President Park, Resign!
On Saturday, November 12, 2016, tens of thousands of people from all over South Korea congregated at Gwanghwamun Square and nearby areas in Seoul to protest the misdeeds of South Korean President, Park Geun-Hye. The New York Times can do a much better job than I at explaining the events that have led to the third in a series of protests that have shut down the heart of Seoul.
I arrived around 7pm at Euljiro 1(il)-ga Station, slightly east of where the main protest activities were happening, but the station and all the surrounding areas were already packed with people of all ages. People had been converging around City Hall since 2pm, with numbers growing as the day progressed.
As I moved towards the main stage, southwest of where I had arrived, by following the people walking along the street, I was surprised time and time again at the sheer number of people that had gathered. The area between City Hall and Gwanghwamun Square is a well-known tourist spot and often used for festivals, but it was my first time being packed so tightly between people. There was some pushing and shoving as the crowd moved slowly, but everyone was incredibly civil and calm. When they were not chanting President Park, Resign! (박근혜는 퇴진하라) and some other variations of it, people were chatting with their friends, updating their Facebook statuses, and seemingly enjoying their night out.
Having been a student at University of California, Berkeley during the Occupy Movement, I was surprised at how well-behaved everyone was. There were even teams of college students who moved around the protest area, picking up trash and organizing it for the city’s cleanup crew.
In contrast to the seriousness with which ordinary citizens voiced their discontent with Park’s Administration and the direction of their society, the protest resembled not an angry mob but a music festival. Dozens of famous acts serenaded the crowd in-between chants, with many of their most popular hits re-imagined for the event.
Many people were also eating and drinking on the street, using the grassy areas on the City Hall lawn or even some of sidewalk as their own personal picnic space. Street vendors were likewise on high alert, churning out lamb skewers and other popular street foods for the hungry crowds.
The protest was also very much a family event, with many parents bringing their children along to fulfill their civic duty.
Some of the children excitedly waved around signs and repeated the slogans created by organizers even though they were surely too young to truly understand what was happening.
But still, it warmed my heart.
It made me incredibly happy to see so many Korean people, regardless of their own personal opinions, usual routines, and other differences that made them strangers, come together for what they believed in.
And strangely enough, I felt as though I was included.
As a foreigner, an American citizen, both strangers and friends wondered why I even showed up to the protest. What happens in South Korea should not affect me. Hell, we are having our own problems in the United States right now.
But curiously enough, what happens in South Korea does affect me.
South Korea is a second home for me. Even though I cannot participate as a citizen, if I can stand for what is right, that is enough for me.
So what happens from here? Will this overly polite demonstration change anything?
I asked one of my Korean friends that accompanied me this very question. He seemed to think so, even though he could not explain to me how protesting would be able to spark any real change. After all, they were just ordinary citizens without power in the government.
But still, I understood what he felt.
If the protest has taught me anything, it would be that we do not need to be the sun to be seen. We only need to be one of the thousands of candles and glow sticks to create a sea of light.