artwork by Amal Fathy, imprisoned Egyptian activist

Student protest shows the future of social activism in Taiwan

Today, students in Taiwan ended a historic, 24-day occupation of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, or parliament.

The peaceful sit-in, which began on 18 March, was sparked by government attempts to push a controversial trade deal with China through parliament.

A screenshot from Hackfoldr.org showing a live broadcast from protesters in Taiwan’s parliament. © Amnesty International
A screenshot from Hackfoldr.org showing a live broadcast from protesters in Taiwan’s parliament. © Amnesty International

The protest captured the imagination of thousands worldwide, spawning what many have dubbed the Sunflower Movement. The way it was organized was something I had never seen before in Taiwan.

From online to offline activism

From day one, my colleagues and I visited the protest site, monitoring events online via 24-hour live broadcasts by protesters inside and outside parliament.

What we found was a community of students who are passionate, intelligent and organized. Hackfoldr.org is a site set up by volunteers with everything the students needed to keep their action going – volunteer rota sheets, lists of supplies needed, press releases in Mandarin and English.

People across the country visited the site and donated food, water, sleeping bags and other things by completing an online form. The supplies then arrived by truck. “This could never have happened 20 or 30 years ago,” said Ming, a 23-year-old graduate student who joined the protest when it started.

First-time protesters

Many of these young people were protesting for the first time. Yet, despite their inexperience, they did not flinch, even in the face of a crackdown by the authorities.