Now that we are approaching the elections for the new South Korea president, this post may be a little late coming. Still, I thought it would be worth it to write a bit about the protests that went on in Korea before Park Geun Hye was impeached.
As you may know, the most recent South Korean president was impeached due to a corruption scandal involving her relationship with Choi Soon Sil, the daughter of a shamanistic cult leader. Park is essentially considered to have been acting as the puppet of Choi Soon Sil. When this controversy came out, millions of Koreans took to the streets to protest and to demand Park’s impeachment. These protests received international attention for not only their size, but also for the peaceful nature in which they were conducted. The Korean population showed an incredibly united front across the nation with huge masses of people marching through cities, yet no violence broke out.
I saw a protest in Gwanghamun Square in Seoul, and although this was a little bit after some of the largest protests that went on, it was still fascinating and full of people. The protest was completely peaceful, but what was even more surprising was that the atmosphere was quite positive. Yes, there were some people with serious faces, chanting and carrying around signs that said “Impeach Park Geun Hye,” but there were also people smiling while chanting, there were children running around happily, and there were even many people taking advantage of the crowds and setting up various food carts and selling snacks. I almost felt as if I was at a fair instead of a protest. I also witnessed a small protest in Daegu that was actually in support of President Park (before the Constitutional Court had upheld her impeachment.) All of the people there were older, the only young people I saw were just casual on-lookers. This protest, too, was made up of smiling people cheering and singing and looking quite positive overall. The overall feeling was quite the opposite of what I might expect from a protest in the U.S., where protests seem to be more solemn, serious, and at times, aggressive and violent.
I admire the Korean people for their admirable approach to protest. Peaceful protest is an important political tool. It allows the demonstrators to maintain their dignity, and more importantly, they avoid serious violence that can bring harm to the demonstrators and others. Furthermore, the unity of these protests and the percentage of the Korean population that participated in them was impressive. Of course, I would love it if I could see more protests like that in the United States, but I question whether that is truly possible any time soon. In general, the U.S. is much more divided in terms of political opinion, and great tension exists between differing parties. It is difficult to find an issues that most Americans agree on, and it is often difficult to keep people from lashing out at one another violently when their opinions greatly differ. Police violence has also played a role in worsening the violent nature of many U.S. protests. On top of that, the U.S. is physically much larger. Having that large a percentage of the U.S. population in one place, rooting for the same cause is no easy feat.
Although it may be difficult, the U.S. needs to work towards holding protests that are as peaceful as the Korean protests have been. Peaceful protest can help U.S. citizens make their voices heard in politics while retaining their dignity and avoiding harm. They may also be able to garner support and admiration from other countries, as the Koreans have been able to do, by showing such an incredible act of unity. During this important time when the United States political realm has become so strongly divided, we must remember this is not an excuse to turn to violence or blind hatred.