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Exporting Obama Politics

by Erin Mazursky

August 21, 2009

Albania's young voters try "Yes we can!"-but can't quite yet.

I was invited to Albania to help the newly formed G99 party fundamentally change the way Albanians thought about and conducted politics. G99-developed out of Albania's youth-driven democratization movement-began in 2003 in response to rampant government corruption. Inspired by the "yes we can" attitude in America, G99 wanted to try its hand at Obama-style organizing in advance of their June 28 parliamentary elections. Having spent the better part of five years in political organizing on different levels, including for Obama's Florida campaign in the general election, I came to add perspective and experience to G99's operation.I felt proud to aid their mission. After decades of oppression and corruption, cynicism had a stranglehold on the country. G99 understood that they could not achieve a full democracy until the Albanian people saw themselves as agents of change and bearers of responsibility. Organizing strengthens democracy by enabling participation in the political process; it opens avenues for people to hold their elected officials accountable, to dictate the debates, and to confront the immediate needs of the community from the ground up.But organizing requires volunteers and community building, and "volunteering" had been compulsory during the 45 years of communism. Walking through the trash-ridden streets, by the graffiti-covered public buildings from which the communist regime once presided, one understands why most Albanians feel an absence of responsibility in their communities.These former political realities very much constrain Albania's older generations. But they liberate its youth, who empathize with the past but see their country not as it is but as it could be. G99 sought to change all of this. Member after member of G99 told me of how they came to the organization asking the question: Why couldn't Albania be better?This was the very mindset of those who helped get President Obama elected, the majority of whom were under the age of 30. The "Millenial generation," as it has come to be called, made up of those of us born between 1978 and 2000, has been shaped by a democratized access to information and the experience of growing up in a transitional, malleable post-Cold War world. We have a more optimistic, innovative, politically motivated mindset geared towards connecting the world around us. We are post-ideological and pragmatic. What's more, the under 30 demographic accounts for over 50 percent of the world's population.Many Albanians work to leave the country rather than change it. These G99 youth, however, felt a responsibility to make their country better and, with 50 percent of the population under 28, know they are the only ones that can. But knowing that Albania should be better and knowing how to carry out that vision effectively are different things.We did our best. I helped train volunteers and then watched them go out, elicit support, and empower others with their mission. They worked tirelessly and without precedent, the only motivating example was the vague understanding of the Obama campaign that they had gathered secondhand from my experiences and from newspapers. In the end, G99 came up short of its expectations and goals with less than 1 percent of the vote, gaining no representation in parliament.I see this shortcoming not as an abject failure in G99's mission nor in the lack of applicability of Obama's model beyond the United States. Rather, I see this as an important lesson in democracy-building. Obama's general model-of creating participatory democracy through community organizing-is replicable but only if adapted in the right ways. The Millennial mindset and energy will prove indispensable as these youth come of age, but only if harnessed and given the direction and tools to succeed.G99 simply needs more time, more training, an informed strategy, and better resources. Ideally, they could also have a global network of youth leaders who are doing the same work, reaching for the same goals, and building off of each other's successes-from Albania to Turkey to Vietnam to the United States. Ultimate success will not come in the short span of one campaign, but it can come if they build off of smaller successes. As tools like Facebook continue to give us a common platform, we have to work to create a common language. As the mistakes of our peers and the confines of our past continue to teach us what not to do, we have to work together to effectively learn what to do. These lessons and this language are not inherent even with the noblest of missions and the biggest of ideas.We stand on the brink of a momentous opportunity to harness the power of a generation to redefine the way we relate to each other and to our governments and, in turn, tackle our most pressing challenges. But this window of opportunity is relatively small. Sure, there will always be youth ripe for empowerment, but the Millennial generation is coming of age now, and, given our sheer numbers, will set the political tone in countries around the world for at least the next forty years. These are the world's future leaders, and we have to ensure they have the tools to translate "yes we can" into real solutions for today's toughest challenges.Erin is a proud member of the Millennial generation, an independent nonprofit and political consultant, and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project.
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Exporting Obama Politics