Final Week: the Asian Young Leaders for Democracy program

Last week (8/18 – 8/22)

Finally, we had the AYLD! I’m disappointed that I decided not to stay for the whole conference, though I would’ve flown back Monday and started class Wednesday. At least I stayed for half of it. I’m grateful to Ya-wei (my supervisor) because I got to interact with the participants and help with their sessions, meaning I heard from all the guest lecturers. We had talks about indigenous rights, disinformation, human rights law, digital security, democratic innovation, and more. Of course it was satisfying seeing the payoff from our preparations. It was also funny sometimes. For example, I had prepared the roommate assignments and apparently put two people together who were roommates at a similar democracy conference earlier in the year! They asked me if it had been intentional, but it really wasn’t.

My favorite session was a talk by I-jou Wu and a woman from the Fake News Cleaner organization because I had interviewed I-jou and closely followed the Fake News Cleaners. Their talk was moderated by J Michael Cole, a journalist who is big in the Taiwan watching international community. Hearing him in person was very cool. Another session I enjoyed was a presentation by the Professor Carol Fu, from the Center for the Democratic Innovation and Governance. She talked about deliberative democracy and participatory budgeting, which I realized is design thinking applied to governance. One of my activities on campus is to use design thinking for consulting, so it was awesome seeing two of my interests merged in this way. I’d already been thinking about ways to apply design thinking to my academic discipline, and this was a perfect example.

Learning from the participants was equally exciting. We had people from thirteen different countries, some of which I’m embarrassed to admit I know little about. The biggest takeaway from my interactions was a realization of how lucky I am as an American, where human rights are well-protected, if not perfect. One day during AYLD talked about Taiwan’s challenges with transitional justice, and I realized some of the people here may never even see their countries transition from authoritarianism, let alone have full justice done. A young woman from Indian-administered Kashmir told me she wished the international community would realize how severe the current occupation is. She envies the media coverage on Hong Kong, wishing that even worse atrocities could be given equal attention.

The memorial section of the Jing Mei  White Terror Memorial Park. On the left, you can see a wall of names of the people who were detained here.

The memorial section of the Jing Mei White Terror Memorial Park. On the left, you can see a wall of names of the people who were detained here.

AYLD visited the National Human Rights Museum’s Jing Mei White Terror Memorial Park. Jing Mei was a detention center during Taiwan’s White Terror authoritarian period. Many of those detained here were political prisoners, and most of those were wrongly convicted. We had the privilege of meeting a survivor from the period. Mr. Chen Chin-shen (陳欽生) is a Malaysian man who was arrested at the age of sixteen and spent over two decades in detention. He described in detail his brutal torture, forced confession, and long internment. He sang for us the song which prisoners would use to comfort each other when one of them was taken for execution. Mr. C related his struggle to resume life after martial law, how Malaysia had changed too much for him to feel at home, how he remained homeless for several years with fellow former prisoners, and how he eventually found the will to fight for justice.