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Voices from our Community - Meet our Avuncular American

 

Gerald Loftus with his I Voted face mask

If you've been to one of our Film Nights or watched local French-language coverage of US political events, you just might recognize the face behind this mask. It belongs to Gerald "Jerry" Loftus, a volunteer/spokesperson for Democrats Abroad Belgium and former US Foreign Service Officer. 

The day after the 2016 election, Jerry wrote in his blog, The Avuncular American, about the worrying parallels he saw between the advent of Trump and what happened in Germany in the 1930s. Now, as we approach the November 2020 election, the alarm bells are ringing throughout the world, prompting Jerry to once again share his post with our Communications Team. We thought it was worth sharing with all of you.

The author of the classic work Loftus cites on the rise of Nazism described his book as "an attempt to understand one of the central political and moral problems of the twentieth century: how a civilized democracy could be plunged into a nihilistic dictatorship."  Today many Americans are trying to mobilize to avoid history repeating itself.

Have a read for yourself and see if you find the parallels. Share it with family and friends and help us reach the more than 100 million Americans who did not vote. Check your voting status and have them check theirs on IWillVote.com. Time is running out.

 

 


Voices from our Community - Meet Your Convention Delegate, Onelica Andrade

Democratic Convention Delegate Onelica Andrade

Voices from our Community is a series that aspires to showcase the diverse voices of our Democratic community in Belgium. This week we meet Onelica Andrade, an active volunteer in Brussels and member of DA's delegation to the 2020 Democratic Convention.

I was born in Venezuela and moved to the USA when I was a teenager. I spent my teenage years in the small town of Davis, California, where I also went to college at UC Davis. While I was active in the community through the local church, I wasn't involved in politics. I volunteered in after-school programs, including ESL (English as a Second Language), where I helped students, often from migrant farmworker families, with their school work. I wanted to help those who, like me, came to a new country and had to function in an unfamiliar language. The people I met on the ESL program reflected the diverse, kind, and compassionate side of our country.

In 2016 I moved to Brussels for work, the same year Trump won the election. I was in shock and denial. It was not until I watched Trump being sworn in from my small Brussels office that reality hit. As I listened to his America First speech, I felt increasingly uncomfortable as it became clear that he would govern as he campaigned: divisively and egotistically. I cried, feeling frustrated and powerless. I felt angry for being passive during the campaign and for naïvely thinking Trump could never win. The tolerant country that welcomed me and my family was at risk and I needed to do something. But being abroad what could I do?

When I got home that day I looked for ways to contribute so that I’d never feel that way again. I found Democrats Abroad (DA) and joined the Brussels Women’s March soon afterwards. It felt good to be actively engaged and to be surrounded by others with the same fears and concerns.

The first few months of the Trump presidency were no better than his Inauguration Day. Misogynistic policies were adopted, travel bans imposed, and plans were in place to cancel DACA. I feared for the kids I had helped, my friends, my family. I never imagined we would have as our President someone so intolerant of those from other cultures who, like me, had made America their home.

Democrats Abroad was a positive outlet for my frustration. After a few months I volunteered to run DA Belgium’s Executive Committee elections, and a year later, this past March, agreed to manage the voting centers for the Global Presidential Primary. The latter came with considerable responsibility, but was incredibly rewarding. I loved seeing new and familiar faces come in to vote, and enjoyed the feeling of hope fostered by the volunteers and voters.

It was clear that work did not stop at the primaries. I had learnt that DA members could run to become delegates at the National Convention, representing the voices of Democrats Abroad at the Party convention. I put myself forward as a candidate with no expectations; I thought it would just be a nice opportunity to share my views and allow myself to contribute to the election effort. 

The day of the delegate election, after overcoming my nerves to deliver not one but three speeches; the results came in – I was elected! Even Pauline & Jeffrey, our Chair & Vice-Chair, were surprised! It felt surreal, and a huge honor to represent Democrats Abroad. I am now preparing for the Democratic National Convention. I thought I would be packing my bags to go to Milwaukee, but instead I am going to be part of the first online convention!

I am also working hard to ensure that on November 4th, the day after the election, I will feel that I'll have done my utmost to ensure a blue White House and Congress. There is lots of work to do before then. There are around 6.5 million Americans abroad, more than enough to be the margin of victory. We are the original absentee ballot voters and our votes are at risk. We must be alert and ensure ballots are received and returned on time. And we need to spread the word, so if you know Americans abroad who have not yet registered to vote please encourage them to do so at: www.votefromabroad.org.

