First, we want to thank everyone who took part in our G20 event surveys, and everyone who invested even more time and energy in trying to put together a large-scale DA event parallel to the G20 in Hamburg. We have, unfortunately, decided against going forward with this kind of an event at that time. This is largely due to security restrictions throughout the city at that time, and a lack of available venues and hotels.
Please know that your ideas and efforts will not go to waste. We will use what we have learned for a future event (or events) at a later date, for which we will have the necessary time to prepare.
We are also still looking to hold two smaller events, one on the G20 weekend and one on the weekend after. If you will be in Hamburg on either, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org !
Theater performance directed by Julia Hart.
Lichthof Theatre, 10-11 June 2017
How did you feel after the election and how does one cope with the anger, disappointment, fear, and hopelessness experienced by millions of Americans after the election in November? Form a theatre group was the therapy offered by director Julia Hart, who brought together nine women (many from Democrats Abroad Hamburg), both experienced and novices to the stage, to express their feelings and those of anonymous others in cleverly choreographed sequences probing emotions from self-criticism to despair.
The audience immediately became more than just spectators, and in fact remained for an hour after the performance to ask questions and share information with the cast. Among the many interesting observations were the following:
. The cast shed tears during rehearsals while working through the deep hurt they felt, and shared true stories, but for theatrical purposes, rotated roles so that most often they were not relating their own experiences, but those of others.
. They spoke of deep political/emotional rifts within their own families which may not be reparable.
. They doubted that they would be so free to speak about these feelings right now in the States, what with the deep divisions that remain.
. They had to endure the taut “you don´t have any idea how it is” from those stateside, which only increased their feelings of powerlessness.
As a German member of the capacity audience concluded, “You touched me, made me laugh, and feel the pain.” If you missed these two performances, watch this space for more information about a possible extra performance during the first week of July.
Article and photo by Maryann Schmunk
Democrats Abroad Hamburg Political Book Club Meeting at
Mathilde, Literatur und Café, 4 June 2017
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance
Even after nearly three hours of discussion, the important themes and lessons learned from Hillbilly Elegy were not yet exhausted, but we were! J.D. Vance´s autobiography is direct, shocking, graphic, heartwarming, optimistic and depressing by turns, but without doubt, worth reading. It offers an illuminating comparison to our last book, Joe Bageant´s Deer Hunting with Jesus, written more than ten years earlier, but dealing with the same regional sub-culture, descendants of Scots-Irish immigrants who settled in the Appalachians in the 18th century. Both authors detail the vicious cycle of violence and self-destructive behavior, unemployment, alcohol and drugs that plague these “hill people”, who are nonetheless fiercely devoted to their kin and culture. “Our elegy is a sociological one, yes, but it is also about psychology and community and culture and faith” writes Vance.
Bageant´s book was divided into chapters that dealt with themes aimed at offering prescient policy tips to Democrats and trying to explain this largely overlooked population who many years later, catapulted Trump to victory. Vance, on the other hand, illustrates his lessons learned by detailing the story of his life: coping with his mother´s five husbands, constant moves and drug addictions, plus his birth father´s retreat into evangelicalism. Along the way he helplessly observes the increasing isolation and disintegration of this working class community. It is only a stint in the marines which breaks the seemingly downward spiral of his life because it instills in him the discipline and self-respect required to take control of his destiny. In the end, both authors managed to escape their seemingly predestined fate in a “world of truly irrational behavior” as Vance puts it, in the only way they saw possible—by leaving—with all the conflicting emotions that entailed.
Now a Yale law school graduate, Vance credits his grandmother with providing the only constant support and stability in his troubled youth, plus a certain amount of luck in finding guidance at crucial stages of his life, with pulling him from the abyss which enveloped so many of the people he grew up with. It is a fascinating story, made all the more poignant today by the fact that these people who feel abandoned by politicians, distrustful of the news media, and jealous of elites, are nevertheless the ones who propelled Trump into office in the Rust Belt states. We had to ask ourselves if it is at all possible to overcome the gap that separates us; to develop policies locally that address their specific problems; to find democratic candidates that they can relate to—that look like them and talk like them. We all agreed that local government and social services had largely failed this community, and that most were never given the tools to succeed in schools lacking well trained teachers and counselors who could prepare and motivate students first for life, and then for further education whether it is college or vocational schools, and compensate for a lack of role models in the community. A mixture of students—from every economic class—would also be helpful in this regard.
