HOLIDAY GET-TOGETHER IN LÜBECK
DECEMBER 16, 2017
The sun shone on Lübeck this Saturday! Not only literally, bathing historic buildings and bustling markets in a sharp winter light, but also figuratively, in the comfortable office of YouSpeak, where the Lübeck Precinct held its open house. Three hours of brainstorming discussions were only interrupted to continue with a glass of Glühwein at the nearby Medieval Advent Market in the shadow of the towering Marienkirche.
Discussions ranged from the practical—planning the upcoming March for Democracy on January 20—to the political—trying to prevent the loss of net neutrality and examining the wide-reaching implications of a tax bill that could change our country´s course entirely.
Most interesting were the theoretical questions. How can we help ourselves and each other to keep informed about so many complex issues that could play an oversized role in our future, such as environmental issues and climate change and its effect on livelihoods? How should political parties navigate the fine line between patriotism and nationalism? Or how to continue to react to the seemingly endless attempts to deprive millions of health care? We also asked ourselves: why should one become a member of Democrats Abroad and how can we encourage members to become more active volunteers? The answer—afternoons like this! Many thanks to Cynthia for her hospitality and Maryann´s cookies weren´t bad either.
Text by Maryann Schmunk, Photos by Maryann Schmunk and Cynthia Walther
Cynthia Walther posted about Tiny Actions Signup on Facebook 2017-12-15 15:17:22 -0500I just subscribed to the Tiny Actions email newsletter.
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 theater 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 repairable.
. 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 by Maryann Schmunk
Photo by Julie Silvera
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 a 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 by Maryann Schmunk
Photos by Maryann Schmunk and Chesney McKinley Severance
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 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
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
8-9 December, 2016
Despite the shock and disappointment that overwhelmed us in the early morning hours of December 9, we would be remiss if we did not report on our lively election night party. The German Social Democratic Party kindly invited us to join them for an open ended evening/morning held at their headquarters, in Kurt Schumacher House. Over 150 people packed the large rooms which had been festively decorated with flags, banners and brightly colored campaign posters. Our red, white and blue blended perfectly with their red, just as our members mingled easily with theirs. By the time the panel discussion began it was standing room only. Phillip Reviere of Democrats Abroad Hamburg joined three other experts and a moderator to discuss the inner workings of the US election system, their prognosis of who would win (unfortunately wrong), and comparisons with Germany. Members of the audience eagerly asked questions, munched on donuts and later enjoyed music while waiting for the first results.
One American from the audience, MJ Ayer (actor, dancer and singer in Hamburg), expressed concern with how the Democratic Party had been treating the minorities in the campaign. Although his statement was listened to with respect, he wasn’t given much attention. Only days later would we realize that he was addressing one of the deficiencies of the campaign.
As the results came in, the excitement grew at first, the crowd cheering with each newly won blue state and district. In the beginning the few red states on the board didn’t offend. The atmosphere dampened quickly, however, when Florida refused to go blue. By 3 am it slowly dawned on everyone that the election might turn out differently than expected. In the early morning hours, only a handful Americans were left, trying not to give up all hope. They were reluctant to leave the supportive company of their fellow democrats. Eventually it became clear to all present that the challenges of 2017 had changed their shape completely. It is now more important than ever to be politically active and stand up for what we believe in.
Our sincere thanks goes out to the SPD Zentrale for their invitation, organization and their supportive members.
Written by Maryann Schmunk and Cynthia Walther
Please click on the image below to see the Election Night Party Photo Album
Cynthia Walther published Gun Control: Thousands of Lives can be Saved with a few Regulations in News 2016-11-02 09:47:29 -0400
Some thirty five people filed into the Linklater Auditorium on 27 October 2016 to watch the film "Making a Killing: Guns, Greed and the NRA". We were proud to announce that it was the first showing outside the USA, and we remain extremely grateful to Brucerius Law School and its politically active students who offered us such an attractive room for the premiere, and even provided popcorn and soft drinks as sustenance for the 103 minutes of this wrenching documentary. The film demonstrated emotionally, but backed by reliable statistics, how the greed of the National Rifle Association supercedes any concern for the lives of vulnerable, often totally innocent victims of gun violence.
The evening began with an introduction by Eric Shambroom which compared statistics related to guns in the USA and Germany and it ended as he threw the floor open to questions. Several people spoke and one asked for more information about the Second Amendment. The most telling and sad line of the discussion was Eric´s observation of the difference that the placement of a comma could make in the interpretation of a few short lines in a document written over 200 years ago--the U.S. Constitution.
Here however, are some practical regulations the filmmakers suggest could save thousands of lives. These common sense measures already enjoy a large acceptance by the American public:
1. Make universal background checks mandatory for all gun sales. (For gun fairs, private, and internet sales these checks are not required as yet)
2. Lock all guns and store them safely. New technical features have been developed that make it easy to lock a gun to prevent someone else from using it accidentally.
3. Increase co-operation between neighboring states with differing regulations (for example, Chicago, where within 30 minutes anyone can cross state borders and buy all the weapons that are forbidden in Illnois)
4. Introduce a purchase limit for buying ammunition. This is especially important online where there are currently no limits on the types and amounts of weapons and ammunition that can be bought in a short time.
5. Consider requiring a 24 hour waiting period before being allowed to buy a gun. Even this short amount of time would prevent countless suicides. This is a public health issue that should be addressed .
The filmmakers urge all of us to take action--write congressmen, stage protests--whatever draws attention. They rightly point out that the only purpose assault weapons serve is to kill massive amounts of people in the shortest amount of time. We would like to help save these lives instead.
Article written by Maryann Schmunk
The largest crowd in recent history turned out for our Campaign Kickoff--Labor Day Celebration on 5 September in Hamburg! The group was energized by the presence of so many new members, in large part thanks to the recently formed Young Dems. We were also pleased that Jan Pörksen, SPD member, shared his thoughts on the democratic process with us, and that Quaide Williams, DA Chair, travelled such a long way to attend.
After partaking of an impressive array of food and drink, the thirty attendees broke into working groups and set about urgently making plans for get-out-the-vote events. Our thanks goes out to all of the volunteers who made these projects such a success!
Democrats Abroad Hamburg hosted two successful Get Out the Vote Information Tables on Jungfernstieg on the Alster. Over two weekend days in October, our eager DA volunteers spoke to well over a hundred people, including many Americans. The Info Table volunteers encouraged Americans to request their absentee ballots, informed potential voters about state deadlines, inspired non-Americans to persuade their American friends to vote from abroad, and had many exciting and surprising conversations with people about the election and its potential effects on people here in Germany and around the world. We were thrilled to reach so many Americans (and those that know them) and glad to share with Hamburg a bit of good ol' fashioned American grassroots GOTV activism!
October 2nd was the first Get-together of the new Lübeck precinct. The group was small, but lively. Among mountains of chocolate chip cookies and brownies, we compared ballots from our different states and discussed other possibilities of reaching Americans in the Lübeck area. We answered questions about voting, becoming a Democrats Abroad member and some other general questions about living in Germany.
We still have lots of t-shirts, cups, buttons and cups, so if you don't have your election survival kit yet, make sure you stop by to stock up!