by Diane Wilson
Follow Diane’s day-by-day account of the latest Global Hunger Strike against Formosa Plastics. You can join her by signing up here.
It’s raining and cold and my internet hot spot won’t work. I’m misspelling words. Every once in a while, I realize I’m focusing internally and out externally. I know this feeling because I have done hunger strikes before.
One of the internal daydreams I am having is about the Ethecon Foundation in Germany. A number of them went on extended fasts in solidarity with the Vietnamese fishermen. They know Formosa Plastics well. They gave Formosa Plastics Group (FPG), the family of FPG founder Y.C. Wang, Chairman Lee Chih-tsuen and all the top FPG management the Black Planet Award after a nomination and deliberation process that spanned several continents. The announcement in Berlin was made at a public ceremony in November 2009. I was very proud to present the Black Planet Award to Formosa Plastics.
Naturally Formosa Plastics did not come to receive their award so getting that award to them was the big question. On May 19, 2010 several Taiwan social and environmental justice organizations including Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association Taiwan, Mercy on the Earth Taiwan, Green Party Taiwan, Taiwan Watch Institute and the Green Formosa Front presented Formosa Plastics with the Black Planet Award. Again, they did not come to receive their award.
Then I was asked to present the Black Planet Award to Formosa Plastics at their upcoming shareholders meeting in Taiwan. And I was handed a flight ticket.
I caught the flight to Taiwan at 9 pm out of Houston, flew to San Francisco, and then to Taipei. I had a strange calmness that had nothing to do with jet lag. I think it was something to do with walking your path, talking the walk, walking your talk. It felt right. Pretty crazy. But it felt right.
In eighteen hours I was in Taipei and fell into the rabbit hole. At least I met the White Rabbit. His name was Robin and he was a former American, barefoot, his hair was sticking up all over his head, and he was grinning like a lunatic. He was the lawyer and he was so glad to see me. They had been so afraid that I would not make the trip, what with my prior arrests in Washington D.C. protesting BP polluting the Gulf of Mexico with oil and all. Well, they were just afraid I wouldn’t make it. Did I know that Formosa Plastics had called? Yes, they did, they wanted to know if Diane Wilson made her flight! Ah ha-ha, so funny! Formosa Plastics was probably in the car behind us.
Since the schedule was so tight, it was just going to have to be a whirlwind tour. I didn’t mind a whirlwind tour, did I? No, I didn’t mind at all!
Then I proceeded to get a knock-down-drag out account of what was going on with Formosa Plastics. To gear up for the award ceremony, presenting the FPG family, the Wangs, with the Black Planet Award, they had declared a mock “Formosa Plastics Month.” During that time they took out bus ads for over a month, featuring an image of Taiwan’s Sixth Naphtha Cracker Plant facility in Kaohsiung spewing clouds of smoke, while frightened-looking children begged, “give us back our clean air, soil and groundwater” …and most importantly, the large red Chinese character for “shame.”
They had taken ads out on twenty-three buses, along twelve Taipei bus routes, including the one passing in front of FPG’s own headquarters and its hospital. However, in a few short days, someone had apparently tipped off FPG, and the big red character for “shame” had been ripped off the buses. By the next day, all of the ads were down. The groups buying the ads were partially refunded while the bus company scrambled to say, “it wasn’t us.” And Formosa Plastics threatened to sue the advertising agent who thought up the ads.
I was first taken to the Taiwan Alkali Industrial Corporation plant in Tainan, a huge toxic waste area infamous for its high levels of dioxin, DDT and other pollution. Taiwan was an island off the coast of China and it had embraced industrialism with fervor on the order of boiling oil. That only thing that could possibly keep pace with their economic development was the rate of environmental destruction. Taiwan had the highest density of cars and factories in the world and was also one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Ninety thousand industrial firms were located in the rice fields and along the waterways and beside residential areas. The vast majority of the rivers were polluted. Everyone wore surgical masks to filter out the pollution from the factories. The air was so contaminated with sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that the air was harmful 17% of the year—and that was according to lenient Taiwanese standards.
In spite of this seemingly hopeless situation and given the nature of the opposition that they faced, I was amazed by the cheerful nature of the activists. They boldly pulled me into an EPA meeting that was full and in middle of discussing something. Sit here. Sit here, Robin said. Then he leaned over and told me he had asked that I be allowed to speak and the EPA administrators were going to allow it. Maybe fifteen minutes.
“What,” I asked, “I’m to speak?”
“Yes, yes. Fifteen minutes, maybe more.”
There was sudden dialogue between Robin and another man sitting at the end of huge conference table. Then another man sitting on the side spoke out. Robin was as cheerful as though I had just laid a spread of ice cream at his feet.
“The EPA director says you can talk for thirty minutes!” Robin said.
“Thirty minutes? Talk?”
“Yes, but that man from the park project said it is shameful to allow a Texan to talk. ‘What business is it of yours?'” Robin pointed him out. “See. That man. He is really afraid.”
Next I was invited by a member of Taiwan’s Parliament to take part in a dialogue with injured RCA workers. During the question and answer period about twenty reporters and video photographers came up to the platform where six of us sat. I didn’t understand what was going on, but the woman legislature smiled at me and told me to go. Go where? Robin grabbed my elbow and pulled me out in the hall. All of the reporters stood in front with cameras and video and looked at me.
“What’s going on, Robin?” I asked. “What are we doing out here? What do they want?”
Robin looked at me like it was the simplest thing in the world to understand. “They want to know what you are going to do to Formosa Plastics!”
