When U.S. House Majority leader Eric Cantor derided the Occupy Wall Street activists as “a growing mob,” he could not have known that the movement’s influence would grow so strong that its impact would be felt even at the other end of the world.
On Oct. 15, as part of an international weekend of protest, a militant demonstration of several hundred was held in a most unlikely place—Taipei, capital of the prosperous island nation of Taiwan. The demonstrators were mostly young and students, but they were joined by others, including young workers and retirees, who have not benefited by the country’s economic growth.
Few would have guessed that any kind of protest would take place in Taiwan. With the unemployment rate less than half that of the United States and a steadily growing economy, Taiwan is increasingly seen as a safe haven for international investors. The country has no socialist or labor party, a weak trade-union movement, and no history of political radicalism. Travelers entering the country with Marxist literature can expect to have their material seized by immigration officials and can expect to face a fine.
Yet, on a rainy Saturday, summoned by a call that originated on Facebook, protesters gathered outside of Taipei 101, a picture postcard symbol of affluent consumerism and ostentatious wealth and the second largest building in the world. It is also the location of the Taiwan Stock Exchange offices.
The rally, officially called to protest the increasing wealth gap in Taiwan, was smaller than similar protests in European cities, but the protestors were spirited, defiant, and determined. Marchers entered the first floor, shopping mall area of the skyscraper chanting, “No to capitalism! We are the 99 percent!” City police and building security staff tried to keep the demonstrators out, but had to give way.
The Taipei Times (Oct. 16, 2011) quoted a high-school student who said, “The economic growth figures may look good on paper, but we are not feeling it because all the money is going into the hands of capitalists. … I don’t expect instant change to happen, but I hope that this demonstration can at least be a start for change in the future.”
Students from National Taiwan University who publish a magazine, Socialist, were enthusiastic about a demonstration that “is directly targeting capitalism and the financial system in the country.”
Organizers of the demonstration emphasized that they were only at the start of building what they anticipated would become an on-going movement. They say they are still working to build consensus on ways to address the increasing disparity of wealth in Taiwanese society.
An editorial in The China Post, which reflects the views of the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT), claimed the modest number of protesters was due to “the lingering sense of civility that restrained our youth from being conspicuously rude by going on a public demonstration for whatever cause” (Oct. 20, 2011). The editorial concluded by claiming: “Idealists, those who wish to narrow the gap of the haves and the have-nots, have no role to play in the increasingly capitalistic Taiwan…”
Nonetheless, on the same day, another spark of protest was lit. A group of students and social activists began a 44-hour hunger strike to demand legal reforms to provide debt relief for students and for legislation that would narrow the gap between rich and poor.
> The article above was written by Cliff Englewood, and first appeared in the November 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.