Part IV: The work of the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan

At the Wednesday night seminars attendees sing these unofficial anthems of Taiwan: Formosa Taiwan (台灣翠青)- at the beginning and Ocean Country (海洋國家)- at the end.

An Interview with Professor Tsay, Chairman of the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan (ART)

FL: What are some of the regular activities happening at the base in front of the Legislative Yuan?

PT: In the first two years of the sit-in, many of our protests were directed at the KMT regime, who allowed officials to behave irresponsibly. After the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was defeated in the 2008 presidential election, the ART took on the role of opposing the KMT and encouraging the Taiwanese to fight on an individual basis.

After the DPP regained its strength, we took on the role of educating the public about civil rights and nonviolent struggle. Every Wednesday night, we offer a “Taiwanese Self-Liberation Movement Seminar” at the base for the public. Prominent community leaders and scholars are invited to present their ideas and to encourage citizens to engage in public affairs. Su Beng has been one of our speakers. At the base, we also receive volunteers who want to sign-up, petitions against injustice policies, donations for charities and appointments for discussions.

FL: What are these volunteers signing up for? Are people signing up to be volunteers of ART?

PT: People sign up to be volunteers of ART. Some people from other cities come to Taipei to talk to me and the volunteers help to make these appointments. The subjects of discussions range in a full spectrum. We also make appointments for invited speakers.

FL: What are some of the Alliances current projects?

PT: One of the major projects of the ART is to share the writings and thoughts about nonviolent struggle by Dr. Gene Sharp of Harvard University and the Albert Einstein Institution. His writings and thought are rooted in the philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi in India and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the USA.

We offer lectures, seminars, speeches and forums to anyone interested in this subject. There have even been discussion groups of nonviolent struggle formed on the Internet. Civil rights organizations are especially encouraged to focus on local issues.

In order to quickly disseminate information about nonviolent struggles, a facebook group has been formed for general discussion. When local issues such as the government’s forceful collection farmer’s lands, and abuse of kids in schools, have surfaced, the Internet is an efficient way to distribute the information. We invite Civil rights organizations to participate in our programs.

As the result of forceful seizure of farmers' lands, the government reclaims the titles of the lands first and then rents the land to groups who want to develop the land. Usually the farmers’ are only paid for their lands at cost, which is far less than the market price. If a farmer does not agree on the price, the money offered by the government after seizing his land will be deposited in a bank account under supervision of a court. The farmer's house or building would then be torn down and the farmer would be kicked off his land.

One of the ART’s special projects is to create the “Taiwan Justice Action Church” in cooperation with the Taiwan Presbyterian Church. We call this church a “Street Church” that will give prayer services on the street and open Sunday services at the Taipei 28 Memorial Park in Taipei City and the Taichung Park in Taichung City. Also, the church is intended to provide prayers and services when the police show up to break up a crowd of protesters.

FL: What are some of the social movements/protests that the Alliance is currently involved in?

PT: We have assumed the leading responsibility for the nonviolent struggle against the ROC system. There are so many social movements in Taiwan on topics such as environmental protection issues, indigenous people rights, and judicial reform, etc. If there is already a group taking the lead on a particular issue, we will be there to give our support. If not, then we will take the lead. We want to demonstrate that nonviolent struggle is a realistic alternative and strategy instead of a military struggle against an oppressive system.

FL: What are some of the more notable rallies/protests that the Alliance has participated in?

PT: We successfully used nonviolent actions to put pressure on the Legislative Yuan to force KMT member Lee Ching-An (李慶安) to resign from her post after about 300 days of denying that she holds a US passport and the parliament’s refusal to take any actions on this issue.

We took the lead in organizing a major protest against the KMT’s passage of the Economical Corporation Framework Agreement, ECFA in the Legislative Yuan and organized many protests against visits of Chinese Communist envoy in different cities.

Some other notable rallies/protests have included environmental protection rallies against the Kuo-Kuang Industrial Development Project in a Chunghwa County wetland and anti-nuclear plant rallies after Japan's recent 311 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Also, on the 3rd day of each month, we call on people to show up in front of the Tuchung detention center in a show of support for former President Chen Shui-bian and his judicial rights.

FL: What are some of the Alliance's accomplishments?

PT: I would have to admit that the accomplishments of ART are not yet very apparent. But I see that my fellow Taiwanese have become more confident in expressing their opinions publicly. I feel that support from the public has been strong enough for us to remain on the street for more than 900 days. We will continue focusing on educating people in Taiwan about nonviolent struggle through our actions and the use of technology.

FL: What is the sit-in meant to accomplish?

PT: I believe that when every Taiwanese person is able to enjoy the rights of a free citizen, then a real democratic system has been accomplished. The sit-in is to demonstrate our rights to freedom of expression in a nonviolent way on the street.

It serves as a base to distribute the information about nonviolent struggle and it is also a symbolic defiance against the oppressive ROC system. We call for reform of Referendum Act and the Electoral System of Legislative Yuan, and abolishment of the Parade and Assembly Act.

FL: Are there people stationed at the "base" in front of the Legislative Yuan every day?

PT: We have volunteers signed up for duties at the base on daily basis. We hand out booklets to promote democracy and civil rights and receive donations. We even served as collection center for donated goods after typhoon disasters. Volunteers are at the base every day, 24 hours around the clock.

UPDATE as of May 14: The "nonviolent struggle" facebook discussion group that Dr. Tsay mentioned in this interview can be found at:!/home.php?sk=group_165362803517243

For those interested in participating, the discussions have been conducted in Chinese.

NEXT: Part V The challenges of the ART’s limited resources