Chen Wei-ting Says He Will Run for OfficeThe young charismatic leader of the Sunflower Movement discusses the reasons why he feels compelled to run for a legislative post
I have a decision to announce to you all: I am going to run as an independent candidate in the Legislative Yuan by-election for Miaoli District 2 next year.
Following the past several days of media reports and discussions with friends, I’ve come to these basic conclusions:
Firstly, the media have hyped a “military service” problem. (Taiwanese men are required by law to complete mandatory military service.) There is no such problem. The Civil Servants Election and Recall Act does not stipulate that a man must complete his military service before he can be elected to public office. As long as I am a student, I may postpone my military service, even after being elected. At present I’m a first-year master’s student and may keep my status as a student until 2018. If elected, I will have no problem completing my term [which would conclude in May 2016].
Running for office is not a way for me to avoid military service. Some online friends have searched for regulations allowing someone to avoid military service because of family reasons, but I’ve never considered that. When the time comes, I’ll complete the service time asked of me.
Nor would my election constitute a problem for my studies. It would just make them more difficult. Besides, my sociology thesis is about dealing with political and social structural problems. My political experience would be another field for my research, and I plan to write my thesis with a clear conscience.
Meanwhile, over the past few days many friends have, with good intentions, tried to discourage me from running.
These friends’ opinions come down to this: elections are murderous; I’m not a perfect person and don’t need to get into this one and use up my political aura; and I should take this opportunity to study abroad and prepare myself for the Taiwan of 20 years from now.
If I really want to run, they say, I should look for an urban district where it would be easier to get elected. There’s no need to get into such a high-risk race. [Translator’s Note: In 2012, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌) defeated the DPP’s Yiong Cong-ziin (楊長鎮) in the legislative election for this seat 71.65 percent to 28.35 percent. This by-election is only taking place — by March 2015 — because Hsu is vacating his legislative office to become county magistrate.]
But I’ve always thought that a “political aura” and “social influence” shouldn’t be personal assets. I am lucky to have whatever came to me from participating in a chain of social movements. Given the hardships we see in Miaoli, and the momentum for reform in Taiwan, this is the right place and right time, and I should take advantage of it. I should convert whatever fame I have into solid organizations and movements so that problems will be highlighted and ideals put into practice. Only then can I have a clear conscience, and by doing this, I’ll contribute to society as well.
As for “finding a good district to be elected from,” such a thought has never crossed my mind.
Our aspiration has always been to realize our ideals, not to find the right spot to climb a career ladder.
Miaoli is my home.
When your home has hardships, you can’t put them behind you.
I’ve walked this winding road back to my home for five years. The tides of this era, without explanation, have sent us careening back and forth between big cities and our hometowns.
In 2006 I left home, moving north [to Taipei] for school. After witnessing the Losheng, Sanying and Wild Strawberries movements, in my last semester of high school I returned to my hometown and started the Miaoli Youth Book Club. Once a month, at a small bookstore in my hometown, we’d borrow desks and chairs from a classroom and hold seminars on Miaoli literature and history. Together with our senior classmates we’d visit the Dananpu farming village and understand anew the earth beneath our feet.
In 2009, two months before the “shoveling incident,” I visited Dapu for the first time. Inside the home of Big Sister Chen — which you can’t find anymore because it was later expropriated and demolished — I first came to understand what citizens suffer in the name of “development.”
Afterward, I joined the Taiwan Rural Front and walked around the farming villages all over Miaoli where land was being expropriated indiscriminately. Even now, I can’t forget the smothering depression and throes of pain I felt in my chest while attending the funerals of Auntie Chu, Big Brother Chang, and Wanbao Big Brother Chang, and while watching the Chang Pharmacy be flattened.
The last day of final exams in the summer of 2012, I saw a report and rode a motorbike straight to the strike at the Hualong factory in Toufen. There I finally saw the factory my mother had worked at for seven years as a youth — which I’d hazily remembered her telling me in my childhood [Chen was orphaned at age 13] — and her former coworkers. Under the tent for the strikers, who would then walk all the way to Taipei in sweltering heat, I and a group of student activist allies shared in the hardships laborers suffer just to win meager rights of existence.
After that, I went back to Taipei and joined the anti-media monopoly movement.
