100,000 Koreans protest against US beef
The US beef policy is no mere economic issue for the marchers.
It's in part an indictment against the new President Lee Myung-bak, his conservative allies and policies. Protesters say that the US beef issue highlights a fundamental democratic deficit in the new conservative regime.
The protest comes after South Korea's entire cabinet offered to resign amid the continuing protests.
Yonhap news agency said President Lee Myung-bak was likely to accept the resignations of several ministers.
The June 10th protests marked the 21st anniversary of the 1987 nation-wide rallies that toppled the Chun Doo-hwan military government and brought about democratization.
From the interviews of participants and news reports, one gets the sense that this year's protests are not only about the US beef issue but also about preserving the spirit of the democracy movement of the 1970's and 1980's.
President Lee Myung-bak's win last November was a blow to the progressive movement in Korea. And President Lee's missteps on beef imports and his 'Grand Canal' boondoggle, gave the progressives enough ammunition for this latest round.
On Tuesday, the police set-up huge shipping containers at the Kwangwhamun intersection, to block the marchers from continuing onto the presidential Blue House. For the protesters, the container blockade aka "Myung-bak's Fort" became a symbolic focal point of President Lee's regime.
OhmyNews, Korea's citizen journalism site, was on the scene and reported on the following reactions:
송아무개(51)"21년 전에는 대학교 4학년이었는데 매일 같이 최루탄 맞고 정말 바쁘게 지낸 것 같다. 87년 6월 항쟁 이후엔 우리의노력으로 민주화를 쟁취한 것 같았는데 요새 보면 민주화가 후퇴한 느낌이다. 대통령은 국민의 소리를 들어야 한다. 정말 감회가새롭다. 지금 아침이슬 노래가 나오는데 그 때 참 많이 따라 불렀던 노래다. 더 이상 말을 못하겠다. 이렇게 많은 국민이나왔으니 그 때처럼 국민의 요구가 관철될 것이다."
trans. Mr. Song (51 years old): "21 years ago I was in my senior year of college and I was so busy marching and getting tear-gased. Following the June protests of 1987 we brought about the democratization of this country but recently I feel like we've gone backwards. The president must listen to the voices of the public. And today I feel something new. When I heard our familiar protest songs, I remembered how often we sang those songs. I can't speak anymore. Today, so many many of our citizens came out, I know that our voices will be heard as in 1987.
배광태(42) "87년, 그때 대학생으로 참여했었다.
학생들이 먼저 시위를 하고 기성세대인 넥타이부대가 합류했다. 지금은 어린 학생들이 촛불을 들었는데 솔직히 나는 그때 열정이
죽어서 이런 저런 핑계로 촛불집회에 나오지 않았다. 하지만 경찰이 학생과 시민들을 폭력 진압하는 것을 보고 참을 수 없었다.
그때 열정이 되살아나는 것 같다. 앞장서고 싶지 않았지만 이제는 우리 같은 기성세대들이 힘을 실어줘야 할 것이다. 지금까지
촛불을 든 어린 학생들에게 참 미안하고 고맙다."
trans. Bae Kwang-tae (42 years old): "In 1987, I participated in the protests as a college student. At that time, the students were the first to protest and then the white-collar workers, the "necktie-brigade" joined. When the young high-school students first began the candlelight vigils this year, to be honest, my passion had died and I didn't participate. But when I saw the police block the students and citizens with such force I couldn't stand it. I didn't want to be in the frontlines, but I think now, we have to gather our support. I want to express my gratitude to the young students who have held the candlelight vigils until now."
The protests are also an indictment against Korea's mainstream media, accused of being 'conservative cronies' of the new regime.
Koreans were upset due to the process of the negotiation of the trade between the US and Korea and due to unconditional support from major media for the current government. Candlelight vigils were expected to disappear after several days, but they have continued more than 40 days and more people with their families participate every night.
And recently, major conservative newspapers, ‘Cho-Joong-Dong’ – an abbreviation of the names of the three biggest Korean newspapers – have been seriously attacked by netizens. Netizens announce a battle with newspapers.
Campaigns not to subscribe Cho-Joong-Dong, not to go to restaurants that subscribe to Cho-Joong-Dong, not to watch KBS—the national broadcaster— to subscribe to other progressive newspapers, to leave other newspapers in subways for other commuters, to praise companies that give advertisements to other newspapers, to protest companies that put advertisements in Cho-Joong-Dong, and not to purchase products of those companies, are spread by the Internet. Netizens actively share their ideas on how to promote their campaigns.
While major media hasn’t treat this movement seriously, the campaignin several days has prompted a 30 percent decrease in advertisementrequests in the Chosun Newspaper. Netizens’ activities even led severalcompanies to decide to cancel their advertisements to Cho-Joong-Dongnewspapers and to put public apologies about their advertisements on their websites.
Korean netizens are well-equipped to mobilize and share information and news through mobile communication networks.
They give light to candlelight vigils and physical conflicts between demonstrators and policemen on the popular Internet channel, Afreeca (Korean Youtube), which was the territory of broadcasting. Their mobile phones and gadgets are used for sharing visual experiences with non-participants and those graphics are transferred to the Internet instantly.
Danny Kim at Technokimchi cites the protests as what he calls "true citizen journalism."
How did it happen so quickly? This is the fun part. Lee is a very conservative guy, who still believes in "control". What he did was, when numerous protests broke out around the country, he basically ordered the media companies "not to report" to the people about what's happening. There were police at work, trying to stop the "peace candlelight" protests, or vigils now called; some police went quite violent, but none to be reported by major broadcasters, newspapers, Internet news sites, or magazines.
But we're living in the age of Web 2.0. Now people are in control. People that were there became citizen journalists - thousands and thousands. And the force of citizen journalism has grown so immense that basically nobody can stop it now.
The first site was an online discussion forum called "Agora", run by Daum, one of the largest portals in Korea. Citizens got mad at President Lee that they started an online signing of impeachment movement on Agora; within the next few days the number of votes/signs reached 1.5 million--CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT! Some of the articles written by citizens at the protest sites drew millions of views and thousands of comments, like EVERYDAY.
Bloggers were second to none in this, obviously. Some blogger protesters were detained at police stations. However, even from there, they kept reporting on their blogs using their cellphones. Obviously, there were new star bloggers born.
But more than anything, here's where I think Korea is awesome! People are gadget-gods. We have ubiquitous connections everywhere in Seoul. What do citizens do? They live-videocast the protests using their devices on Wibro. Afreeca, which used to be barely top 5 video services in Korea, let its users livecast from the protest sites. Basically, it got really popular and became No.1 video site in Korea just in days. Why? Because other services were scared of the political pressure from the gov't, while Afreeca wasn't. So more people flocked together at Afreeca and Afreeca has been living happily ever after.
Danny also commented on OhmyNews coverage:
We also have an amazing story on how none other than OhMyNews was able to pull off something amazing on its video coverage:
As of June 6, some 34,000 viewers have contributed over 130 million won ($130,000) for the live Web casting. For many Korean expats working or studying abroad but who still wish to follow the drama in Seoul, OhmyTV was the only source available to them. They were the most frequent financial contributors of all, paying a disproportionate amount of money.
In summary, the lessons taken from the whole situation:
- You just simply can't stop citizens from being reporters when they're motivated and equipped with technology;
- No matter how much control or pressure are exerted on mass media, "new media" is the new king;
- All these principles used in blog marketing, such as
transparency, authenticity, and truth, are for real; if you look
sketchy, you're gonna get caught. Millions are watching you.