Robin explained later, being an ex-American and all, that I was pretty much a rock star in Taiwan. I was fighting the biggest corporation in Taiwan. Yes, everywhere it was printed: “The Woman Who Fights Formosa Plastics.” I would surely do bad things to Formosa. What would I do, the reporters asked? Would I come to Formosa’s shareholders meeting? Formosa had beefed up their security. It was the heaviest in fifty years. Many many thugs. What would I do?
Okay this obviously was not going to be a simple mock award where I handed over the Black Planet Award to someone who looked like one of the Wang family members. It had to be the real thing. The Formosa Plastics shareholder meeting. Bust in the door!
I told my idea to Robin and several others and see if they could okay it. But how would we get into the extraordinarily secured SunWorld Dynasty Hotel to hand deliver the Black Planet Award on the day of the shareholders meeting? FPG will have a hundred black shirt thugs blocking the door.
“Simple,” I said. “We’ll spend the night at the SunWorld Dynasty the night before and just come down the elevator. We’ll ambush them from within.”
“Well, what if Formosa’s spies are tracking you already?”
“Well, then we will have two hotel rooms. One is fake and the other is real!”
Robin put Janis in charge of me. Janis was a short thin Taiwanese woman with cropped black hair, and she was the right hand of Robin. Whatever he needed done, she did it. Janis grabbed me by the hand and said, “Now we will book you into the hotels.” So we booked ourselves into a hotel where military officers stayed but the final hotel, the Sun World Dynasty, we didn’t book until late that night after we had snuck out of the first hotel.
Then we waited for the stakeholders meeting to be held the next day.
Throughout the night we got recruits that showed up on our seventh floor room. Eventually the room was full of laughing, joking Taiwanese activists, some lying on the floor, and others across the bed. They had found a dozen creative ways to shame Formosa Plastics. One woman brought in a backpack full of house slippers. I looked at them curiously and she put her hands in the shoes and slapped them together. They popped like firecrackers.
“Ah, yes!” I said. “That’s good! Better than drums!”
The activists brought rice treats and wrapped food delicacies that I looked at and admired. They’d offered me one but I’d point to the ongoing coffee machine hammering out coffee. “Yes!” they said and laughed, and then they shook their heads. “She is so crazy for coffee!”
At twelve noon, Robin came in, wild-eyed and wearing a suit. “See what I did? See? I’m wearing a suit! Holy Jeez!”
Then Robin came up to me and told me I would probably be deported. Even the legislator had said so: “Diane will be deported immediately. Taken in a car and driven to the airport.”
So that sent off a flurry of what to pack and what to leave. I couldn’t take any luggage to the shareholders action so I had to decide what could be packed in one bag and shipped to the United States behind my deportation. I walked around squinty-eyed, saying “Hmm…hmm…hmm.”
Robin made one run to me before he went below to start the action. “Okay? Okay?” he asked.
“Okay,” I said. “Okay.”
Then all of us looked at each other one last time, I grabbed my near empty bag that only held the Black Planet Award, and we all headed for the elevator. One of the women was carrying a video camera and documenting everything. She was inches from my hair. Another woman was dressed in a suit and wearing heels. She grabbed my arm and said, “I’m your lawyer. Nobody will harm you. We are just peaceful people and all these other people are acting crazy. But you and I are ladies and we’re just walking. Just walking. You and I.”
We exited the lobby floor and started walking again. Now there were ten of us. We were flowing down the corridor of the lobby passing people sitting at tables with forms to fill out; they only looked at us as we flowed past. My lawyer still had my arm and occasionally she would whisper in my ear, “I will let nothing harm you. Nothing. I will protect you with my life.”
Then we were facing the shareholders door. In front of the door was a double line of security men. Formosa Plastic’s men. They all had their arms tucked into the others arm like a physical human chain. Robin and the other groups had unfurled the Black Planet Award Banner. They pulled it across the front of the door and began speaking. The room was full of cameras and reporters and TV video cameras. There was hardly room to move. They closed tighter and tighter onto our group in front of the Black Planet Prize. A dozen camera lights were blazing and I stared straight into it and began to talk. I said I had come from Texas to deliver this prize to Formosa Plastic’s management and the Wang Family. I held the Black Planet Award high over my head. The prize was so ridiculous. It was a ten dollar globe spray-painted black. The children in Berlin had made it. Germany would not waste their money on a prize given to Formosa Plastics. It was so appropriate. So right.
When we had finished talking, Robin and I looked at each other and I linked my arm with Robin and I said, “Okay let’s go to the meeting.” Then we started moving forward, the media crowd instantly moved forward to meet us and we met in a collision of energy and passion and hot cameras. People were shoving and yelling, some nearly falling. I nearly fell twice, but my little Taiwanese lawyer grabbed me.
“Let’s go, Diane,” she said.
I had never felt this energy this push and pull and moving towards something I didn’t know what. We all collided, the reporters, the activists, and Formosa Plastics security. It was body-to-body, stomach-to-stomach. Faces were against mine. Someone’s glasses got caught in my hair. Another tried to grab the globe from my hands and I jerked it loose and held it high above my heads. A surge of bodies and cameras and high above it all the cheap little globe. Against the security men, the wall of people wobbled. We went back and forth and back again. Then as I was falling to the side, I heard a crazy woman yelling, “Go, Diane! Go!” I laughed and pulled myself up. I could die right here, I thought. I could have a knife plunged into my stomach. Anything could happen. Anything. Then the door burst open. We were in!
Watch the footage below to see how it all unfolded!