MELBOURE—With the year winding down and Americans across the globe spending the holidays with their loved ones, the Victorian chapter of Democrats Abroad Australia (DAA) met for the final time last Saturday before the new year commenced. The chapter chair, Thomas Lopez, conducted a year-in-review and shared his vision for 2018.
The event was not without excitement and enthusiasm as native Californian and current U.S. expatriate in the Netherlands, Martha McDevitt-Pugh, paid a visit to Melbourne and eagerly joined the Victorian chapter to provide an update on several initiatives within the Democratic National Committee (DNC). McDevitt-Pugh is a trusted voice within key circles in the Democratic Party, and a titan among the advocates fighting for the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons.
In addition to co-chairing DA’s Global LGBT Caucus and formerly chairing DA-Netherlands, McDevitt-Pugh was also elected by DA to be part of its eight-person delegation as members of the DNC. During her hour-and-a-half-long conversation with DAA-Victoria members, McDevitt-Pugh provided invaluable input to the chapter’s discussion and offered her thoughts on upcoming DA and DNC efforts.
During the roundtable discussion with McDevitt-Pugh, chapter members were given the opportunity to express concerns about both the direction of the DNC and their hopes for the direction the party will take them in the future. When asked by local member Terry Huddy if the DNC is making any changes in response to the 2016 presidential contest, McDevitt-Pugh was able to give insight on the shifting focus of the party through its new leadership elected in early 2017. Moving forward, the DNC will aim for strong Democratic candidates in every election. While the overall goal will be to present voters with the choice of Democratic candidates at every level, she highlighted the particular importance of electing Democratic governors in 2018 to fight for fair census redistricting and voter rights legislation.
“If you want something to happen in the world, you’ve got to step up,” urged McDevitt-Pugh. “In 2017, Germany, Malta, and Australia all finally recognized gay marriage—this isn’t an accident on any account, it was achieved because you and I and millions of others spoke out about the unfairness of LGBT discrimination,” she added.
At the most recent DNC meeting, McDevitt-Pugh spoke with U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and other key lawmakers about upcoming items on the congressional agenda. Carrying on the momentum of Doug Jones’ mid-December Alabama Senate victory, Democrats plan to continue running candidates in every possible race on the federal, state, and local levels in every U.S. zip code.
McDevitt-Pugh also spoke of her role as a DNC member in fighting for grant funding to assist DA with its overseas get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. Local member Chris Stueckle stated, “I’m thankful that even in Australia I could genuinely help individuals having problems wanting to vote but not knowing how—like an overseas woman I knew who tried to vote in Michigan and was rejected, but only through DA assistance was it determined that she was, in fact, eligible to vote in Oklahoma. I would love to see DA having more resources to help overseas Americans with voting assistance.” According to McDevitt-Pugh, all eight of DA’s DNC members are pushing the party leadership for full grant funding to assist with overseas GOTV phone calls, online discussions and other uses of necessary technology which makes it easier for Americans abroad to learn about candidates, the direction of the party, voting, and corresponding with U.S. elected officials.
Chair Lopez summed up the importance of the guest visit. “I believe we all gained valuable insight on what the party is doing globally and domestically because of Martha’s heavy involvement and I applaud her for the tremendous efforts she’s put in over the years. Martha has never once wavered in her commitment to pushing for LGBT rights even when facing enormous political challenges and living over 5,000 miles away from her hometown. We should all be inspired to take more action after hearing Martha speak. I hope if she visits Melbourne again that she re-visits us,” he stated.
Having recently transferred DA membership from Japan to DAA-Victoria, Brigette Relyea expressed her deep appreciation for McDevitt-Pugh’s tireless work and perspective in creating the kind of change many Democrats felt was long overdue.
Both Lopez and McDevitt-Pugh strongly emphasized the point for all DAA-Victoria members to double-check their voter registration status in their home state and to request a ballot for upcoming primary elections. Members are now eligible to do so here (or here).
The chapter meeting also touched on the 2017 success of the DNC’s “Resistance Summer” initiative. McDevitt-Pugh stated that Democrats both stateside and overseas have pledged to fight to preserve the Obama legacy, reject harmful policies brought forth by Republican officials and the Trump Administration, and demand attention on those issues willfully ignored by conservative policymakers such as U.S. mass shootings and the expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Moreover, in a move supported by all in the party, the DNC’s Unity Reform Commission recently proposed major changes to the party’s internal structure. The report from the DNC meeting, held in Las Vegas in October, can be viewed here.
As 2018 promises to usher in more chaos within the White House and likely more unpopular measures brought forth in the Republican-led Congress, DA members can be sure of at least three special elections for congressional races happening where members can be involved in GOTV efforts.
The chair announced the next meeting of the Victoria Chapter to be tentatively set for mid-February 2018. The exact date, time, and location will be posted on the DAA-Victoria web site once confirmed.
Marybeth Yaroush contributed to this article.
Democrats Abroad is the official arm of the U.S. Democratic Party for Americans residing outside of U.S. states and territories. The Victoria chapter of Democrats Abroad Australia is an active and dedicated group of members whose primary focus is exercising their right to vote from abroad and electing Democratic candidates, in addition to raising awareness of and advocating for issues that concern Americans living abroad.