by Brian Hioe
English /// 中文
Photo credit: 黃郁芬 士林北投加分/Facebook
Translator: Brian Hioe
On September 30th, New Bloom editor Brian Hioe interviewed Meredith Huang of the New Power Party, who is running in the Shilin-Beitou 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: Can you first introduce yourself for readers who might not know you?
Meredith Huang: Hi, everybody. I am the New Power Party’s (NPP) candidate for the Shilin-Beitou area, Meredith Huang. In the past, I participated in the Sunflower Movement and served as a spokesperson for the movement. Afterwards, I worked in Tsai Ing-Wen and Chen Chien-jen’s election office, at the creative media center. After the end of the Sunflower Movement I was involved in a lawsuit regarding the movement, along with Lin Fei-Fan, Denis Wei, Chen Wei-Ting, Zhou Fu-yi, Huang Kuo-Chang, and others, primarily because of the movement. My lawyer was Wellington Koo.
After he became a legislator, he asked me if I wanted to go work in his office. Since my lawyer was asking me this, I couldn’t turn him down. [Laughs] Subsequently, I worked as a legislative assistant in Wellington Koo’s office. Later, he took up a position in the Party Assets Investigation Committee, because he felt this work is very important. So he asked me if we also wanted to go over and help out there, so I went. Afterward, up until last year, I worked in Freddy from the NPP’s legislative offices in Taipei and he asked me if I wanted to run as a candidate. This is why I am currently running now in the Shilin-Beitou area.
BH: Why did you decide to run as a candidate? You mentioned that you have a background in social movements, why would you decide to run?
MH: As for why I would decide to run, this is related to what I said regarding my previous work. Of course, there are some things that are similar in my previous work and some things that are different. As a political worker, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are running yourself. I think this goes all the way back to past movements, such as protests about evictions in Dapu, Miaoli, which was then seen as a new start for the rural movements of Taiwan, the anti-media monopoly movement, and numerous other movements
These different social movements built up to the Sunflower Movement, which quite visibly mobilized an enormous amount of people, and this led to pressure on the government. But I believe we have to keep in mind the many elders who participated in social movements before us and their many sacrifices, which is why I just say that I was a participant in the movement and don’t claim that I had any larger role.
From participating in social movements, I believe I was changed by these events. As you could see, the government was not carrying out changes, and it ended up that, as an undergrad or as a graduate student, you ended up having to participate in these things. When you are participating in social movements, you see that the system has no way of addressing these issues. But I believe that in addressing an issue, participating in a social movement is only the first half of it, in bringing a large group of people together in addressing an issue.
So you will have a demand and you will address a situation. That demand is for a way of addressing a situation, or you confront a problem that can’t be fixed, that may be passed on to other people in the future. However, what I mean by this only being the first half of it is, you also have to enter into the system, and try to change the system. Such as through amending laws, changing government institutions, or influencing their work. This is the way to change society.
The second phase cannot be completed by social movements. It is, as I just described, that social movement can only accomplish the first half. The second half, however, can’t be pushed forward by social movements alone. I don’t think it’s entirely correct to say that that social movements can’t move the second half forward, but rather, it is a cyclical process, where there is a feedback loop that allows the issue to develop further. This is like Hegel’s dialectic, where thesis meets antithesis.
In a more ideal situation, social movements and activists could have ties with the government bodies to conduct dialogue and interact. Because those who find issues are never those inside the government. Having worked inside the government, I know that there is sometimes difficult to discover issues within the minutiae of everyday work. This doesn’t always mean that there is no willingness to address these issues within the government, although there definitely are also many people who are not interested in doing that. But ideally, there should be a way for those outside of the system to make demands on those within it.
And when these demands are received, they should be properly addressed and taken care of. Because we have seen many times, demands by society or social movements would change forms once they enter the system, and they, on some level, sort of wake up the people in the system, when in fact, the demands were not met. For me at the time, I observed myself that the effect is that the system becomes willing to listen and help.
