There are plenty of articles out there on the nuts and bolts of today's marriage equality rally: estimates are that 250,000 attended (and also that the "200,000" number quoted for the anti-equality rally was misleading: that was the total for every event across the country, not the demonstration downtown, which was more like 100,000 it seems). I personally feel, based on no scientific principles whatsoever, that it was more. I was at the protest against the military after Hong Zhongqiu's death - I remember estimates of 200,000 - this was more. I was at the Sunflowers, which was reported as 100,000 (but was well-known to be more like 400,000). This sure felt like more. At that protest, we were able to walk up to the Jingfu Gate and more or less walk around - this time it was impossible to do that (we ended up seated near it only because we showed up on the early side). When I walked back to NTU Hospital to use the bathroom, I looked down Zhongshan Road away from the center of the rally, towards Zhongxiao - and I'm telling you, I could not see the end. It just kept going.
I'm not sure it matters, though, and don't take my word for it. If the anti-equality crowd was about 100,000 in Taipei, and we hit 250,000, we dwarfed them.
And yes, it matters.
They'll tell you that most attendees were young - this is true, though I did see some aunties and uncles and a few grandparental older folks around.
They'll tell you the numbers decisively outclassed the Bigot Rally last weekend.
They'll tell you that people from all major political parties spoke - the DPP, the NPP and Jason Hsu of the KMT (who, as KMT folks go, is not a bad dude. Perhaps delusional about his own party, but otherwise he's basically okay).
They will also tell you that Taiwan is poised to be the first country in Asia to legalize marriage equality, and that the final reading of the bill (there are three in question but the attendees today specifically support the one that would amend the language of the Civil Code rather than be appended to it, and certainly not a third bill proposing civil partnerships) is the day after Christmas.
That's all necessary information, but it's all already available, so I wanted to offer perhaps a more emotional reaction to this event.
This never had to be my fight. I'm straight and married. I could have easily stayed home and said it really wasn't my issue. It doesn't affect me directly (but, through my friends, it does affect me in a way). I came out because it was the right thing to do. If there's one thing my mom, who will have passed away 2 years ago this Monday, taught me, it's that you do things because they're the right thing to do, even if they don't have to be your fight. My mom was an activist and involved person in her community, as well as a big-hearted, generous and liberal person. I felt like I was carrying a touch of her spirit with me - at least if I believed in spirits, which I don't - by attending an event to support equal rights simply because it is the right thing to do, and for no other reason.
I've heard from others, too, that they had 'cry moments', or were getting misty-eyed. For a lot of people, it must have been really wonderfully overwhelming to see that their fellow citizens do, in fact, support them. Others were just blown away by the love, inclusiveness and camaraderie. I had mine too.
I have to say as I exited NTU Hospital MRT station and saw, before the event's start time of 1pm, that it was already packed, I had my first emotional reaction. This is really happening, I thought. Enough people are going to come out to support equality. We're really going to do this.
As I met my friends and we walked toward Ketagalan Boulevard, I misted up again several times - just watching how big it was, how many people felt that not only should they quietly support marriage equality, but that they needed to come out in person to show the legislature how popular the idea really is.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Often when I visit the US, I am asked about Taiwan with this assumption that it is a conservative country (if people asking can differentiate it from China or Thailand in any case). It's in Asia, which Westerners often associate with 'conservative'. It continues many traditions that have died out in China - which is not to say that Chinese culture is "preserved" in Taiwan as many like to claim, rather, these cultural elements have evolved to be uniquely Taiwanese - and religious practice has very deep and traditional roots here. There is no concept of the existence of a young Taiwanese Left (or of a society that simply is not that conservative), or that that left might have some striking similarities to the American Left. To this end, imagine my frustration when trying to explain something like the fight for marriage equality or even the Sunflowers to someone who has no concept of these movements in a non-Western context, or rather no room for them in their preconceived notions of what any given Asian country is like.
Even when I try to show, based on real evidence (poll numbers, social issues, civic activism), that there is a vibrant and popular Taiwanese Left that can now be said to outnumber the right, it's been dismissed because it doesn't fit their concept of a 'traditional Asian society'. Liberal causes can't be that popular, it's a traditional society. It can't be that progressive, it's Asia after all.
So, coming out today and seeing hard evidence, by the numbers, that in fact equal rights is important to the people of Taiwan, liberal causes are popular, and people will show up made me a bit misty-eyed. I wasn't just trying to twist reality to fit my worldview - this is real. The enthusiasm is real. You could feel it - it wasn't angry, tight-lipped, prayerful, admonishing or dismissive (and outright threatening to outsiders, including journalists) in the way that the anti-equality rallies have been - it was warm, open, loving, and welcoming.
But what really got me was textual evidence of all of this:
I'm not going to lie - I am really happy I was not with my friends when I saw this. Something about this sign struck me like an arrow - I love the reclaiming of identity as people begin to call themselves "Formosan" to distance themselves from the "Chinese Provincial" sound that has unfortunately come to be associated with the name "Taiwan" for some. I love the historical callbacks not only to the Portuguese name, from a time before Chinese meddling (and a great deal of Chinese emigration), but to the short-lived and unrecognized Republic of Formosa and - at least in Chinese - to the Kaohsiung Incident. It was striking if you stopped to think about it, truly.
It could have been that, or perhaps the plainspoken sincerity and full-throated civic engagement in the semantics of "respect for basic human rights" and "We the people".
Or it could have just been that I'd been there all day, feeling all the feels.
Either way, I walked by this particular sign and I won't lie. Little tears - the good kind - started pricking at my eyes and a few ran down my cheeks. It wasn't quite an ugly cry, but had you looked, you would have noticed.
All in a good way, but odd for someone who does not cry very often, and almost never does so in public.
What can I say - we did good. Taiwan did good. We made it right after all of those anti-equality protests, and showed them, the legislature, President Tsai and the world what Taiwan is really about. It was inspiring.
I think this video really says it all. If you want to cry too, go ahead and watch it. I appear at some point, a clip from the longer video I linked to on Thursday night. I said something like, Taiwan is a place that accepts all kinds of people. [The Taiwanese spirit] is a spirit of freedom. It's a spirit of equal rights.
And that's really it - Taiwan proved today that this is exactly the case. The Taiwanese spirit is not one of discrimination, separation, dogma, inequality or exclusion. The Taiwanese spirit is the spirit of democracy and acceptance of different backgrounds, people and lifestyles (whether they are chosen or biologically wired).
This is why I am confident that the Taiwanese will push their elected legislature - which serves the people, not the churches that represent less than 5% of the people - to do the right thing on December 26th.
Because it is simply the right thing to do.
In the end, perhaps that's what brought on the tears for so many of us.
Anyway, enjoy some pictures:
|I only just now realized that I totally got photobombed. Can you see it?|
|NPP Legislator and former Sunflower leader Huang Guo-chang speaks|