“Give youth the sense that they really can change:” Exclusive Interview with Michael Dukakis

Famous American politician, the longest serving Governor in the history of Massachusetts, and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis was at AUA on April 22, 2016. After a brief lecture about the vitality of media and technology in political PR and not only, the former governor further talked with The Bridge journalists about the importance of media and what an unbelievable asset it is. Mr. Dukakis encouraged us, young students, to be the first change that we want to see in our country.

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         How would you evaluate the importance of political PR and promotion of a country through media? I would like you to elaborate your answer about Armenia; are we successful in promoting Armenia and communicating our message.

All I can tell you is that the media is a new opportunity to get ideas out and raise public awareness at relatively inexpensive prices. Today, you do not need to own a newspaper or radio station to spread a message. You can see what is happening; people have blogs, accounts in various social media platforms, which are means that are terrifically easy to use and do not require adjustment of an enormous amount of money. I remember how surprised I was when I first used a direct mail and did not use a stamp, ink, and paper. In a country, where the media may be in the hands of a ruling authority and serving the state’s interest, they better pay attention to social media because it is a very powerful tool. This new information technology is a potentially great democratizing force.

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         We are students who are taking the first steps in our early careers. What advice would you give us for our long-term success?

I might repeat myself, but you have to learn how to use social media effective and organize it properly. Armenia is beginning to get internet-based organizations that are communicating on public and political issues on a regular basis. And that is important. Even in terms of political organizing the Internet is an incredible organizing tool because, again, it is free, effective, and it prints its own literature. You can put out information and communicate with thousands of people in an instant. During his first campaign, Barack Obama raised $750 million from more than five million individual financial contributors. For the most part, these were average folks, people who did not have a strong influence in an economic sense and just wanted to do a good job. Obama never had money problems. So, this means he was raising money in the right way. With this kind of technology, there is an opportunity to raise money from thousands of people at practically zero cost. This is unbelievable. If you want to change things, you have got the tools to change them. You can do this much easier and believe me, it is a big asset.

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         During all your political career, who was the most inspiring and most competent politician that you ever met? And why?

When I started in politics, there was no question that John Kennedy was a major force. From all of the folks that were part of my young political career, Kennedy was, by far, the most inspiring. You may ask why. First of all, he was born about a half a mile from where my wife Kitty and I live. Secondly, at the time when we had serious problems with the Democratic Party in our state, having a guy like Kenedy from your state was important. And thirdly, Kennedy had a special way of communicating with young people. He was young, dynamic, full of enthusiasm, and the youth trusted him. I met him once or twice but I was very impressed. For most of us coming from the 1950s and early 60s, he was a crucial figure and extraordinary in many ways. Guys, you should not forget that all of you can inspire people. I hated losing the presidency in 1988 but I had thousands of young people working for me, most of whom have stayed in politics. One of the reasons I teach today is because I want to encourage young people to win the public service. I teach because I want to give youth the sense that they really can change and do things. Believe me; now you have got necessary tools and ways to connect with people that my generation never had. And you got to use them.

Lusine Sargsyan 

Phtographer Tatevik Avetisyan

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