Those willing to properly take up demands in the system and to carry out things properly are too few, while there are many outside of the system. This leads to large disparities.
In the end, you often can follow a more ideal path. it does not need to be pure and entirely ideal, but it does not stray too much from the demands of the social movements once they enter the system. The more actions are performed, they should be closer to the demands. I see that there are too few willing people in the system, and that is why I’d like to work in politics.
Because of this, when Freddy Lim asked me to run, he met with me many times. If you interview him later on, you can ask him this as well. Anyway, I started to get a bit afraid whenever he called me, because he always would want to ask me the same thing. I originally felt that my personality was not suited to running, and that I was quite suited to work as an assistant, that I was confident in my work.
So I kept refusing him, but after talking with him about various matters, there was no way I could ignore it. We talked about the importance of 2018 local elections, with regards to how long the social influence of the Sunflower Movement could last? 2018 is a very important election, as the NPP’s first local election, seeing as this raises the issue of whether the NPP could become a more complete party. Because the NPP has had some successes after the Sunflower Movement riding on the wave of calls for social change after the Sunflower Movement, as has others. I believe Ko Wen-je and Tsai Ing-wen are two other examples. For organizations, the, NPP has done well, but it still is not stable.
Journalists will often ask me about this. It depends what happens. The second point I would raise is that after the end of the Sunflower Movement, it has had a large influence on political workers, on Taiwan’s political circumstances, and young people involved in politics, or those of us who were sucked into politics.
For example, working in the Legislative Yuan, regardless of party affiliation with pan-Blue or pan-Green parties, there are many legislative assistants from the politics department at Soochow University. Every year, many students from this department end up working in the legislature. In Taiwanese politics in the past, there are many closely linked systems like this, in which departments and certain universities would end up producing a large number of political workers. But you can see changes after the Sunflower Movement, with different people entering into the political system, who hadn’t been part of the political system before. So those participating in the political system are different than those who did in the past, and so this has quietly led to some changes.
What I mean is, I believe that this year’s election is very important, particularly for young people after the Sunflower Movement. I don’t believe anyone will disagree when I raise that after the Sunflower Movement, people began saying that young people were talented. But this was only after the Sunflower Movement and it’s already been four years. With this wave receding, at the end of this year, with local elections, this will be significant for the KMT, DPP, NPP, and independent candidates.
For young participants in politics, regarding whether or not they will succeed, we think, in comparison to central elections, local elections has less space—these elections are, in fact, very difficult. In the past, we thought that for local elections, you would need money, or it would depend on who you were, such as if you belonged to a powerful local family, or a local faction.
You find ways to get elected through existing organizations, such as having money. For example, if you have money, you can spend the money and buy street billboards. Only if so would you stand a chance with local elections.
I believe that for this year’s election, this is key for the social force which emerged after the Sunflower Movement, calling for change, hoping for new politics, and to how far this force can go. Can this continue from the Sunflower Movement to this year? To allow young people to break through? I don’t know what the results of this year’s election will be. But I hope, ideally, that many young people can take office, as marking a first in Taiwanese history, that you don’t have to be part of a political family or a corporate representative to take office.
BH: What is particular about running in this area? Who are your opponents and what is your election strategy?
MH: Shilin-Beitou is a well-served area in Taipei. Because Shilin-Beitou is very large, I have many opponents in this area. There already 23 people running in this election district, for just 13 seats. I think that competitiveness for this area is probably only second to Daan-Wenshan, because there are 25 people running for 13 seats. Almost every party is running in this area, such as, of course, the KMT and the DPP, but also the NPP, SDP, Radical Party, Obasan Alliance, New Party, and independents. Many incumbents have no party affiliation.
