by Brian Hioe
English /// 中文
Photo credit: 游藝 小市民前進議會/Facebook
Translator: Brian Hioe
On September 26th, New Bloom editor Brian Hioe interviewed You Yi of the Social Democratic Party, who is running in the Songshan-Xinyi area of Taipei. This is part of New Bloom’s ongoing series of interviews with independent city councilor candidates, as part of its special 2018 election coverage.
Brian Hioe: First, could you introduce yourself for those that don’t know you?
You Yi: Hi, everybody. I am You Yi, from the movement to protect the Songshan trees and oppose the Taipei Dome. I have been protesting the Taipei Dome since 11 years ago, as a local resident. In these ten years, outside of the Taipei Dome incident, we have involved ourselves in many social movements as well as protests, including the anti-Kuokuang naphtha cracker movement, the movement to preserve coral reefs and to keep Taiwan’s air clean.
At the time of the Sunflower Movement, we knew those who were inside the Legislative Yuan, so we went to assist them together. If you’ve seen four large ventilation pipes in the Legislative Yuan, those were something that I had friends raised funds and built. The idea was to allow to improve the air quality in the Legislative Yuan. As such, I am a social movement worker who has spent much time in street protests as well as the environmental movement.
BH: I see. Why did you decide to participate in elections this time, given this background in social movements?
YY: Running for elections is something I did not consider at all in the past, in my time in social movements. The main reason for this is because in Taiwan there is a special circumstance, that when you are a social movement leader and you participate in an election, you will be seen as using the movement for your election. So I originally drew a red line, that I wouldn’t run for office so that our movement wouldn’t be criticized in that way.
Because in 2014 when Ko Wen-Je took power, we originally had many expectations for social change to take place. In the beginning, when he first took office, there were some positive results. But in the end, after taking power, he became a politician who lost himself. Whether this is protecting the trees at Songyan or other issues, we can see that Ko Wen-Je continues to go back on his word. He protected the trees with us in the past, assisting us, but works together with Chao Teng-Hsiung and Farglory to take apart our tents and dig up the trees we’ve spent so much energy protecting.
So I feel that there are many issues, including with the Taipei Dome, which should have been resolved but have dragged on in the end for over three years. It isn’t that these issues haven’t been resolved, but that the plans for the Taipei Dome have changed again and the structure has become bigger.
Originally, the idea was to dissolve the contract with Farglory for their violation of the contract for the Taipei Dome, because they did not follow the construction plans agreed to for the Taipei Dome. This did not take place, either. Ko Wen-Je continues to build and intends to finish it now and assist them in their amendments to the construction plan.
Because of this, I could not take it any longer, and I spent a long time discussing this with the team dedicated to protecting the trees. I decided that this couldn’t go on in November of last year, and thought that I should run myself. I discussed this with our team internally for a long period of time. After they agreed, then I decided to run.
BH: What do you think is particular about your electoral district? Who are your opponents? Are there any local issues, such as the tree protection issues you discussed?
YY: My primary opponent is probably myself. Because while we were discussing my running, some of our collaborators, who we had been working together with for over ten years, the only condition they gave me was that I must win. So my biggest opponent is not others, but myself. I must win this election, there is no other option.
As for my election opponents, Songshan-Xinyi has twenty-two candidates running for city councilor. Nine are incumbents. There are a total of ten seats. So this will be a difficult campaign.
We have spent more than ten years on the issue of the Taipei Dome, including this year, this is twelve years. The city residents around us also oppose this and they have opposed this for a very long. I originally thought that if we had the votes or the residents around the Taipei Dome who opposed it, that would be enough votes. But then I discovered that it wasn’t just those in the immediate vicinity of the Taipei Dome – even people in remote corners of the district agreed with our opposition. And that they were very interested in how we hoped to resolve this, how I intended to provide oversight over this process.
So I am quite optimistic about this campaign. Because we have always been serious. It is not just this year that we have been concerned with this issue.
