Reign in Occupy YeouidoThe Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York against the super-rich and corporate greed is now expected to spread to the financial district in Seoul. Four consumer rights’ groups are slated to hold “Occupy Yeouido” rallies today in the capital’s financial center to demand responsible action from the financial authorities, aid programs for victims of financial corruption and greater financial equality. In downtown Seoul, some 30 civilian activist groups have launched the so-called “99% joint action committee” to hold solidarity rallies. They are joining the global movement sparked by the sit-ins in Manhattan urging people to stand up against the super-rich 1 percent who benefit from various unjust financial mechanisms.
But in Korea, the Occupy protests could evolve into a broad, ideology-tainted antigovernment campaign. The groups joining the demonstrations include the Korean Alliance against the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the National Farmers’ Coalition and the Korea Alliance for Progressive Movement. Their primary preoccupation is highly political campaigning to derail the free trade deal with the U.S., abolish unfair treatment for contractual workers, block the four-rivers restoration project and revise controversial legislation like the Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. These aims are far away from the goals of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
The rallies are also organized differently. The protests in U.S. cities began through an online campaign and citizens willingly joined in. But the Seoul protests have been organized by established antigovernment groups, which raises questions about the genuine purpose of the demonstrations. The Seoul groups may be riding the global movement to unite progressive organizations and stir up nationwide protest. And the groups, which are usually anti-American, are jumping on the chance to import an American protest.
The police have already declined to approve the Occupy Yeouido rallies. But the organizers are used to staging illegal protests and may clash with police. In addition, the solidarity protests may not end as a one-time event. It is important that the government rein in the protests now, while still in an early stage. The government must also demonstrate strict law enforcement measures against these unauthorized and illegitimate street protests. If we are not careful, the protests could develop into the kind of manic vigils that were organized against U.S. beef a few years ago. And that would be a shame.