We must make Joe Biden our 46th President!

If you haven’t yet requested your absentee ballot, go to www.VoteFromAbroad.org TODAY. Be sure to request that your election materials be sent to you electronically, NOT by postal mail. We’ll be calling, mailing, and/or texting all of our members over the coming weeks to make sure you’ve received your ballots and have sent them back correctly. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out: email us at gotv@democratsabroad.org or at info-belgium@democratsabroad.org.


Voices from our Community - Meet 97-year-old voter, Lida Francombe

Lida Francombe - DA Belgium

Last month you heard from one of our first-time voters, 17-year old (but 18 by Election Day!) Miles Herszenhorn, who wrote a tribute to Congressman John Lewis. This month, DAB Chair, Pauline Manos, shares the story of Lida Francombe, likely our oldest voter and an inspiration to all of us to do our best this summer to get out the vote. We hope she will inspire you, too.

Lida Francombe was born 97 years ago in what is today the Czech Republic. After World War II, she met a young Englishman while at university and they married, leaving Prague just before the borders closed. “My father had told me we should leave, he had friends in the City Council and they told him things weren’t looking good. So we quickly flew to London. The morning after we arrived, I read in the newspapers that 30 Czech brides were blocked from leaving Prague - I was one of the lucky ones.”

After a few years in the UK, Lida and her husband emigrated to Pittsburgh, where she began to teach gymnastics and give Russian lessons. Forty years later, now as US citizens, they moved back to Europe, settling in Belgium near their daughter. In October 2016, Lida emailed DAB, asking how to vote, since her ballot had never arrived. I wrote to her about the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (the FWAB - stay tuned for more on that!) and asked if she needed help. She immediately replied, “Hello, Pauline, my daughter is helping me with the write in ballot. I shall send it today. Thanks for the offer. Go Hillary!”

Nearly four years later, Lida was even more determined to vote and she reached out again this spring, writing to our Vice-Chair, Jeffrey Edison. “After my husband died I did not care about many things, but this time I consider it my moral duty to vote. I need a lot of help, I am ignorant about many things about computing.” Lida found the right person, as Jeffrey also volunteers on our Global IT Team. With a little help from Google Maps and Lida’s recollection of her last voting center, they sorted out which of the similarly-named addresses on the VoteFromAbroad.org site was her last one, and completed her Federal Post Card Application (FPCA).

I realized, though, that with this spring’s postal crisis, it would be better if Lida were to get her election materials via email and not get a paper ballot, so I reached out. She hadn’t yet sent back her FPCA and asked me if I could come over to her house to help her update it. I was a bit hesitant but she insisted, so I donned my mask and finally had the honor of meeting (from a distance!) this incredible woman. It was then that I learned her story and she asked me mine. I told her of my own journey to Europe, about my work with DA, and of our volunteers' occasional difficulty to convince some people to vote. “What do you mean, they don’t want to vote? Are they crazy? They want Trump as President??”

That morning, we talked of so many things - the challenges Covid had brought to families spread across continents, our shared conviction that we needed to get Joe Biden and his team into the White House, her tips for healthy living (floor exercises every morning on her gorgeous carpet!).  I finally had to leave, so Lida signed her FPCA, we took a picture of it and emailed it to her Local Election Official, and then decided to walk together to the post office to send in the signed copy, just to be on the safe side. She got her shopping basket, adjusted her mask, and suddenly bent over to adjust her shoe strap…touching her toes at 97! I left Lida outside her post office, determined to keep up my yoga so that I, too, could touch my toes in my 90s and keep making my own voice heard.

If you haven’t yet requested your absentee ballot, go to www.VoteFromAbroad.org TODAY. Be sure to request that your election materials be sent to you electronically, NOT by postal mail. We’ll be calling, mailing, and/or texting all of our members over the coming weeks to make sure you’ve received your ballots and have sent them back correctly. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out: email us at gotv@democratsabroad.org or at info-belgium@democratsabroad.org.


Voices from our Community - A Tribute to John Lewis

John Lewis

Voices from our Community is a series that aspires to showcase the diverse voices of our Democratic community in Belgium. This essay, commemorating the life of civil rights icon, John Lewis, who passed away on July 18th, is written by Miles Herszenhorn, DAB's 2020 summer intern. Miles will vote for the first time this fall, just after turning 18. In 2018, Miles organized the Brussels March for our Lives event to protest gun violence and the impact on young people.