If we are talking about election strategy, I think this is quite fun. The NPP hasn’t run in local elections and the NPP’s only experience in running in elections was 2016 legislative elections. Of course, in 2016, we also had to take into account the local area, and every legislator was able to get voted in a different way. Moreover, in this set of political circumstances, the NPP and DPP cooperated, but this year, the NPP is running on its own. You could say that the NPP is a party without experience in running elections. [Laughs]
So when you ask about strategy, we don’t think we have enough experience to be able to claim we have a what you would call a strategy. Because if you are talking about strategy, it seems that you must accumulate past experiences, from which, you develop certain methodologies. So we as NPP candidates, we must honestly say, we do not have too much of an organization, and we have no way of inheriting experiences.
To be blunt, we don’t have too much resources. This is very real. Our resources are very limited for local elections, so what we depend on are traditional methods, which I wouldn’t say is any real form of strategy. We use ways to try and make our candidates visible, and allowing them to be seen is the first step. Only then can you talk about other things. We must have a base for this, including standing on street corners, canvassing on the street or in traditional markets, or in parks. Where there are people, we go.
As for digital media, this requires resources. I know this quite well from being in Tsai Ing-Wen and Chen Chien-jen’s campaign offices, in the creative media center. We were responsible for Internet-based advertising, including videos, photos, and online activities, which can be linked to real-world activities.
But in doing this work in the past, I know that, for example, even just for a thirty second video, it’s very important to find the right people for lighting, background, the director, script, and this all requires money. But I don’t have that kind of money, so what I do now is that I recruited people with the necessary skills to my team for design, video, and etc. We also try to find ways to do some new things, such as pictures we put out on the Internet, that we try and post something every day, and our office has a large open space for us to hold events. We’ve held four events up to now.
I didn’t think that the results would be this good, so I have everyone to thank for that. Returning to what you asked, I think that the biggest differences is that, our staff are not people with too much experience at elections, who are veterans that have been through this many times. We have to conduct visits with local groups, but we are only able to do this to a certain extent. But we continue to try to do new things.
Like I said, with our office space, we left a large open space, and only use a small part of the space, because we want to do new things and hold events here, such as talks. When people come to this office, sometimes they are quite surprised it’s so large. We hold events about topics such as urban planning. Last time we invited a photojournalist whose beat is politics to come and share his process with us. I don’t think other candidates are doing these kinds of events and, for us, it’s no loss to try, so we try this.
BH: What do you think is the largest challenge you face in elections? We discussed resources a bit earlier.
MH: Resources are the first thing because, like I said, even if we try and meet as many people as possible in a frenzied manner, there are still limits to how many people we can met. There’s no limit online, but meeting physically, there are limits meeting with people one-by-one. Yet online, there are still limits, such as with Facebook, Instagram, or the website that Hsiao Hsin-cheng set up for us. I think this is something to think over.
Resources are one matter. But online, it also depends on resources, too, such as you also have to spend money on advertising and livestreams. A survey we were examining before found that most people still come to know their local candidates through billboards. Because everyone has a set route they walk on to get to work and commute home every day. If there is a billboard on your route, even if you look at it just for a few seconds every day, eventually it still leaves an impression on you and you will know who it is.
If you ask someone who is running in an area, even if they can only name three people, and if you are one of those three people, then you already stand a pretty good chance. This is what is ironic, that the information most people obtain is through this kind of use of spending resources on billboards. I have very little advertising because my resources are too limited.
Apart from resources, the question is how to mobilize the enthusiasm of Taiwanese voters.
BH: Do you think that contemporary developments in Taiwan, with the emergence of the Third Force, can be connected to international phenomenon?
MH: I think that this is definitely an international phenomenon. You can see that it’s not just Taiwan, you can also see France, Canada, and America having a similar phenomenon. I think it may also be similar in South Korea, the politicians they put into power are also somewhat different. For me, I think this is a global phenomenon, which is to say, everyone hopes for new politics, and have endured enough of the past, in which people would talk about things but not do them in the end. Everyone hopes for something new and different, which isn’t the established political structure.
