As I read the “Are You All Right?” (AYAR) letter, the letter that started it all, and perused the movement’s Facebook page, I came across hundreds of handwritten letters that others have posted online. I am sure that if I bothered to do a Naver search, I would have found more.
As I read dozens of these letters, I realized that I had seen something similar to all of this before. I saw it a little over two years ago in the United States and it was called the Occupy Movement; though that is not to say that they are identical.
Most of the letters that I read, like the original letter, were political in nature as the writers wrote to express their support for union workers and their disgust with the government, specifically President Park Geun-hye. One of the writers that I came across addressed his letter to President Park directly. He wrote his letter with his own blood.
Others were more personal. There were university students who were afraid that there weren’t any jobs waiting for them while there were middle school and high school students who were tired of being sent to hagwons after school. One of the more heartbreaking letters that I read was written by an older parent who wrote to express his/her anxiety and sadness over the fact that his/her two grown sons could not find jobs. However, even in these personal letters people were able to somehow manage to squeeze in bits and pieces about their opposition to privatization of the railroads, as well as education, utilities, health care, etc. In Korean, this kind of practice is often referred to as 끼워맞추기.
However, the common theme that I saw in most of those letters were their opposition to the privatization of railroads. The leitmotif could be summed up thusly: “With the railroad about to be privatized, how can I be all right?”
Considering the fact that the original letter had been addressed to the general public, and all the subsequent letters that have been written since have been written by members of the public who are sympathetic to the original writer’s beliefs, I have to question why these people seem to think that the privatization of the railroads is not in the interests of the general public.
And that is the big question that is missing in these letters – Why. They successfully managed to state the “what.” But not “why.”
- Why is the continued subsidization of the railroad industry and all other government-owned or government-run services good for the general public?
- Why do they feel that those workers are entitled to safe and permanent jobs?
- Why do they feel that they are entitled to safe and permanent jobs?
However, those were only the political questions that they did not ask. They did not even bother to talk about the more abstract principles. Either they had no interest in it or they accepted it as a given. Questions such as:
- What is the proper role of government?
- What is the proper role of unions?
- What is capitalism?
- What is welfarism?
Not only were these questions never asked, they implied and assumed from the very get-go that their views are requisite for any “good society.” Much like the Occupy Movement’s list of demands were never explained properly as to why they were for the good of everyone, the AYAR Movement does the same thing with their stance on subsidization. Why is it good for the general public? Not only do they not provide an answer, they did not even bother to ask the question.
The closest to stating the question of why came when, according to a news report from The Hankyoreh, Kang Hun-gu, another in this growing list of university students who are filling the ranks of the AYAR Movement, said:
“Some are calling us ‘subversive outside forces, but we are the true insiders, the ones who headed out to Seoul Station for our own well-being – as people who would not be okay if the railways were privatized, and would not be okay if the workers faced mass suspensions. If it’s subversive to talk about your own well-being, then we’re going to be totally subversive now.”
But that still does not answer the question. To use Mr. Kang’s words, why would people not be okay if the railways were privatized? Why would it not be conducive to the general public’s well being?
(As an aside, it is humorous that some individuals in government seemed to have thought that it would be a good idea to call these university students “subversive outside forces.” How wonderfully ironic, and poignant, that those idiots seem to be more than willing to be the stereotype that those students are accusing them of being in the first place! That being said, how ludicrous is it that these university students seem to want these same government stooges to keep control of an industry full of workers for whom they seem to share so much solidarity with?)
The absence of these questions is unfortunate. However, it has to be recognized that the AYAR Movement became the sensation that it has become because the original letter struck an emotional chord with the people.
In my experience, social movements do not usually last for very long if the fired up emotions that led to the initial push are not backed up by intellectual arguments. That being said, either through governmental decrees or cultural suppression, the Korean people have not been allowed to express their innermost thoughts for a very long time. It could take a while before the people finish venting their frustrations.