Taking it all in

Is this actually my last week at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD)? And my second to last week in Taipei? 時間真過得太快了 — time really moves too fast.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting 20 inspiring young activists during the biggest event of my internship, TFD’s 4th annual Asia Young Leaders for Democracy (AYLD) conference. They hailed from all over Taiwan and Asia, and there was even one participant from Finland who has done disability activism and emergency preparedness all over the world before joining us in Taipei. The others had equally interesting backgrounds and life stories. It was humbling to hear their experiences empowering indigenous youth and fighting for indigenous political representation in Taiwan, researching the influence of Xi Jinping’s politics throughout Greater China, being detained for posting blogs criticizing governmental corruption, organizing students and workers in Hong Kong, and doing other activism, direct action, and academic work in democracy. Laughing, chatting, and getting to know the participants in between formal sessions was really good for personalizing AYLD as well. I have so many mentors to look to now if I ever want to pursue human rights work in Asia in the future, plus getting to know everyone as people made us all even more invested in each other’s liberation and human rights struggles.

Group photo following the last lecture with Oyun Sanjaasuren, Chair of the Zorig Foundation (center, front)

In addition to visiting various government offices and historical sites in Taipei that outlined Taiwan’s march toward democracy, the participants, TFD staff, and I got to hear from many distinguished speakers including Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy, and Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Secretary General of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances and the 2016 recipient of TFD’s Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award. Topics ranged from religious extremism and persecution, misinformation and fake news, women’s rights, LGBTQ representation in Asian media, and indigenous issues. The participants always had such insightful comments and questions for the lecturers, and I enjoyed taking notes during their independent discussion sessions where they developed and drafted their own human rights declaration. The whole process made doing major human rights work so much more accessible in my eyes; all you need to make a change is a starting point or issue, the passion to want to do something about it, and the effort and courage to see it through.

Things have been pretty quiet around the office since the conference ended: the participants flew home with their action plans and us staff and interns have been focusing our attention on various wrap-up tasks. I’ve also been returning my focus to my original article on LGBT NGO’s in Taiwan, conducting my second interview with Wen-Chien Hsu at the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights. I’ve gathered so many interesting stories and data on the contributions grassroots activism has played in the LGBT acceptance movement in Taiwan, and I’m excited to present the final product soon.

Wen-Chien Hsu, me, and Henry (our translator) taking a picture after the interview

An exchange student and explorer at heart, I’ve also been dedicating my last weeks in Taipei to visiting the city’s major attractions and most interesting sites. My favorite recent memory has been spending a Sunday afternoon at the 228 Memorial Park. In light of recent events back home, I truly admire the general willingness in Taiwan to recognize, be accountable for, and attempt to rectify the darkest moments in their history. I spent a good amount of time admiring and paying my respects to the 228 Massacre Monument.

Part of the 228 Massacre Monument.

While there, I also saw indigenous activists camped out in tents. They were part of a demonstration to put pressure on the Tsai administration to take more comprehensive action to realize transitional justice for indigenous peoples in Taiwan. It illustrated to me that although a lot of progress has been made, there is still much to be done to bring justice and equality to the most marginalized people in the world. And until that happens, we, as activists and members of human rights organizations, cannot be satisfied with anything less.

I am so grateful to TFD for all the new experiences and perspectives I’ve gained at my internship, as well as for facilitating my education in Taiwanese history, society, and culture. I cannot wait to see the great things everyone I came in contact with this summer and I will do in human rights in the future.


Written by Natalie Johnson ’20, FSI Global Policy Intern at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy in Taipei, Taiwan.