BH: What do you think is different about elections this time as compared two years ago? Tsai Ing-Wen has been in office for two years and the NPP has been in the legislature for two years.
MH: It’s exactly that which is the biggest difference. A teacher I often listened to in the past who was very experienced with elections said that a narrative is very important for elections and whether elections are able to stir the passions of the people. People may be mobilized by a narrative For 2016, the narrative was very clear. Why? The KMT was in power then. For me, the KMT should have long ceased to exist. I feel that in Taiwanese society, or Taiwanese politics, the greatest difficulty is certainly that, there is a particularly unsuitable party that is persistently there.
As a result, for you to frame the KMT as a negative existence was very easy. So confronting this, it would be very easy for a narrative to emerge, of good versus evil, or progressiveness versus conservatism, and to create this sort of framework. The KMT was simply just that bad and it was easy to question its legitimacy. It was easy to inspire people’s desires for change.
But now with 2018 elections, it is different. The DPP is in power now. I would say that the DPP is a party which has accumulated liabilities, which is normal. Any party that is large enough will do so, and this is inevitable. As the ruling party—while the party needs to change—it is not as bad as the KMT. But it still carries political liability as the party in charge.
Then, as you know, NPP as a young party, it should have many criticisms against it and have many areas to improve. However, as a new party, with a low level of organization, it is very limited in terms of actions. This year, for example, regardless of DPP or NPP, each has its own political liability. For its own liability, DPP, for example, would have to face the fact that they occupy a majority in both local and central governments and in both executive and legislative branches. With being in the majority, it will need to face this political skepticism—that is, if they do not perform well enough, the responsibility belongs to them. This is certain.
As for the NPP, it is questioned because it has five legislators in power and if what you cannot do well enough, you will be criticized and questioned.
So this is the largest difference between 2016 and 2018. The KMT will be a critic now, and even if you don’t believe that it is qualified to be in this position, it can play this role because of the political ecology.. So it goes back to what you asked earlier, about the biggest challenge, and it returns to that the circumstances that the central government is controlled by a relatively more progressive government.
With these circumstances, you hope to preserve people’s political aspirations, or for them to hold onto their passions to push for change. But it is actually difficult to do so. I don’t have any formula to address this either. However, such is the nature of a democratic society. Public opinions can easily swing the other way. This is something we do not hope to happen.
BH: Lastly, what would you have to say to readers? Not only Taiwanese readers, but also international ones.
MH: I hope that if readers finish reading this long-winded interview, as to what I want to say is that, I don’t dare to say that I understand politics. After all. I am 28 years old, and I’m currently in the middle of elections. I am still learning at the same time I am doing.
There is something I have kept thinking about, whether as a legislative assistant or now as a candidate, which I want to share. Saying it seems like it’s obvious, but for me, politic lies in the minutiae of the everyday. What is important to push for change every day.
I felt this in the past as well. After experiencing the Sunflower Movement, you will come to believe in this source of social power, even if it’s now fading away. Every time you think of how this happened in Taiwan, you feel that this is very amazing, that this large social force with many people putting themselves on the line would take place. This is quite moving.
But I also have to admit, this is only one side of change. It’s a side of change that appears very rarely and we are very lucky to have seen and experienced it, but the truest aspect of change is in everyday life and continuing to push for change in everyday life. It may be a small change, but it can build up to be something substantial. This is what politics is like.
This is how politics takes its form on a daily basis, that is. You have to concern yourself with things and put the energy into doing them differently. If there is someone in the system who you think does things well, you should look over what they do, what they say, and what activities this person participates in, because this may all be carefully groomed and edited. But if they are truly able, you should see what they do in the long-term, that they continue to push for change, and don’t give up, and what they are able to change. This is very difficult, that in the midst of despair, you have to convince yourself otherwise, and that there are other possibilities which we should try.
BH: Thank you.