Every Saturday from October 29th, 2016, Koreans have been holding peaceful candlelight rallies against President Park Geun Hye. The protesters have been asking the President of South Korea to step down for her involvement with Choi Soon Shil. There have been seven rallies and I have attended five of them. The first one was held after ten of the president’s senior secretaries were forced to resign due to the scandal. About 10,000 people went to that rally.
My First “Accidental” Rally
My first “attendance” was unintentional. I went to Gwanghwamun on November 5th, to meet a friend and visit the booths at the “Embassies Day” that was happening that time. That same day, a memorial was being held for Baek Nam Gi. He was the farmer who died after almost a year in comma after being hit by a water cannon during a rally in 2015. There were already hundreds of protesters as well as policemen stationed at the plaza. At around 4 o’clock, the area from the statue of King Sejong was sealed off with steel walls and police buses parked parallel to each other. The atmosphere was very tense.
That afternoon my son was alone at home and when I told him that there is a rally going on, he asked me to join. And so I did for a few minutes.
A Call for Resignation
My second attendance to the rally was on November 12th and it was intentional. Evidence against the president has been piling up and her approval rating has gone down tremendously. My husband was on a business trip to Frankfurt during that time so my son asked to go with me. Someone asked us to help distribute the posters and my son excitedly did so. It was a festive rally ~ with some groups leading the march while playing “samulnori”.
Families brought their young ones to join the rally and like the previous gatherings, it was peaceful. Only one scuffle was reported at the rotary near Gyeongbokgung when a man attacked a policeman before midnight.
A Family Affair
On my third attendance, I was with my husband and son. At around 8 o’clock, we marched from Gwanghwamun to Jonggak and all the way to the Twin Tree Tower while continuously chanting with the crowd for the president to step down. We left just before 11 o’clock as it started to drizzle. On the way back to Jonggak station, I noticed how clean the streets were. There wasn’t a single bit of trash on the road except for the fallen gingko leaves.
The simultaneous nationwide rallies on November 26th is the biggest ever in Korea’s history. The attendance that night is estimated at 1.6 million people in Seoul and over 2 million people in the whole country. Like the previous rallies, it was very peaceful. I attended a dinner that night for Filipino speakers attending the “International Forum on Migration” but the guests were interested to see the rally that has been gaining international attention. We walked from Myeongdong to Jonggak and posed for photos before they decided to go back to their hotel.
I skipped the rally on December 3rd out of duty. It was our family’s annual “jesa” or ancestral rite.
On December 9th, the president was impeached by the National Assembly with a vote of 234 which is more than the required number. The same night, I was near Gyeongbokgung with my group of friends for our “송년회” or year-end party. We saw a small group of protesters walking on the street towards the Cheongwadae area.
My family joined the candlelight rally on December 10th as we had another dinner that night in Gwanghwamun’s D-Tower. It was sort of a victory rally. That was the first time I saw the tents pitched along the sides Gwanghwamun Plaza. During the impeachment hearing, protesters held daily rallies at the plaza and they stayed there despite the cold winter weater.
Is it over?
While the president has been impeached by the National Assembly, the Constitutional Court of Korea has 180 days to affirm or overturn the impeachment. When the late president Roh Moo Hyun was impeached, it took the Constitutional Court almost 90 days to make a decision to overturn the vote by the National Assembly. I was already in Korea during that time.
I joined the rallies to oust President Park Geun Hye not because it was fashionable. This was not the first rally I attended in Korea. I have been a Korean citizen for a decade and I deem it my duty to care about the issues affecting the country. Also because as a parent, I wanted to teach my son a lesson in democracy. That if an injustice is happening, we should let our voices be heard through a peaceful rally or elections (and that’s why I always take him to the polls with me).