We can put it this way. Our efforts have been over the past ten years, but it’s now that we’re getting a report card on it. It’s through voting that we can allow the government to know that us residents of Songshan and Xinyi are very unhappy with this way of doing things. This is the meaning of my deciding to run this time. Because the Taipei Dome is not something that can be decided by a referendum, which is why there would be such changes. With the new changes, we have to pay Farglory a fortune, but as I raised, if we dissolve the contract with Farglory we only have to spend the money required to for something new, it would be cheaper. Their breach of contract is illegal, and they raise costs although the structure is not yet finished. It’s only a half-complete structure,
So dissolving the contract with Farglory would be the most economical. This money can be earned back. We could make back the money we spent by making it a forest park. But outside of this, we still have to think about it and discuss. This is also part of why we decided to run, in the hopes that through the election process, first, we can make the cause better known, because in the past year, no city councilors have meaningfully participated in the movement against the Taipei Dome, or seriously attempted to give it oversight. There are even those who stand on the side of Farglory and speak for them.
Why is it that these representatives whose salaries are paid for with our taxes, choose to side with corporations? Why do you decide to overlook this scandal which affects everyone? And then you support Ko.
This is why I decided to run. As well as what I mentioned earlier, that Ko Wen-Je continues to dig, and has allowed the Taipei Dome to continue to be built. We have to confront this at the end of the year. Last year was tough, this year will likely be even tougher.
Of course, the Taipei Dome is our central issue, but apart from taking care of this when running for office, outside of the Taipei Dome and protecting the trees, there also many ideas that we’ve accumulated through years of participating in the environmental movement. We hope this time to enter into the city council and carry out these reforms, which is why our political views are primarily related to the environment or social justice issues.
BH: What do you think is different about yourself and other electoral candidates?
YY: What is different about me is that I don’t think about political interests. I won’t, because of wanting to get votes, attempt to build ties with Ko Wen-Je. Because if you become a city councilor, as a member of the Third Force, the point is to provide oversight over the Taipei city government. We want to promote change. Then why would you choose to rely on Ko Wen-Je, with his high approval ratings, and his “White Force”? I can get some benefits from Ko that way, and my election campaigning would go more smoothly.
What is different about me is that I don’t think about political interests. I won’t, because of wanting to get votes, attempt to build ties with Ko Wen-Je. Because if you become a city councilor, as a member of the Third Force, the point is to provide oversight over the Taipei city government. We want to promote change. Then why would you choose to rely on Ko Wen-Je, with his high approval ratings, and his “White Force”? I can get some benefits from Ko that way, and my election campaigning would go more smoothly.
But as you can see in the past three years, there have been issues since Ko took office. This is why we need oversight. If you do well, I will applaud for you, assist you, and help you to do things better. If you don’t do well, of course, I will need to criticize you. However, as you see with city councilors hoping to build close ties with Ko, how then will you provide oversight in the city council? The result is you will be afraid of criticizing him. You hope to be elected again, so this will affect your judgment. Your core values and ideals deviate very much from those that the so-called Third Force would like to push forward. However, I will not choose to forsake the honesty of my values. I will follow the path with determination.
So many people have the impression that I support Pasuya Yao. That is also not the case. Looking at things, with regards to the Taipei Dome, of the three mayoral candidates, three have made proposals, and from our perspective, this is not enough. The one who is closest to the periphery is Yao, because he at least has said that he hopes to dissolve the contract. But after dissolving the contract, he hopes for the construction of the Taipei Dome to be completed, and for it to be operated by another company. He hasn’t gone to the root of the problem. So what he says is not enough.
I also think that his way of addressing the situation lacks civic participation, it is founded on deciding and acting alone. So he also loses points there. This is why I advocate dissolving the contract and decided to run for office. This was so that we could act against unconscionable decisions for our political interest and we will absolutely not betray our voters.
After we are voted in, we will not change. At the very least, I have not changed in the past twelve years, and I have never done anything for the sake of my own personal interest. To be honest, there are candidates who run for their own political interest, but I don’t think I would compare myself to them, because I am only being myself. No matter what others do, I am working for my wife and children, and the sake of the next generation.
BH: What kind of challenges do you confront in your campaign? What strategy have you adopted to address these challenges?
