Park’s impeachment inspires young protesters

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Park’s impeachment inspires young protesters

The motion to impeach President Park Geun-hye has been passed at the National Assembly and the president now faces both the judgement of the Constitutional Court and the probe of the independent counsel, but for some who have rallied for weeks through the snow and the rain, the movement has only begun.

“Remember that the people of this country have already triumphed,” reads a statement issued by a group of high school students in Seoul on Dec. 12. “We students have the right to be angry if a teacher embarrasses students with a lewd comment.”

A group of students at the high school decided to publicly accuse a teacher for allegedly saying during class, “You look like someone from a pornographic video.”

After their statement, the Seoul education office dispatched officials to investigate and report the case to local police, who have been investigating the case since Thursday. Others are taking part in such movements to address the wrongs in their lives by speaking up in unison.

“The school sends us to dance in front of soldiers while wearing miniskirts,” posted a user at @suhmoon1234, a Twitter account created by a student at Suh Moon Girls’ Middle and High School, whereby users can make anonymous reports.

“We are not free to wear sneakers without a pass from a doctor,” reads another post on the account. School regulations require students to wear dress shoes at all times except during physical education classes.

The anonymous posts accused eight teachers of sexually assaulting students, and the Seoul education office dispatched officials to the school to investigate.

“I created the account after I saw someone else report the school for wrongdoing on Twitter,” the student who created the account told the JoongAng Ilbo.

This younger generation has been dubbed “the Sprite generation” on social media for their refreshingly candid and vocal activism compared to former generations.

When a woman was murdered in May in a public bathroom in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, a Twitter user started a movement to put Post-it notes at Exit No. 10 of Gangnam Station. When an allegation that the man may have been a misogynist went viral, thousands of women posted anti-misogynist statements at the gate.

A series of culture moguls, including the writer Park Bum-shin and cartoonist Lee Ja-hye, have been called out this year on social media platforms for their alleged sexual assault of female coworkers or minors. Park and Lee later issued public apologies.

“Individuals sacrificed their rights for the sake of economic growth in the age of industrialization, and sacrificed for the sake of democracy during the age of democratization,” said Chun Sang-chin, sociology professor at Sogang University. “But the younger generation today is more sensitive when it comes to their rights.”

“The people spoke up for a specific cause [at the anti-Park rallies] and they were able to achieve it together,” said Suh Yi-jong, sociology professor at Seoul National University. “And millions have now shared this experience.”

According to a survey of 1,000 women and men over 19 in Korea, conducted in October by the JoongAng Ilbo, 73 percent of the respondents said they “didn’t express their anger” when they were wronged, while 16.5 percent said they “requested a correction” to the attitude or action they felt was wrong.

But when it came to their future action, 40.2 percent said they intend to do so. And while only 0.4 percent said they reported wrongdoings on the internet, 10.4 percent said they will in the future. The increasing power of social media was evident during the anti-Park candlelit rallies.

“Will I be able to buy an LED candle in front of Seoul National University Station?” posted a user in a KakaoTalk chat room on Nov. 12.

“They’re all sold out here,” another user responded, “but I bought plenty. We can meet up at Gwanghwamun Square.”

Facebook also helped students of Gachon University express their anger and request an apology from Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung over his alleged remark about the university.

“We have the right to be angry over this matter,” wrote one user on a Facebook page titled Gachon University Bamboo Forest, taking its name from a Korean myth in which a king’s servant shouted the truth - that the king had donkey ears - and a bamboo forest grew in that place.

These movements are having an impact, too.

In fact, some experts have called for swift measures in the central government to revamp its political system and ensure people’s voices are heard and responded to immediately.

“The fact that people are expressing themselves through a third route shows that the democratic system in Korea has many loopholes and is not fully defending the rights of the people,” said Song Kyung-jae, professor and researcher at Kyung Hee Institute for Human Society.

“People are feeling for the first time since the 1987 democratization movement that they can bring about political change,” said professor Chun of Sogang University. “Korea needs systemic reform lest this energy creates a sense of loss and frustration when they do not lead to tangible change.”

“We have to start the discussion now about how to bring together the voice of the people and policymaking of this country,” said Yoon Pyung-joong, a philosophy professor at Hanshin University in Osan, Gyeonggi. “What the people want is a complete rebuilding of the country. And the political leaders must now seriously think about how to create a system whereby the requests of the people made at these rallies can be met by the government.”

BY HONG SANG-JI, PARK MIN-JE AND ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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