A Tribute to Democrats Abroad’s 50th Anniversary
Bob Bragar’s speech to Democrats Abroad France’s AGM.
Paris, March 29, 2014
Bob Bragar is a member of the Democratic National Committee on behalf of Democrats Abroad, and was formerly the Chair of Democrats Abroad Netherlands.
I would like to talk to you today about the lines that connect Americans who live abroad to our American government.
Imagine it’s 1960. You are an American abroad. You live in Paris. It’s beautiful here. Think of Gene Kelly, in that great old movie An American in Paris, dancing along the Seine with Leslie Caron. George Gershwin’s music is playing in the background. Picture perfect.
Then you realize: It’s election time. You have the stark choice to vote for Richard Nixon or for John F. Kennedy Jr. America faces a great decision. And you want to vote in this election because America affects the world. And what America does will affect YOU. And most of all because you are an American Citizen. It is your right to vote.
But then you realize that you cannot vote. For one simple reason: you have chosen to live outside the United States. The price of living in Paris is that you had to become a second-class citizen. You no longer can vote.
That’s why Democrats Abroad was formed. Americans who lived outside the United States were tired of being second-class citizens. They wanted to participate fully, to exercise their rights as citizens, to vote.
It began with people like you who were sitting around someone’s kitchen table here in Paris and in London, people who had a vision to fix this problem.
In those days, we had no lines that connected us to American government.
Since 1964, when Democrats Abroad was created, we have made tremendous strides. Those “no lines” have now become “short lines” that give us access, influence, respect and participation.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to participate in a series of events in Washington, D.C that demonstrated in many ways just how short and powerful those lines of connection have become.
We had an international annual meeting of Democrats Abroad, where D.A. country officers from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas developed strategies and heard expert lectures about technologies to engage voters to help win the mid-term election.
The lines of connection are now GLOBAL. It’s not just in London and Paris any more. Democrats Abroad has country committees established in more than seventy countries, and we are doing voter registration in over 100 countries.
I saw that the lines of connection of Democrats Abroad run deep to the heart of the Democratic Party.
This happened at an amazing party to celebrate our anniversary that was attended by members of congress, leaders of the Democratic Party, and our many friends in Washington. We put the “party” back in Democratic Party!
This truly gala celebration was held at the National Democratic Women’s Club. We sat under a grand portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt, and acknowledged the leaders who have made and supported DA.
Our keynote speaker was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. She understands and supports our issues. Her husband is English, and through him her life has also become international.
Together with seven other delegates from Democrats Abroad, I attended the Democratic National Committee meeting, where we joined the fifty State Democratic Parties to learn the national strategies for electing Democrats. The important thing: we attended as full voting members. We are recognized as a “State” within the Democratic Party. Our short lines of connection have become institutionalized. We have a place at the table. We don’t have to wait to be invited.
Barack Obama and Vice President Biden both came to speak to the DNC. President Obama is rightly proud of the millions of jobs that America has created since he inherited America’s worst financial crisis since the great depression. He talked about his commitment to “create an economy that grows for the many and not just for the few”. He urged us to remember that upcoming mid-term elections are vital to having him achieve his goals for the remainder of his term, and to avoid the paralysis that the Republicans are so willing to inflict on the government.
President Clinton announced by video that he is launching the “Voter Expansion Project”. The Democrats want to move beyond protecting voting rights, and start expanding them so that every eligible American is empowered to vote.
This goes to the heart of our values and distinguishes us from the Republicans. Democrats want to expand democracy by reaching out to voters wherever possible. Sadly, the Republican strategy is to suppress voting rights, create low turnouts wherever possible, and create truly pernicious gerrymandering to reduce the value of people’s votes when they do manage to cast their votes. Republicans see these as their keys to victory.
The DNC also announced it’s new the “Factivist Program”. The party will devote substantial resources to holding Republicans accountable for the statements they make. Too many lies have been told. The Factivist Program is our pushback. We will not rely exclusively on third parties for this any more.
To our delight, our own Caitlin Kraft-Buchman of Switzerland was elected to the Executive Committee of the DNC’s Women’s Caucus. This also shortens our lines to government, by giving D.A. direct input on policies and priorities affecting women’s issues.
Finally, and most moving for me, the DNC unanimously passed a resolution, entitled: “Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Democrats Abroad and Highlighting the Legislative Impacts Facing Overseas Americans.” This is the first time Democrats Abroad has been acknowledged by the party in this way.
Most important, for me: we spent two days meeting Senators and Representatives and their staffs at the offices on Capital Hill. The Democratic Party arranged for about fifty D.A. members, in groups of four or five, to meet with key legislators to explain the issues that are important to us.
There we learned that our lines of connection to America are now respected. Members of Congress realize that Democrats Abroad is the connection wit the over 6,000,000 Americans who live outside the United States. Our members vote in every state in the union and can sway close elections nationally. So we got the key meetings and could explain our issues.
In my team, we met with Senator Gillibrand of New York, Senator Markey of Massachusetts, Representative McGovern of Massachusetts, and Senator Franken of Minnesota, and staff members. These person-to-person contacts do a lot to communicate our issues with a human face. I am convinced that they are valuable.
The issues we lobbied for:
a. The Voter Assistance Commission. This is our core issue: Expanding the voter franchise.
The Voter Assistance Commission was created by Congress to make our help people vote more easily in the face of America’s dauntingly complex voting system.
But Republicans are blocking the commission. It still has no budget, the members of the commission are not yet appointed, and there is only an acting Executive Director.
b. FATCA / Fair Tax Reporting.
This is our galvanizing issue. FATCA, which was intended to track tax cheats who hide money offshore, is oppressing honest Americans abroad who pay our taxes. Though we support FATCA, we want to tweak it so that it will treat us fairly.
c. HR 597.
This important legislation would create a bi-partisan, permanent commission to examine the affect of US laws on Americans living abroad. No longer would organizations such as Democrats Abroad have to react individually on the most egregious problems.
d. Love Exiles. Immigration for same-sex foreign spouses of US citizens.
Even though the Supreme Court last year found discrimination by the Federal government against same-sex spouses to be unconstitutional, we are not out of the woods yet. There is a legacy of discrimination that needs to be addressed.
e. Move Act.
We need to have States better comply with Federal requirements that States report vital information about how our absentee ballots are being handled.
We have come a long way from the people sitting around their kitchen tables in Paris and London 50 years ago. They had a vision for Americans abroad that has been realized in many ways.
But it’s not over yet. We never actually finish. It’s always the journey, with way stations along the road. And for Democrats Abroad, these way stations are elections.
The issues change, but the effort to fight for our rights as Americans abroad stays the same.
YOU can win the elections. You have an important role to play. You now have respect as an American abroad.
All of the events I described here were open to every member of Democrats Abroad. Ours is an inclusive organization.
There are now short lines to American politics for all of us, thanks to Democrats Abroad.