Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wild Strawberries in Washington DC

Reliable sources indicate that a handful of activists from Taiwan’s Wild Strawberry movement are in Washington DC for a two week visit. Sponsored by the Formosa Foundation, the activists are part of the foundation's annual Ambassador Program.

As a student movement, the Wild Strawberries jumped onto Taiwan's national scene in November 2008, when students launched a sit-in movement against what they perceived to be a heavy handed government approach to restricting the right to protest during the visit to Taiwan of Chen Yunlin, director of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS).

Regardless of specific cause, it’s heartening to see activism in an era of global complacency and apathy. This is not to say that Taiwan is an apathetic democracy. Reflecting a sense of public civic duty, Taiwan’s turnout rate for national elections has been quite high since its first president election in 1996. In that year, the voter turnout was a remarkable 76%. Four years later, in the first peaceful transition of power, the voter turnout increased to nearly 83%. In 2004, it was 80%. In the March 2008 election that marked the second peaceful transfer of power in Taiwan’s history, voter turnout was 76%. In marked contrast, the United States has averaged a voter turnout of 50-55%. And in China, voter turnout was…well…0%. A high turnout is generally seen as evidence of the legitimacy of the current system.

Taiwan’s nascent democracy certainly has plenty of room for improvement, just as in our own system. One area in particular where youthful idealism can make a contribution is envisioning the future. Perhaps in part due to traditional passive resignation to fate, what sometimes seems to be lacking in Taiwan society is confidence in the ability to shape one’s future. Shaping the future starts with a clear long term vision, a net assessment of challenges and opportunities, and a detailed strategy broken down by focus area, goals, objectives, and specific actions. But it starts with defining an ideal future, and youth tend to be the best equipped for the necessary idealism. In a competitive environment, the side with a clear long term vision of what it wants and a detailed, measurable plan on how to get there will tend to be most successful.

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