Shining a Light on the Life of John Lewis

Miles Herszenhorn

Yes, John Lewis was an American hero. But John Lewis was actually so much more than that. He was the greatest American to ever live.

That is not to say that the Founding Fathers weren’t patriots or that Abraham Lincoln didn’t love the USA, but no one loved and believed in our country the way John Lewis did.

John Lewis started to participate in the Civil Rights Movement when he was still a college student. While he practiced non-violence as one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, he was brutalized and arrested in states across the country by white supremacists and the police. South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama where he was beaten and left for dead are just a few of the states where Lewis’s non-violence was greeted with brutality. However, Rep. John Lewis never gave up. He pressed on determined to achieve change and make a difference.

In 1963, having been elected chairman of the SNCC at the young age of 23, he helped organized the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1964, while marching from Selma to Montgomery as part of a movement to register Black voters, Alabama State Troopers beat up praying protestors and fractured Rep. John Lewis’s skull.

The abuse Lewis faced as a Black American fighting for equal rights in this country was constant. A fraction of that abuse would’ve made most people flee the country and never look back. But, Rep. John Lewis never gave up. He never gave up fighting for what he believed in. He never gave up fighting for the United States of America.

In fact, not only did Lewis not give up on the United States of America, he served the country for over 33 years as a member of Congress. The same country that beat up and arrested Rep. Lewis in multiple states, the same country that more than once left him for dead bleeding when he tried to peacefully protest, that same country is the one he dedicated his life to serving.

However, Rep. John Lewis didn’t change once he went into politics. As he said earlier this year in Selma, “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” Rep. Lewis was arrested 40 times during the Civil Rights Movement and another 5 times while he was a sitting Congressman.

John Lewis loved this country. John Lewis fought for the soul of this country. John Lewis lived for this country and John Lewis died for this country.

We will never be able to thank him enough for everything that he has done, but we must do our best to honor his memory. Let us fight for what is right and get into a whole lot of good trouble.


Voices from our Community - The Rebel Queen

THE REBEL QUEEN

The Rebel Queen

Statues are incarnations of those we choose to honor in our public spaces. They are also testaments to how art breathes life into history. Spurred by the global Black Lives Matter movement, statues in the US that were raised to recast the South’s defeat in the Civil War have now been defaced and removed to protest glorifying that racist past.

Too many countries have tried to hide their role in benefiting from Africa’s exploitation, choosing instead to build statues of those who profited from it, like the one recently thrown into Bristol’s harbor, from where Africans were shipped across the Atlantic to endure centuries of dehumanization. Defacing and toppling statues from their pedestals is one form of protest. Unpacking history and learning from it is another.

A handful of cities have tried to do this quiet yet vital work. Bordeaux, France, for instance, has put up plaques that explain exactly how the slave trade enabled the city to erect its beautiful buildings. France’s second largest port for the slave trade shipped some 150,000 Africans to its then-richest colony of Saint-Domingue. In 1998, Karfa Diallo, a native of Senegal who moved to Bordeaux, founded Memoires & Partages, an association dedicated to never forgetting France’s role in the slave trade. He and others lead city tours that reveal history hiding in plain sight. Thanks to their long-term efforts, that work coming hand-in-hand with protests and demonstrations, now street names are being changed in Bordeaux. 

Included in the tour is a statue of Modeste Testas, created by the Haitian sculptor Caymitte Woodly, who recently sculpted a bust of George Floyd. Modeste was an African woman who survived abduction at the age of 14, deportation from her homeland, then slavery and sexual exploitation for decades in Bordeaux and Haiti. When the man who owned her and for whom she bore children died, she was finally freed. Modeste lived to be over 100 years old, and she died in Haiti, the only country in the world borne from a revolution of the enslaved. A statue like this is a rarity. Why is this so?

Amnesia and injustice go hand in hand. It is much easier to ignore history (or avenge it), than to look it squarely in the face. The Fourth of July is known as Independence Day in the US, a celebration marking the fight against the colonial powers of England. This year, in the wake of our global reckoning with racism, our Independence Day should also be a day for reflecting on all people of African descent who fought for their right to be free from slavery and oppression, and who have been deliberately erased from history. 

In Copenhagen, Denmark, is an old harbor warehouse that was once filled with sugar and rum for which Black lives were traded. In front of it now stands “I Am Queen Mary.” More than 20 feet tall, a regal Black woman sits on a throne, holding a torch in one hand and a knife for cutting sugar cane in the other. She was inspired by Mary Thomas, who led a slave revolt in the Danish West Indies. It is the only statue of its kind, commemorating a Black female slave who led a fight for freedom. I imagine the Rebel Queen’s words today: “The vote is a powerful weapon we never had. Use it well!”

