The Sunflower Student Movement Won With Reasonability & Radicality
The Taiwanese occupiers involved in the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement mixed radical strategies and governance in an ambitious action in Taipei, three years after Occupy. They occupied the Taiwanese legislature for more than three weeks, and briefly occupied the executive building. The general assemblies held at Occupy allowed large groups to make decisions about their encampment and their platform. The Sunflower revolutionaries scaled-up the general assembly in protest of a trade policy passed with little public input.
Three-hundred students, with a few hundred more outside in support, stormed and occupied the legislature on March 18, 2014. They livecast simulated negotiations to demonstrate how they would democratically handle the trade negotiations. Upon leaving, they cleaned up after themselves. And they won the respect of the Taiwanese people in doing so. The music video for the song Island’s Sunrise uses footage from inside the occupation. The movement adopted the song, whose lyrics are in english.
The students released a lot of media with English translations. This follows the direct action strategy of appealing to potential allies across the world. This concurrent blog post from P. Kerim Friedman explains the issues the students had with the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) and includes several videos of the actions.
On the first night of their occupation the students managed to repel the police and maintain their position. They would not leave until April 10, when they left voluntarily. On March 23, five days in, President Ma Ying-jeou announced that, despite the students’ obstruction, he would continue to support the trade deal. This led to another squadron of Sunfloweristas occupying the executive building. This time the President put their action down in a 10-hour eviction which led to injuries, arrests, and accusations of media censorship. After the terrible PR from this battle the President sought to negotiate with the protesters.
The negotiation process stalled before it started, as the students chose not to take part. On March 27 they called for a rally to support their efforts. Organizers claimed the March 30 rally was attended by 500,000 people. The government claims it was around 116,000. This discrepancy shows the eternal battle between reality, the conservative numbers the status quo gives, and the inflated numbers organizers are forced to give in response.
In April 2015, over the course of a week, around 1300 Americans were arrested at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. to protest money in politics, it had no effect on American governance. The CSSTA still has not been ratified by the Taiwanese government. The protesters did not immediately win their demands with the occupation. They initially intended to stay three days to obstruct the vote on the trade deal. After three weeks inside they received a promise from a legislator that the deal would not be passed until it had been reviewed.
A political movement grew from their moment which brought their interests officially into the legislature with the New Power Party. Since being founded in 2015 the party has won five, of 113, seats in the legislature on a platform of Taiwanese independence, universal human rights, and social and political liberties. For their action the students were investigated for obstruction of justice and violent conduct. Most of the charges were dropped. Two of the agitators served jail time and paid fines for their participation. The police and executive branch were also sued for excessive use of force. One teacher won a settlement and a court case continues for 30 more of the injured protesters.
Out of the hundreds of activists involved only two received charges that stuck. This is a win considering that the US government is threatening decades of jail to over 200 protesters charged with being present during a black-bloc march involving property destruction. The charged include journalists.
The Sunfloweristas, who received their name when a florist sent them 1000 sunflowers in solidarity, stormed their legislative and executive buildings just over two years ago to stop a trade agreement harmful to their interests. They succeeded in their goal and created political power. They used the radical strategy of occupying the governing buildings of their country. And they courted popular support by acting responsibly and proving to Taiwan’s legislators that they could be replaced. In the end they cleaned up the legislative space before leaving and they took responsibility for their ‘crimes’ in court. The American left could use their courage and character in fighting the corporate duopoly of American Government. Unfortunately, the same action in America would most likely lead to the death of several participants. This is America. And American police are certainly trigger-happy. As times grow more desperate taking similar risks might become more reasonable in this country. Although it would be more dangerous to the cause to start thinking these risks make nonviolence less necessary of a strategy.