By Arlie Russell Hochschild
Discussed by the Hamburg Chapter Book Club, 10 March, 2018


Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild set out to explain what she calls the “Great Paradox”—why people vote against their own best interests—in this case, supporting Republican politicians while repudiating the Environmental Protection Agency. Her choice of Louisiana was predicated on the fact that it ranked 49th on a recent human development index of all the states, yet boasted the largest number of Tea Party representatives in Congress. Limiting her study to environmental issues also made sense as the state exhibited one of the highest levels of pollution in the country, yet the greatest resistance to regulating those responsible. Her research aimed to find out if it was possible “to know others from the inside, to see reality through their eyes, to understand the links between life, feeling, and politics; that is, to cross the empathy wall?”

We all agreed that she succeeded, and most of us read her book with optimism, wanting to give it a try as well. For five years Hochschild LISTENED, and her encounters are presented as a series of themed stories of individuals, ending with a huge fact checking appendix offering a contrast to the deeply felt beliefs she recorded.

“POLLUTION IS THE SACRIFICE WE MAKE FOR CAPITALISM.” The American Dream plays an outsized role in these stories, as does a belief that hard work should be rewarded, not only in the afterlife, but also with all the material trappings they long for now. In contrast to liberals who tend to resent the upper 1% of the wealthiest, Tea Party supporters admire the super-rich who they feel have been blessed from above. Furthermore, they have convinced themselves that they are faced with an either/or situation: “You can´t have both the oil industry and clean lakes.” Despite extraordinary loss of life and property, they remain loyal to the petrochemical plants which are literally killing them, because they provide the jobs that enable them to ascend the class ladder too. As for capitalism, “What else, besides family and church, was there worth feeling loyalty to?” asked one woman. Needless to say, our group came up with another version of the American dream including feeling safe, access to a good education, not having to worry about health care, and the freedom of each individual to seek happiness in their own way.

Also enlightening, Hochschild details the absolute derision these Tea Party supporters have for those who accept government help (food stamps, unemployment benefits, even health care) regardless of the circumstances. To clarify, she presents an interesting construct that helps us understand their lack of empathy—cutting in line. With their emphasis on the American Dream, and their belief that their hard work and lifelong sacrifices on the altar of capitalism entitled them to be near the front of the line when rewards are distributed, they became disillusioned by developments starting at the end of the 1960´s with the rise of identity politics, the cosmopolitan middle class, and an “undeclared class war.” They felt short-changed and ever more resentful of those who they saw as cutting in front of them in line, not to mention the liberal policies that enabled them. They felt like strangers in their own land.

“THE IDENTITY POLITICS CANDIDATE FOR WHITE MEN” Small wonder that the candidacy of Trump captured not only their imagination but their votes! The book ends as Hochschild attends a campaign rally of joyous hedonism conservative style—a release from the constraints of political correctness—where the candidate on stage gave voice to all their unspoken feelings and cultural yearnings. He promised to make them great again.

SYMPATHY FATIGUE” Perhaps the biggest surprise was that conservatives were not only keenly aware of their reputation among liberals , at least in a stereotypical way, but many were at pains to insist that they were not bad people just because they did not feel sorry for immigrants or the underprivileged, for example. On the other hand, they resented what they described as being told how to feel, as well being looked down upon and ridiculed by liberals. Perhaps this is an opening for us, and we could at least feel satisfied that we are trying to bridge the divide by reading this book. The optimists among us were a bit deflated though, by the fact that even Hochschild hardly managed to budge any of her subjects politically, although in the end, she did count them all as friends.

By coincidence, on the very day the book club met, the New York Times printed a story which provides an up to date account of the tragic story of environmental degradation in Louisiana:

Please join us on 21 April when Book Club members journey to Berlin and meet up with fellow Democrats to visit the Topographie des Terrors, after reading On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder. More details to follow.

Text and Photo by Maryann Schmunk


2018 DAG AGM in Hamburg

Thanks to an amazing group effort by DAG, the Hamburg Chapter and its many volunteers, this year's AGM in the Hafenstadt was a success!  It is safe to say that everyone attending is fired up & ready to go for the GOTV season.  There is a lot of work ahead of us, but we will get it done, and we will get it done together.

Over 20 changes to DAG bylaws were debated and voted on, with the majority passing and making changes that will shape and strengthen our organization.  These include conditions necessary for new chapter formation, and the structure of leadership.  It was inspirational to see nearly 100 members discuss and argue opposing points in a constructive, democratic fashion.

Special thanks to Josh Handelman of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, who came all the way from Washington, DC to talk to us Saturday evening about the elections this November.  He is a wealth of information, having answers to anyone's questions about any upcoming race (literally).  The Democratic Party has a real chance to take back Congress, and voters from abroad need to be part of that!

And special thanks to all the volunteers who helped make this event possible, and all the homestay hosts who helped members from around the country be able to attend. It was a beautiful thing to see so many of us coming together and working toward a common goal. We hope to see you again. And if we haven't seen you yet, come on and check out what's going on!

Below you will find a series of brief articles about the AGM, called AGM Notes.