YY: We are very simple about it, we don’t look at it as a complex matter. First, getting voted in is ultimately our goal. We must succeed in this. However, the election process is also a period in which we can demonstrate our values. So up until now, we don’t have any special strategy. Traditional election methods, such as canvassing for votes, making public appearances in markets, touring, these are things that we do in our district.
However, we also carry on the spirit of environmentalism and other issues we care about in this process. For example, we are carrying out a plastic-free campaign, without plastic fans, tissue packets, plastic water bottles, and etc. The key reason for this is that we are environmental activists, we know these small election campaign goods have a large environmental impact, and eventually, end up as garbage.
Particularly tissues. Tissues are the most inexpensive campaign good. But tissues come with a plastic cover, and the composition of this kind of plastic is the kind most likely to get swallowed up by sea life, such as dolphins or whale, or eaten by birds. This is the first point. The second is that cheap paper goods usually are not certified for rainforest protection. Needless to say, the low price comes from cutting down cheap rain forests. So because we are environmentalists and we hope to promote environmental policies for Taipei city to become more reliant on renewable forms of energy and etc., we hope to begin this change now.
Although it may only be a city council in the capital, Taipei provides a good space to demonstrate change to the whole of Taiwan. I won’t go too much into the deep theory, but we very much hope to protect the earth, and we’ve decided to come out and run for the sake of our next generation.
I reject the notion that we have to use the so-called “necessary evil” during the election in order to win. There is no such thing as “necessary evil”. If we do not want it, we reject it. If we know it is bad, we don’t do it.
So we did not think so much about strategy during our election campaign, but we hope for everyone to know that through this, we hope to realize our values. For example, we haven’t distributed too much else besides business cards and bananas. Although recently we also have policy flyers and this kind of thing, these are printed on the cheapest paper possible and, again, we hope to run a plastic-free campaign. We hand out bananas because they are fruits of Taiwan’s land.
When we began, we were quite conflicted, to be honest. When we were discussing election strategy in the beginning, we discussed quite deeply on how we would run the campaign. Did we really want to win, or was this just for demonstrating our ideals? I said that, of course, we want to win.
If you’re an election candidate, you often hand out tissues, which we discussed quite deeply. We even began to ask for estimates from vendors as to estimates. We discussed price, appearance, and what the cheapest campaign goods would be, since people are always fighting for tissues.
We were conflicted about this a long time, but in the end, I told everyone that I was sorry, though everyone had worked hard to collect information, I decided that I didn’t want this. I wanted everyone to think with me about something to replace tissues.
At the time, it happened to be that there was a drop in the price of bananas. There was an event with a tour bus that a neighborhood chief that had good relations with us we had to do. I thought, why not give out bananas as gifts? We bought some bananas to give to these elders, and we found that they quite liked them. Because first, eating bananas is very practical. Second, it’s also environmentally friendly. Third, they care very much for Taiwanese farmers. Taiwan is originally an agricultural society, so the elders care very much about agricultural issues.
So we thought, why not just go with bananas? At the time, we were also considering fans, but fans used for elections were more expensive. It was 6.8 NT per fan, bananas at the time were only 5 NT. Of course, the price of bananas later rose dramatically [Laughs]. The most we paid for bananas was about 9.5 NT per pair, but recently it’s gone back down to 6 or 7 NT. On average, it’s around 7 NT or so, about the price of a fan.
So we later decided that up to elections, we would only give out bananas! No matter what the price was, only bananas. I didn’t consider anything else. Including ballpoint pens, which we considered because though they are also made of plastic, they are in use for longer periods of time, and everyone has to use pens. But we gave up that idea after deciding on bananas. There’s no way to recycle the metal tip at the edge of ballpoint pens.
So we don’t have much strategy, we just do our own thing, and hope that voters can understand what we’re aiming at.
BH: What kind of ties do you see between the appearance of the Third Force in Taiwan and international political phenomenon in recent years, such as the emergence of other youth-oriented third parties?
YY: To be honest, I haven’t studied politics before. I completely do not understand politics, I just have protested on the streets for a long period of time, and this has led me to have some me to have some doubts in my heart.
What are these people that we give our salaries to and should be helping us doing? I simply keep asking this. For example, if you say that workers occupy the softest place in your heart, then why would you amend the Labor Standards Act that badly? Didn’t you say that Datan is not suitable for a port because of its geography and coral reefs? Why, then, you now insist on building a receiving port in Datan?