This breathtaking monument was created by two Black female artists, LaVaughn Belle from the Virgin Islands and Jeannette Ehlers, a Dane with Caribbean roots. When I learned more about I Am Queen Mary, I shared her origin story with my 81-year-old mother. She and my father, who passed away in 2015, were born and raised in Haiti. Our ancestors may well have been shipped from Bordeaux. We will never know because before Haitian independence, only the French ancestry in our family tree was documented; it includes a leader in the American Revolution. 

My mother made a vow that one day we would see Queen Mary together. So last December, she traveled from the US for 20 hours to meet me and my husband in Copenhagen. As a chilly winter rain lashed our faces, the three of us made our way gingerly across slippery cobblestones. We were making a pilgrimage to a monument against silence and erasure from history. We were honoring the power of art to shine a light on those hidden in the margins of history. We gazed up at the Rebel Queen as if she held the past, present, and future in her hands.

Nadine Pinede - Democrats Abroad Belgium


Voices from our Community - A Juneteenth Like No Other

Juneteenth is celebrated in remembrance of June 19, 1865, the day that slaves in Galveston, Texas first learned from Union soldiers that they were free. This news came two years after President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It is no coincidence that President Trump chose Juneteenth to schedule his first political rally since March of this year. And it isn’t by chance that he chose Tulsa, Oklahoma, site of one of the most violent massacres of Blacks in American history. In 1921, from May 31 to June 1, incited by rumors of an encounter between a Black man and a white woman, white mobs looted, burned, and shot from private planes to destroy the prosperous Black neighborhood of Greenwood, known as Black Wall Street, murdering and injuring more than 1,000 and leaving 10,000 homeless. No punishment or reparations were ever made, and this white violence was conveniently “forgotten” in the teaching of US history. Only this year, 99 years after the fact, did the massacre become part of the Oklahoma school curriculum. Amnesia is the enemy of social change.

On Juneteenth, Blacks in the US usually gather family and friends for bountiful picnics, with red-colored foods and kola nuts symbolizing Africa and the slave trade. We have always leaned into joy as a means of surviving the ceaseless trauma inflicted upon us. In this summer of resistance that we are currently living through, we’d like to invite all of you to take at least nine minutes to reflect on the individual lives lost to racial violence. Say their names aloud. George Floyd’s name has become known around the world, but take those minutes to think of the many others who are less well-known, including those killed by police in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe. We cannot forget them, the way that countless Black victims of racial violence have been forgotten in the US.

President Trump may have caved in to pressure and changed the date of his Tulsa rally to June 20th. However, he also has said that he will accept his Republican Party's nomination to run again for President on another bleak day in Black American history, in yet another city that saw death and violence - Jacksonville, Florida, on August 27th, Ax Handle Saturday.  Sixty years ago on that day, a group of over 200 white men violently attacked, with ax handles and baseball bats, a group of Black protesters who had gathered peacefully to stand against racial segregation. The attackers were never arrested. The protesters were.

This Juneteenth, we urge all US citizens living in Belgium, regardless of their political persuasion, to register to vote on www.VoteFromAbroad.org. The US has never had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to face the reality of centuries mired in slavery and genocide. Is it any wonder that in 2020, lawmakers are actually “debating" anti-chokehold and anti-lynching laws? Let’s make this Juneteenth a day of remembrance, an act of resistance we can all participate in, wherever we are.

On behalf of the Voices from our Community,
Pauline Manos - Chair, Democrats Abroad Belgium

Voices from our Community - On Atlanta & Fast Food

With this post, we begin a series that aspires to showcase the diverse voices of our Democratic community in Belgium.  We understand that some might prefer to remain anonymous - that is fine. Our intent is not to shine a spotlight but rather to open our eyes to voices other than those we might usually be hearing. If you would like to share your voice, send a note to info-belgium@democratsabroad.org.

On Atlanta & Fast Food

Rayshard Brooks is the most recent victim of the deadly use of force by police. He was shot in the back as he ran away from police, in the parking lot of a Wendy's fast food restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. Police had approached him because he was asleep in his car, and when he failed a sobriety test, he scuffled with them and took one of their tasers. A taser, however, is not a lethal weapon, and the police were not in any imminent danger. On the other hand, the young white man who in 2015 methodically shot and murdered 9 black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church, was handled quite differently by police, who even bought him a Burger King hamburger when he was detained for questioning. Not all lives matter in the same way to those entrusted to protect us.

