🌻 On March 18th, 2014, young social activists, mainly hundreds of university students, charged into the Legislative Yuan to occupy the parliament chamber. At that time, the government was considering signing the controversial Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA). As the members of the Executive Yuan kept on arguing at the legislature, it only took 30 seconds for the ruling Kuomingtang party to announce that the CSSTA was adopted. This triggered a public outcry.
📲 Soon after the parliament was seized, the entrances and exits were immediately blocked by the police. Therefore, on that night, many people uploaded real-time situations inside the chamber to the Internet, using Facebook, Line, and other communication Apps. It marked the beginning of network use in the 22-day occupation.
✍️ A great number of people became deeply involved in the 318 Movement through the network. Back then, news like “The police are here” and “There are thugs” were heard inside and outside the parliament from time to time, so someone from g0v, a civic tech community, set up an on-site live station to let people passing on the streets know what was happening inside the chamber. Later on, some people adopted such methods as shorthand notes and word walls to keep the public informed of the latest.
📰 Meanwhile, postgraduates from major communication universities, who upheld the common belief of “reporting the facts”, simultaneously released news on the exclusive Facebook page of the e-forum owned by the Graduate Institute of Journalism, National Taiwan University. This broke with convention— the way the traditional media worked. They co-authored news reports on the Hackpad platform and presented stories with diversified approaches such as visualized charts. Moreover, they interacted with readers on the Internet all the time to verify all sorts of information.
🌐 The network— from organizers’ application of communication Apps for connection to journalists’ coverage and information verification through digital tools— not only provided a channel for information flow in the 318 Movement but also brought together those who were concerned about this issue all over the world. Many following studies also stated that numerous phenomena in the 318 Movement happened to coincide with the notion of “networked social movements” proposed by Manuel Castells.
🆕 Two years before the 318 Movement, Castells published a book called «Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age», which instantly turned into a classic in the fields of social movement and information communication. In this book, the author studied and observed large-scale social campaigns in different places, ranging from the Arab Spring that broke out in Tunisia in 2010 to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S. in 2011. Later on, Castells’ argument was constantly proved by the protests that surged like a gathering storm across the globe for years. The “new public space that connects the digital world and the physical world” created by the network was a case in point: we could see the formation of such spaces on the spot in the 318 Movement and the Occupy Central Movement that occurred a bit later in Hong Kong in the same year.
☂️ Another significant observation of Castells was that he pointed out the critical features of networked social movements: individuation and autonomy. This was reflected more vividly in the Occupy Central movement of Hong Kong in 2019. In the 318 Movement, activists, led by about 20 NGOs, occupied the parliament for 22 days; in the Umbrella Movement that happened in Hong Kong in September of the same year, although the organizational core was criticized at the later stage, it was led by specific organizations and activities, which greatly resembled with the 318 Movement.
🌊 A qualitative change took place in Hong Kong in 2019. Earlier from the beginning of the year, Hong Kong people took to the streets many times to protest against the extradition bill. It led to constantly reinforced police. Hence, protesters staged a shape-shifting guerilla game by responding to the call “Be water”, the famous saying of the late martial arts star Bruce Lee. They were not confined to any specific form, so they gathered anywhere anytime and then dispersed after the campaign.
🇭🇰 The approach adopted by the Hong Kong demonstrators this time disrupted the rules of the past social movements— organizers and fixed places were a must. Instead, every participant could be an organizer and everyone could make a decision. Individuals were willing to share what they were about to do and connect with other participants to quickly spread the information to thousands of and even tens of thousands of organizers elsewhere.
🚸 Besides the movement philosophy, improved information communication technology played a pivotal role in sustaining the movement that was “just like the flow of water”. Back in 2014, the technology of public live streaming just began budding. As a result, campaigners usually had to use pictures and texts only and might not always have the experience of “co-presence”. This time, Hong Kong people took collective action by relying on the “co-presence” atmosphere created in the “Be water” movement, just as Castells said, “…individual actors to build their autonomy with likeminded people in the networks of their choice.”
🔊 The major part of this book seems to focus on the connotations of social movements, but in fact, Castells aims at the shared dream that is urgently essential for today’s world through these social movements— a new form of political deliberation, voice, and decision making. After the 318 Movement and the protest against the extradition bill in Hong Kong, the local election in both Taiwan and Hong Kong witnessed big shifts. In 2014, Taiwan even incorporated the spirit of open government into its administrative policy and regarded the requirements of these occupants and their supporters as its new direction and new strength.
🙋 This move established more direct channels of communication between the Taiwan government and citizens. For example, the National Development Council introduced Join, a public policy participation platform, in 2015 and designed a proposal section to invite citizens to submit their proposals. Related government departments must respond as long as there’s a joint signature of 5,000 people. So far, the number of visitors has exceeded 10.6 million, almost half of Taiwan’s population.
🗺️ In February 2020, Taiwan implemented a quota policy for facial mask purchases due to the coronavirus pandemic. The National Health Insurance Administration, Ministry of Health and Welfare, collaborated with g0v to develop an open data application within as short as 72 hours. With diversified functions such as map visualization, chatting robots, and voice assistants, it enabled those in need to stay on top of the purchase places and the supply and demand information.
🗽 Today, including public opinions in policies and cooperating with social groups have become the daily routine and culture of the Taiwan government. The highly developed network environment of Taiwan has facilitated these new democratic experiments. But more importantly, since the 318 Movement, people have realized that they can meet tens of thousands of congenial friends via the Internet, then listen to each other, make concerted efforts, and finally take collective action to make a difference.
🎁 “The legacy of networked social movements will have been to raise the possibility of re-learning how to live together. In real democracy.” This is the last sentence of the book that undoubtedly serves as Castell’s best warning for the world: whenever a social movement ends, it represents the true beginning. Only when we have the courage to explore the unknown and connect with each other can we work together to rebuild democracy and let the future come because of us.