On Friday last week, Chinese Nationalist Party Chairman (KMT) Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) held a news conference to announce an event touted as an opportunity for the public to express their support for frontline healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea was to have the nation collectively create a general ruckus, noisily banging pots and pans within the confines of their homes or blaring their vehicle horns on the roads.
Chiang gleefully bashed a saucepan to illustrate how the party wanted people to make noise, while explaining that this event was also to express public anger at the government’s failure to secure an adequate supply of COVID-19 vaccines and to call for more doses to be made available.
So what was the central message? Was it to express support for medical professionals and healthcare workers, was it to show discontent at the government’s pandemic response or was it to call for the government to work harder to procure vaccines? In other words, there was no central message. It was just a list of political points the KMT wanted to make and enlist help for.
Not only was the message garbled and diffuse, if the idea was to support medical professionals, it was also fundamentally ill-conceived. Following the news conference, healthcare workers — the very group the KMT said it was trying to help — complained that creating noise during the day would disturb those among them trying to get much-needed rest between shifts.
The party amended the format of the event, calling on the public to refrain from banging pots at home and to avoid areas with hospital dormitories if they were to blare their horns. It tried to spin this as showing its willingness to listen to the workers, preferring not to mention how it actually showed that it had not thought the idea through properly before announcing it.
Instead, it asked the public to post photographs on social media of themselves holding signs with the event’s slogan and hashtags. The other bright idea was to ask the public to turn off all lights at home at 8pm on Sunday to lodge their support/anger/protest/wish for vaccines — or whatever the message was supposed to be — presumably to ensure that not only would nobody hear the message, they would not be able to see it, either.
This was part of the scattergun approach the KMT was taking to fabricate a viral campaign. Among all the confusion, one thing was certain: It did not need a vaccine with this one, because there was no way it was going viral.
During the first wave of the pandemic in Europe, members of the public initiated collective movements to show appreciation for beleaguered healthcare workers, in what was a single, focused message, well-meaning in intent, simple in execution and effective for those reasons.
In the UK, people emerged from their homes every Thursday evening at a set time between March 26 and May 28 last year to participate in the “Clap for our carers” campaign.
Even British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and members of his Cabinet joined in, showing that the British government endorsed the idea, but it was not a political initiative started by his Conservative Party. The movement was a genuine show of appreciation, started by members of the public, promoting unity and driving awareness of the seriousness of the pandemic.
Taiwanese should not be fooled into thinking that the KMT’s initiative was in any way comparable. It was not seeking to get unity and empathy for healthcare workers, it was seeking to exploit the situation and engineer it into a political moment for its own ends. Unfortunately for Chiang and the KMT, the garbled message and bungled execution made it unlikely to succeed.
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