Wild Strawberries ready for nonviolent action

The Wild Strawberry Movement (野草莓學運) began one month ago with a protest at the Executive Yuan. After the protest was broken up by the police on 7 November the protest moved to Freedom Square (自由廣場) where students have maintained a constant presence. The numbers at the protest have fluctuated. There were several hundred at the beginning, however recently the numbers have dwindled to a few dozen on weekdays with more on weekends.

The students have continued to challenge the government to respond to its three demands. While there has been no response to the first two demands the Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan have both proposed amendments to the Parade and Assembly Law (集會遊行法). This law requires any protest to first apply for permission from the police which can be refused. The law is seen as being against the basic rights of freedom of speech and assembly.

The Wild Strawberry protest in Taipei is a form of nonviolent direct action against the Assembly Law. The police used the Assembly Law to break up the protest at the Executive Yuan for which the students did not have a permit. The ongoing protest at Freedom Square is also illegal as it has no permit, however up to now the police have not attempted to impose the law. The protest has also continued at other locations around Taiwan. Although the Taichung protesters decided to end their sit in at the Civic Square last weekend and to continue their movement on university campuses.

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Two significant events took place in the last week. On Monday 1 December the students again protested outside the Executive Yuan. Two students lay down on the road to nonviolently protest against the government’s failure to listen to their demands. They were removed by police and taken to a nearby police station for questioning. They were later released. Another protest, unrelated to the Wild Strawberry movement, took place at the Losheng Sanitorium on Wednesday 3 December. This site has been at the centre of a long conflict between the Taipei MRT who want to demolish part of the site for an MRT depot and activists who want the site preserved for its heritage value. On Wednesday police physically removed about 200 protestors to allow demolition work to begin on the site.

What the two movements have in common is their commitment to using nonviolent direct action as a method of protest. And in these cases nonviolence is a very appropriate means of trying to achieve outcomes. The Wild Strawberries have demonstrated their commitment to using nonviolence. As they were forcefully removed from the front of the Executive Yuan last month they shouted “Peace!” and “Human rights!”. They have even shown their concern for the police who are forced to follow the orders of superiors and enforce unjust laws. Nonviolent methods of dealing with potential conflicts are actively discussed by the students.

This Sunday (7 December) the Wild Strawberries will again take to the streets of Taipei marching to the Executive Yuan, Legislative Yuan and Ketagalan Boulevard. The march begins at 1:00pm at Freedom Square. Everyone is welcome to join but requested to register in advance. Participants are asked to wear black and avoid carrying symbols of political parties.

Although the Wild Strawberries have had limited coverage in the mainstream media they have attracted international attention through the internet. Amnesty International even issued a statement urging police to avoid using excessive force at the upcoming protest. The world be will watching as students and citizens of Taiwan protest nonviolently to challenge the unjust Parade and Assembly Law.

* The Wild Strawberry blog has a timeline of events over the past month. Many photos of the ongoing actions can be found in the Wild Strawberry group at flickr.