Brussels - June 14, 2020


Black History Month in Brussels

Black History Month kicked off on February 8th at Toukoul Cafe in Brussels, with an inspiring program of readings, song, and a few rounds of Black History Bingo, complete with prizes.  We met new friends, registered new voters, and learned more about a part of our history that most of us never really learned, whether here in Belgium or back in the States.  But thanks to DAB volunteers, Robin Lofton & Sandra Keegan, we inaugurated what we hope will become an annual Lunch, and we prompted even more spontaneous get-togethers around the theme of Black History.  The following week, members gathered to see the film "Just Mercy" at UGC DeBrouckère in Brussels; other are planning to attend the premieres of "Queen & Slim" and "Harriet", and many will  hear DAB member, Dorrie Wilson, moderate a Writer's Panel ahead of the March 1st showing of the documentary on acclaimed writer, Toni Morrison, "The Pieces I Am" (tickets still available here - http://www.bozar.be/en/activities/163357-toni-morrison-the-pieces-i-am).

We’d really like our attention to Black History and the African-American experience to go beyond the month of February, so if you can help organize an event in the coming months, please get in touch!

DAB member, James Chizungu, reads from James Ellison's "Invisible Man"

DAB member, James Chizungu, reads from James Ellison's "Invisible Man"
Ben Koponen speaks on education
DAB Volunteer, Robin Lofton, takes us through Black History Bingo
DAB member Ted Simmons sings "Love"
The Negro National Anthem


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It's Debate Week - join us!

A huge thanks to our volunteers, Joyce Kedzuf Mostinckx & Anne Clark, who registered US students at KU Leuven last month - as they can attest, it's easy and fun!! So consider helping us Get Out the Vote by joining Tuesday's GOTV Volunteer call - drop a note to Trip DuBard at dabbesec2020@gmail.com and we'll send you the call-in details.

We also have a couple of debate watch events coming up, one in central Brussels on Friday and one out in the 'burbs on Saturday - look for details on our Events page.

Don't have time but still want to help? Consider making a small donation to DA Belgium through our DAB bank account (DAB-Bronzwaer - KBC BE74 7360 2169 3207) or to Democrats Abroad’s international efforts via this link (Donate).

Hope to meet you all soon,

Pauline Manos - DA Belgium Chair

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DEMOCRACY IN ACTION!

#DAinDC - including our own Annie Tanampai!
US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand  addresses #DAinDC on her race for the Democratic Presidential Primary
US Senator Doug Jones spoke to #DAinDC via video, as Alabama went down in history for having the most restrictive abortion laws in the country..
#DAinDC ws also attended by many of us via WebEx...thanks to our members' generaus donations!!

This weekend, many of us are voting in European and local elections. We also commemorate Memorial Day in the US, honoring those who gave their lives to defend the democracy that we so often take for granted. Last weekend, that democracy was in action, as Democrats Abroad held three days of global meetings in Washington, DC. Thanks to the DA Travel Fund, one our members, Annie Tanampai, was able to attend, and DA funded many more of us participating from afar via WebEx.

But fewer than 1% of DA members donate to help us defend this democracy. Please help us change this. Donate Now to Democrats Abroad on a global level. DA provides the resources for us to do what we need to do - from paying for phone calls to our members to social media advertising that helps us get out the vote among the millions of overseas Americans in Belgium and around the world. Our donations really do make a difference, as you saw in our Treasurer's Report at our March Annual General Meeting. So please make a donation now.

I also encourage you to join our Global Caucuses. You can read more about them on DA’s website, as well as meeting the newly-elected International Executive Committee. The Caucuses are open to all allies of the various groups so consider signing up, following them on social media, and even volunteering.

Here in Belgium, our events continue into June, thanks to our many volunteers!

  • June 6th 6:30pm - Schaerbeek Pub Social - RSVP here
  • June 12th 6:30pm - Brussels Film Night - Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 - RSVP here
  • June 27th - Extended ExCom Meeting & Debate Watch Party - pencil in the date and stay tuned for more details in our next email.

If any of you outside Brussels would like to organize a similar event and help us reach more Americans beyond the capital, please do get in touch with us! This is the time for us to raise awareness, ahead of our January 2020 voter registration drive.


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