Democrats, for their part, must engage in local politics and a listening tour, although Vance insists that in the end, it is his hillbillies who should stop blaming the President for their problems and start trying to do something themselves. Also suggested, by our group, was the idea of developing a civilian corps which deploys trained locals to help others from their communities to solve problems of infrastructure, job retraining, even parenting, without taking away their pride. Vance himself has recently given up his comfortable life in California to return to Ohio to start a non-profit organization to help the people he identifies with to get ahead in life just as his wife and kindly mentors enabled him. “Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us” he concludes.
We hope to schedule another meet-up this month for those who could not make it and because there is still so much food for thought in this book even for those of us who met this weekend. Please join us! (Mail us at DAG-Hamburg@democratsabroad.org and we will notify you when a date is set.)
Article and photo by Maryann Schmunk
Gale force winds, sleet and freezing temperatures could not stop some 2,000 people from turning out to support the March for Science on Earth Day, 22 April. Among them were many members of Democrats Abroad from Hamburg and northern Germany. Science had its place in the sun though, as various speakers extolled the virtues of truth and fact based research and communication as the only weapon against the spreading confusion of "alternative facts".
Article and photos by Maryann Schmunk
Political Book Club—first meeting April 9, 2017
Although many of us were only half way through the book, all of us were impressed with Deer Hunting with Jesus. Written by Joe Bageant in 2007, this compelling non-fiction narrative is eerily prescient. Not only did Bageant predict the real estate crash of 2008 and its consequences, but he offers an analysis of alternative facts and deplores the inability of democrats to reach out to those who became Trump voters 10 years later.
Chesney, who suggested the book and started the group, welcomed the eight of us at a cozy table in Mathilde Literatur Café, then moderated the discussion. Among the many insights gained about what the author terms the “working poor” in the town of his birth:
- Quite apart from the constitution, guns are an inalienable part of their culture and very being.
- Each individual alone must take responsibility for his life, with no “handouts” from the government.
- If you have not succeeded, it can only be because of your inferiority—the wealthy deserve their elite status.
- Their dependence for nearly all information, political and otherwise, is on conservative talk radio.
- Republicans have systematically infiltrated this society for more than thirty odd years, succeeding in dominating local politics from the school board on up.
The book is often shockingly blunt, especially when Bageant describes the “meanness at the heart of our Republic”, but it is clear that Democrats will have to dramatically change their approach to large segments of the American population in order to win future elections. Reading books such as this one, is the first step to knowing and understanding our opponents, in order to reach out to them somehow. It may not be possible, but it is certainly worth a try.
Article written by Maryann Schmunk, photo by Chesney McKinley Severance
The Annual General Meeting of the Democrats Abroad in Germany took place in Berlin from March 31 to April 2 and the Hamburg Chapter was strongly represented with 16 members - the most members from one chapter, after Berlin. It was a weekend spent with debate - sometimes heated, discussions and laughter.
The AGM started on Friday already with the workshop „Looking forward - Sustainability in a Volunteer Organization“. Members of the Hamburg Chapter who attended the workshop will be reporting the results of this workshop this Sunday at our chapter meeting. It was followed by the Early Bird Dinner at the RED restaurant in the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. Other members started networking and getting to know the various candidates for the DA Germany positions.
The core work took place on Saturday. There were 6 hours of workshops interspersed with coffee breaks and lunch, in which members split up into six groups and worked out action plans for various issues. While flip charts and post-its dominated the meeting rooms, a silent discussion of important issues hung on the walls of the roof terrace, which was a popular refuge during the hot and sunny day.
The elections were an eventful and long process. It was the first time that chapters were able to participate live via internet or telephone. Unfortunately there was some disagreement about certain procedural rules. Congratulations to our newly elected officers! The new DA Germany leaders are found here. Shortly past 6 o’clock everyone was happy for the hour break before dinner.
The highlight of the entire weekend was the gala dinner with Mayor Pete Buttigieg from South Bend, Indiana as the keynote speaker. He gave a motivational speech stressing freedom, family, fairness and future. Quaide Williams rewarded a few members for exceptional accomplishments, of whom our own Pam Cory was one of the recipients for her excellent work as our former chair. After a few glasses of wine and a fund-raising raffle, karaoke wrapped the evening up in a not quite so melodious but entertaining fashion.
On Sunday, while many members explored Berlin or headed home, the Ex-Com meeting took place. We’re looking forward to hearing about the takeaways from this meeting on Sunday as well.