These politicians keep embarrassing themselves and we wonder why our politicians are like this. And wondering this, I consider what I would do if I were in their place today.
So with the Sunflower Movement and the appearance of the Third Force in Taiwan, what I think is a shame is that a lot of this energy has been dissipated in the past two years. Particularly with regards to Ko Wen-Je. When Ko Wen-Je took office, I went to the mayor’s office two or three times a week to speak with them about the Taipei Dome. What is a bit painful is that I told him personally, “You don’t represent just the reputation of Ko Wen-Je, what you represent is the 850,000 people who voted for you with the expectation of seeing change. Whatever decisions you make, you have the responsibility of 850,000 people.”
But you can see what he did with his decisions in the end. The road he is walking now is not so different from pan-Blue or pan-Green, although he may claim to be the strongest politician of the Third Force or whatever.
From my perspective, I feel that after the DPP took power, many members of the Third Force entered the DPP or regional governments to work. But these former comrades of mine from street protests, after they entered government, their voices have become more and more subdued. But what’s the point in participating in politics to begin with?
What I would like to ask them is, why would you enter politics? Particularly with the NPP, many people seem to have entered because they have the view that if they join it, they can easily take office. Is that why they joined? Is this what you really want? I’ve thought for a long time about what these people are doing. If you want to promote change, if you want to protect the future of the next generation, what is your reason for participating in politics?
Of the NPP, I like Zeng Po-yu the most. We’ve known each other for many years, from the movement to defend the trees. She hasn’t changed much, as far as I see. But some people I see participating in politics who are afraid to say anything. They are afraid to confront the government. So why participate in politics, just to get the votes of the NPP? And after the NPP becomes more powerful, will it just be the same as the KMT or the DPP?
So at this point, I exclude the NPP from the Third Force, apart from a few friends I know, I see it as one of the three largest political parties in Taiwan instead. It isn’t part of the Third Force anymore.
Of course, Dr. Huang Kuo-Chang is someone I know well. He’s protected the trees with us in the past. Two years ago, when there was a typhoon—before he became legislator—a bunch of trees got blown down and we tried to keep them upright. Dr. Huang brought his son along to help us. So we still have some good friends there, privately, and I can see why they would take office. Some haven’t changed.
But why be a city councilor? I am very clear about why I want to run, but I feel that many candidates of the Third Force are less clear about why. I am genuine in being a politician, and my positions are very clear.
Of course, everyone has their views. If you are a DPP candidate or KMT candidate, who would really care? You’re all a bunch of old parties anyway.
It’s not just that being a small party makes you part of the Third Force, you could say. The Third Force should be like those who charged into the legislature on 318.
BH: Is there anything you would like to say in closing to readers?
YY: We only have one Taiwan, we only have one world. And politics is only momentary. Our responsibility towards the next generation is eternal. I sincerely hope that everyone can care about these issues together.
Politicians often do things wrong. So if I am voted in, I sincerely hope that everyone will provide oversight over me. I know that I will not change, but I still hope everyone won’t lack in this regard. Even if you don’t vote for me, please provide oversight over the person you vote in, whether they are striving earnestly to accomplish their promises, or whether they are dedicated to protecting the next generation.
If they are not, you must move to recall them, to recall this person you voted in, to not allow society to be affected. I hope for people to be warm and not cold towards this, because many things have happened in the past few years in Taiwanese society, and the principle reason is that of people’s coldness, that this did not allow for the expression of people’s views.
I believe we are moving towards a brighter society, but we must earnestly provide oversight, and we must express our views, much as with the Sunflower Movement, in which tens of thousands of people stood up.
The Sunflower Movement was the high point of many movements, such as the anti-nuclear movement, and other movements. But this tide has died down. We must allow a second tide to rush forward, to promote social change. It isn’t a small number of politicians or stars that the Sunflower Movement could happen, it was because of the people who live on this land and care about it. I believe that everyone in Taiwan has a responsibility, to not just believe in political stars, that everyone is the master of this land. These are my views and I hope everyone works hard.