Activism isn't all about movement. Individuals need a constant flow of information, group debate and thus reflection on their actions and ideas. A culture can be born of the fusion of the ideas from a dynamic group of people and a 'space' for constant interactions they can remain dynamic, constantly regenerating themselves to meet with oscillating circumstances.

Here eRenlai introduces you two bases of innovation, discussion and reflection. An activist factory and a platform for Socratean debate. Both serve coffee...

Go Straight Café (直走咖啡)

Go Straight Café was borne of the legacy of the Wild Strawberries student movement. After the movement was unsuccessful in its demands, they realized they needed a permanent space which would create the right environment to give birth to new ideas, relationships and energy. Two years later, Go Straight is not only the home of No Nuke Cultural Activism Group at the centre of the anti-nuclear movement, but has become a base and indeed the birthplace for many smaller social movements who may not have had the funds or the human resources to set up their own places.

As Yang Zixuan told me, "activists can't spend all their time on the streets protesting". There has to be something in between that. In between days of  protest, whether successful or not, there are constantly new laws, new injustices, new attempts to circumvent the regulations of democracy, the public must thus always remain vigilant. While this vigilance has become easier with the internet and the spread of social media it has also encountered new problems - for example it is easy to be extremely active on the internet, all the while being extremely inactive in the real physical world. This is somewhere Go Straight Café can help to translate vocal or blogger support into a more real activism. Here, hardened cafe activists, Yang Zixuan and Stef Pei discuss how Go Straight has facilitated activism since it was established in 2009 and how they personally have developed along with the cafe.

Go Straight Café can be found a five minute walk away from Taipower Building MRT at the following address: No.18, Alley 27, Section 3, Tingzhou Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City

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Café Philo (慕哲咖啡館)

Although French philosophers, like Sartre spent hours a day frequenting a selection of café’s, turning and perfecting their ideas, it wasn't until 1992 that Marc Sautet set up the first of the cafés-philos in Paris. Although Taiwan's Cafe Philo is a space of debate above all, it has also become a gathering point for activists and NGO's, especially the Philosophy Friday held by the Youth Synergy Taiwan foundation (青平台 Qingpingtai). While other social enterprises directly manage social movements, Youth Synergy takes a more strategic role, providing a space (the Chinese translation is platform) and support to other movements. eRenlai interviewed Youth Synergy's Sean Hsieh, to find out more about what they were doing.

Cafe Philo's Philosophy Friday is a platform that touches on vary facets of society, a public think tank of sorts, where they provide the space and with it access to the information and involvement in debate to promote open data, open government and transparency in Taiwan. While they sometimes take on abstract philosophical questions, they also often take on issues of current affairs, inviting NGO's, social movement organisations and various legal and political experts. One of the main aims is to be able to communicate with the masses, so during these talks one of the organisers is always on site to rephrase any overcomplicated talk. Two Friday sessions that I attended were full of lively debate. Sean, told me that one of the things he was most pleased with was the participation of many older people in the debates, enjoying the chance to interact and share opinions with Taiwan's youth. To push for real societal change one cannot rely solely on one age group, nor can you rely simply on the more radical activists, that may be more present at places like Go Straight, who are directly involved in managing social movements. Thus opinions that are more radical than the society they are in, need a less radical platform in which they can communicate ideas. This is the challeange that Sean and the Cafe Philo team are trying to balance.

Café Philo can be found at No 20, Alley 60, Taishun Street (off Shida Road), Da an, Taipei

Both of these two 'spaces' have a different role to play in civil society in Taiwan. Over the last year they have both showed development into forces for social change. One thing for sure is that sometimes it's OK to sit back and have a sip of coffee with your social enlightenment.

(Photo: N.C.)

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