In the summer of 2013, amidst the rubble that used to be the Chang Pharmacy, friends from Miaoli and allies from everywhere else together established the Defend Miaoli Youth Union. In addition to joining the continuing protests at Dapu, over the past year these allies, with the Café De lam as their base, have organized a small farmers market, hosted local radio programs, published reading materials, and continued to fight at the side of the Hualong Rescue Association.
After that came the ups and downs of 318 [the Sunflower Movement occupation of the Legislative Yuan].
And now we’re here.
County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) is stepping down, yet the Chinese Nationalist Party will still, as always, hold political power in Miaoli.
The Miaoli we see today, after the destruction wreaked by Liu, is in the worst fiscal condition [of any local government] in the country, and it’s on the verge of brain death.
The Dapu case still hasn’t been resolved. The new commissioner, Hsu Yao-chang, openly declared upon election that all the controversial plans drawn up by Liu Cheng-hung would be fully enforced. Land expropriation regulations have not been amended.
The Hualong case has already reaped some results. (I am ashamed to say that I have been away from Miaoli since March while investing myself in the Taiwan March movement. Hence, I have been unable to walk this last stage of the journey together with the Hualong workers.) But every day the Labor Standards Act goes un-amended, more retiring laborers will be exposed to risk.
Besides the urgent modification of laws, another, more pressing question is, how can we get Miaoli out of this quagmire and enable young people to return to their hometowns and the elderly to live there peacefully and happily?
I don’t dare to say I’ve “deeply ploughed” Miaoli, but at the very least, over these past years we have tirelessly faced its suffering and its issues.
Since the [Nov. 29] election [in which the KMT took Miaoli City and County], some people have repeatedly talked about Miaoli being hopeless. I disagree.
With every movement over these past years, we’ve found more allies who have joined the reform line. Following our movements, we’ve also seen definite subtle changes.
I’ve always believed the people of Miaoli can see their problems; they just haven’t had a choice they can trust.
The meaning of this election is in exhorting Miaoli’s next generation to proactively take on this burden together, humbly listen to the voices in their hometowns, and then take another step by offering solutions.
Those are my reasons for running.
At present, I and my allies in the Defend Miaoli Youth League and Taiwan March have formed a preliminary campaign team. Over the next two weeks, we will officially register and explain in detail the focus of our campaign and the details of our policy proposals. At the same time, as the key to this campaign, we will widely recruit Miaoli’s young people, both those who are currently living there and those who have been away, to join in this campaign with us. Our means of recruitment will be rolled out in the near future.
My term would not be long [about 1 year], so we hope to focus on amending key legislation brought up by the aforementioned Miaoli social movements. At the same time, facing the last year and a half of Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) term as president, we will continue voicing the appeals of the 318 [Sunflower] Student Movement: Withdrawing the proposed Cross-strait Services Trade agreement (CSSTA), ending negotiations of the cross-strait trade in goods agreement, passing the cross-strait monitoring act as written by civic organizations, and amending the Referendum Act and the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act via the Legislature and constitutional reform.
Obviously we do not believe that a single legislator could achieve these goals. Reform from inside the system still must be complemented and reinforced by movements outside the system.
But at the least, by entering the legislature we can gain another lever and more bargaining chips for our movements. More importantly, the campaign itself will collect yet more energy for them.
The next year is crucial for reform. These important issues absolutely must not be drowned in the spittle of the coming presidential election.
Having written all the way to this point, I’m thinking back to a gathering of Hualong strikers at the gate of their factory, blocking the shipping operations of capital [management] for an afternoon. The police who held up signboards and announced warnings to us read out my name.
While passionately shouting chants, I couldn’t hold back tears.
Holding the hand of an auntie next to me, I thought of my own mother. I thought, “In this life, I won’t have the opportunity to do anything for my mother. But right now, I’m standing together with her coworkers.” And I felt like I was doing it for her, too.
For me, a hometown is like a mother.
Holding these feelings in my heart, I sincerely invite all the people in Miaoli, and all the Miaoli diaspora, to come together with me now and find an answer.
Chen Wei-ting is an activist and was one of the leaders of the Sunflower Movement. The Chinese-language original of his announcement was posted to Facebook on Dec. 9 at 10:14pm. Anonymous is a Taipei-based translator.