All in all, the AGM was useful to coordinate with members around Germany in moving forward. Specific ideas were born on the weekend and bonds among people with a common goal were strengthened.
Article written by Cynthia Walther
Photos by Chesney McKinley-Severance and Cynthia Walther
On March 11th Democrats Abroad, Hamburg Chapter, participated in the Women's March in Lübeck. The atmosphere and the colors were vibrant. Over 1000 protesters, many donning pink pussyhats, marched up from the iconic Holsten Gate through the old city of Lübeck. Various political organizations, social groups and charities were represented and many set up information stands on the "Schrangen" where the march concluded. The pleasant weather encouraged the crowds to linger and enjoy the live music and gather information. The Lübeck precinct of Dems Abroad also distributed information about our role in Germany, views of the current political situation and becoming a member. The postcards "Make America Gay Again" were high in demand especially among the young people. Standing up for women's rights and our democratic values was a thrilling experience!
Article and photos by Cynthia Walther
Thirty-three energized, committed democrats gathered on Saturday (18 Feb.) for the first general meeting of the year. Many had travelled great distances, some were not even members yet, and others said that they had never before been politically active, but they ALL felt that now was the time to do something. Inaction was yesterday!
First order of business was the election of the new chapter chair Marc Castagnero. Marc´s first words expressed the feelings of the entire group, that the success of the chapter—its activism, dramatic increase in members and willing volunteers was a testament to the determination and dedication of Pamela Cory, its chair for the past two years.
In order to fulfill the wishes of members to be able to protest what they find unfair and to let their views be heard in Congress, Ali prepared a presentation on the most effective way to lobby one´s congressperson, even from abroad. We were encouraged to stay informed online (for example, http://votesmart.org/, or www.govtrack.us/congress/bills#get-alerts) and to make our voices heard, be it by telephone or postcard, individually or in small neighborhood groups. To show how serious we take this responsibility, Sarah encouraged us to sign a pledge to make one phone call every week, and then we each proceeded to write a postcard that was mailed right after the meeting. This was just the start!
Time did not permit a full discussion of all the possible events that we would like to schedule in the near future. Instead there was a suggestion to change the name of our chapter to reflect the valued participation of members from all over northern Germany (Hamburg and Northern Germany or Hamburg Area for example), to be voted on in the future.
Written by Maryann Schmunk
Photos by Eric Shambroom
A new chapter in American politics will begin in a few days’ time. The preservation of democratic values will become more important than ever, within the United States and abroad. As a resident of Hamburg for over ten years, I have been able to watch the city become ever more internationally present. Home to a few thousand other Americans, Hamburg has a great deal to offer to the US political conversation and the direction of the Democratic Party.
I’m 32, from Philadelphia. My parents and sister live there, while my daughter is a “hamburger Deern”. Family, friends and my financial career allow me to feel at home on two continents.
Over the past year, I have become actively involved in the Hamburg Chapter of Democrats Abroad Germany, helping out with events such as GOTV and the upcoming March for American Democracy. These and other events have been part of the Hamburg Chapter’s development during the election campaign. As Chapter Chair, I want to ensure that that development continues, with more democrats living in Hamburg becoming more involved. I am also committed to making our presence as Democrats living abroad known. I believe we can start to achieve this by taking part in the political debate, on issues domestic and international.
I am confident in the people responsible for our Chapter’s successes and their commitment to its future. It is a Chapter I would be honored to lead, and to which I pledge that same commitment.
Marc James Castagnera
On January 21st, one day after the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the USA, Democrats Abroad members and other supporters from all over Northern Germany met at the Hamburger Rathaus to join the millions around the world marching for human rights. The march was kicked off with the song "God Bless America" shortly after 4pm, by which time it had become clear that the turnout would be much larger than expected. A total of 700 "anxious, jealous guardians of democracy" marched in unity to the US Consulate General, chanting and singing in an act of peaceful protest. The number of people and enthusiastic mood reflected the worldwide success of the January 21st marches, as well as the sentiment among Democrats to take action and protect the rights and freedoms that make the USA the country it is. The march concluded with a candlelight vigil, song and a call to continued action. Information about how to be active from abroad was distributed. Since the event, the Hamburg Chapter has received several membership requests from eager, American volunteers. The Chapter looks forward to being joined by new Americans in the Hamburg area and northern Germany, and coordinating with non-Americans to make a difference in the never-ending fight for human rights and democratic values!
Article by Marc Castagnera
A video of the vigil in front of the consulate can be seen here:
Video and photos by Eric Shambroom