, I felt sort of bitter toward America because I was so tired then. And I got sick, because I was too tired. [Laughs] We did raise funds after every speech, but that money went to FAPA. You can look it up. FAPA used the funds that we raised from that tour to start a fund. They used the fund so that every year in July and August, they’ll have an event for students that participate in social movements or other activists who are young people, to participate in a FAPA’s activities for one or two weeks, to see how they lobby and do their daily activities. And to meet some foundations which research Taiwan and America.
I don’t know too concretely since I haven’t participated in this event before. That foundation which does events every year began from me and Wei Yang raising money. [Laughs] But when the two of us came back, we didn’t bring a cent back with us! Just as we didn’t bring a cent there. [Laughs]
We did raise a lot of money, but that money is all part of FAPA’s foundation. You can ask FAPA about that. We were so tired then and almost felt like crying when we heard this since we didn’t bring anything back.
We saw the withdrawal in DC on April 10th, since there was a livestream. We got up very early to watch this. We had very complex feelings about it. But we couldn’t do anything anyway since we had to get on a train.
Photo credit: 黃郁芬 士林北投加分/Facebook
Brian Hioe: What are your impressions now, five yours later? Since you’re a city councilor now and you went from being outside the system to being within it.
Meredith Huang: The Sunflower Movement can be said to have had an extremely large influence on Taiwanese, that in the past few years, there have been mobilizations which one could have scarcely expected otherwise. Because it was an expression of long-term dissatisfaction with the ruling party. So I also don’t hope for there to be such a large mobilization in the future. If so, that represents that this kind of long-term dissatisfaction has built up again toward the ruling party. I don’t hope for that to happen.
It may be because there was such a large social mobilization for the Sunflower Movement, but its influence has many aspects. For example, I was interviewed yesterday, and the interviewer said that many young people now feel that participating in social issues is useless. That they would feel that nothing has changed since the Sunflower Movement.
But I don’t agree with that statement. The influence of the Sunflower Movement might not be so direct that we could point to something like a sudden shift from dictatorship to democracy.
We’re already a democratic society. In a democratic society, reform comes slower. This is part of the double-sided nature of democracy. In a democracy, for everyone to have the right to speak, and if we have to ensure that everyone’s voice is equal, without some voices drowning out others, the other side of things is that discussion may be very slow, or be ineffective. I don’t think that you can say that nothing has changed because of that.
For example, everyone thinks that open transparency is a principle now. But if you look at before the Sunflower Movement, nobody would be talking about it in the same way. People would even claim that you were too idealistic if talked about it. However, even now, the KMT wouldn’t dare to claim that they would be opposed to an open and transparent government. Many other people would have different views, but for me, I think this is the sign of a large change.
Our legislature, in 2016, finally changed hands to the DPP. Because before 2016, even if Taiwan had lifted martial law and was becoming a so-called democratic society in which the president was decided through elections, before 2016, there had already been two political transitions of power. Yet in reality, before 2016, the KMT still held a majority.
I think that people have their diffferent views of the DPP’s performance in the past few years. But I have to say, I still believe that the DPP occupying a majority in the Legislative Yuan is still a much greater improvement than the KMT occupying the Legislative Yuan. In the past, there could have never been a party assets committee. And it’s done many things at this point. There could have never been a Transitional Justice Commission in the past. But now there is. In the past, there would have never been a channel to broadcast footage of legislative meetings. There is one now.
There’s no way for these changes to be swept away either. Even if the KMT took power again, I don’t believe that would be able to say that they were going to take away footage of legislative meetings. The people can’t accept this now. You can’t cross a certain line now. Even Han Kuo-yu would have to say that things need to be open and transparent.
In this way, I think the Sunflower Movement has influenced many things, and that it’s influence is quite deep. Another example is the notion of “deliberative democracy”. Who had heard of these two words before the Sunflower Movement? Very few people. Nobody would know what that is if you mentioned it.
But now many government institutions, before they take any action, they have to justify themselves as having gone through processes of deliberative democracy in order to take into account people’s opinions. Many civil servants are now willing to introduce deliberative democracy into public affairs. It’s already a large improvement. I don’t mean that things are perfect and there’s no need for reform, since we still need improvement, but we can’t also conclude that this was all meaningless since we haven’t gotten to our complete ideal yet. That nothing has changed and everything is bad.
That’s not fair to say. We’re still on the road there, but it’s not that haven’t set out on the journey to our destination. We aren’t where we were five years ago, we’ve moved beyond there.
I also have to say, the Sunflower Movement influenced the views of an entire generation of young people toward politics and political participation. Participating in politics and being concerned with politics–when I was in college, that wasn’t seen as important by anyone. Political news was just something we watched at dinner. You might watch for five minutes and decide, “Why should we watch this?” And then you might watch something else. Well, I’m not saying that this doesn’t still happen now, but there are visibly more and more people who are concerned with political participation.
Photo credit: 黃郁芬 士林北投加分/Facebook
This is the most precious thing. That’s something which we need in realizing a democratic society. For democracy, everyone needs to have the opportunity and willingness to participate. Each person is important. But if you don’t participate, that leads to issues. So I believe that those willing to participate in politics and those concerned with politics has visibly increased in number and this willingness is the largest change that the Sunflower Movement has brought about.
In this way, you can see that young people are now actively trying to resolve social problems in different ways. You have things like calls online to investigate what televisions shows are being broadcast in which restaurants and whether these are networks that often broadcast fake news. This is a form of social participation as well. This kind of thing would only appear in a democratic society.
This political participation isn’t at the level of the individual. And it’s also affected the willingness of young people to directly work in politics. That includes me. Starting from someone that supported social movements to an active participant, to a political worker, and now running for office and taking office as a city councilor. This is another influence of the movement. It’s very visible in our generation. In 2018, many young people ran for city councilor. In the past, we all participated in social movements, and now we’ve all decided to, in our different localities–even if we might be part of different political organizations or groups, try and push for the ideals that we previously tried to realize through social movements.
We haven’t given up on this. Although it can be quite painful as well. Political work can be painful and tiring. Yet we’re still walking down this path, to try and realize a better society.