Text by Marc Castagnera
Photos by Margaret Metzler & Eric Shambroom


AGM Notes: Neuland / Uncharted Territory

This year’s AGM started off with a bang and a fiery display of emotions in a theatrical roller-coaster. Theater director, Julia Hart, put together a collage of episodes highlighting American reactions to the election in 2016 and its aftermath on American expats and their families. The eight amateur actresses sang, yelled, whispered and laughed through scenes they had experienced themselves in the US or abroad. The idea for the piece actually occurred to Julia at a workshop hosted by one of our own Democrats Abroad members in order to work through the post-election emotional storm. It became clear to Julia that a theater piece would not only help the women on the stage, but also other Americans living abroad. Shortly before this special performance for the AGM, Julia and her actresses updated the piece to include elements reflecting the Parkland mass shooting and the #MeToo movement.

After the standing ovation, the actresses and the director sat next to each other on the stage to take questions from the audience. Most members of the audience, who were shaken and had streaky cheeks, welcomed the chance to express gratefulness to and admiration of the performers. There were also non-Democrats Abroad people in the audience who drew parallels to Europe and the issues here with populism.

In years to come, when one looks back on the election of 2016 and the subsequent presidency of Donald Trump, the feelings of frustration, disappointment, abandonment and utter helplessness will no doubt come to mind. Now, thanks to Neuland and the impressive theater company, the feelings of belonging and being understood among fellow Americans far away from home will be present as well.            

Text by Cynthia Walther         


AGM Notes: Communication with Democrats Abroad

Katie Solon had the formidable task of presenting the working session on Saturday morning entitled: Getting/Staying Connected to Democrats Abroad—People, Teams, Tools, Calls, Meetings—I kid you not!

She described the WIKI,, which provides Democrats Abroad members with many helpful tools and information such as:

· A list of officers for each Chapter with contact information
· Get out the vote, voter registration, and ballot request information
· Information on groups allied to Democrats Abroad
· Democratic National Committee Members contact information
· Information on Caucuses and Tax Forces
· Up to date summary of rules
· Guide to doing phone banking

This website can be accessed with a password which is available from the Chapter Chair. We also learned that any member may join in DAG regularly scheduled calls by signing up in advance. There is also access to EXCOM and EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Asia regions) calls, plus special web forums on a particular topic, with a guest speaker.

The possibility of starting an Environmental Issues Group within Germany was raised and a few individuals expressed interest. Please contact me if you too would like to see this happen or can offer your assistance.

I had hoped that there would also be time to talk about how Democrats Abroad communicates with us, its members, but alas time was up. At least now though, we have an address book of sorts where complaints and suggestions can be directed.

Text by Maryann Schmunk
Photos by Eric Shambroom


AGM Notes: DA Caucuses

AGM attendees had the chance in the afternoon to break up into groups and talk about the different caucuses that are part of DA. It was a great opportunity for members from around Germany to meet and talk face-to-face about the specific issues their groups can focus on. Several members want to get more involved and pursue coordinated action in the months to come. You can find more details about the DA caucuses here, and about the newly formed DAG Veterans and Military Families Caucus here .

Text by Marc Castagnera
Photos by Eric Shambroom


AGM Notes: Communicating with Conservatives

The workshop presented by Sociologist Laura van Berkel entitled Communicating with Conservatives lasted only forty five minutes, but the room full of listeners could easily have discussed this crucial issue for the rest of the afternoon. Her basic premise is that how we frame an issue is a statistically significant predictor of how our proposal will be received. It sounds so simple, but it is not always easy to put into practice, as we are often only used to talking to people who share our beliefs, and prioritize their values in the same way as we do. We speak in a sort of code and may rarely interact with persons who are suspicious of scientific data and mistrustful of government overreach.

Laura did an excellent job of compressing the basic facts and results of sociological studies into a compact format that made it abundantly (and graphically) clear that the way liberals present their arguments predicts the amount of acceptance they will receive. Here is an attempt to summarize her presentation:

· First some important Liberal values that underlie our attitudes were defined: Caring for the Welfare of others; Fairness and Reciprocity; Openness to Future Change; and Understanding and Tolerance. Conservative values present an obvious contrast: Patriotism and Respect for Authority; Loyalty, Purity and Respect for Tradition; Adherence to social expectations and norms; Security and Stability.

· Using the example of environmental issues she then contrasted approaches. Discussions on this subject are typically framed in ideological and moral terms that appeal to liberals, and evoke visions of what we can expect in the future. Studies were cited that prove that when the same issue is discussed in terms such as: “Follow the example of your religious leaders”; “Show your patriotism and love of country”; or “Make our founding fathers proud”, conservatives were some 20-30% more likely to approve of these environmental initiatives.

· We practiced among ourselves using other loaded issues such as abortion or gun control and agreed with Laura´s conclusion that: “Messages are more effective when they allow people to maintain personal values and outlook.” Conservatives are more likely to deny the existence of a problem that confounds their own identity and beliefs. Interestingly enough, the variation among liberals was nearly statistically insignificant between the two ways of framing arguments. I will leave the interpretation of this result to you.

This session reminded us, that in order to get an important message across, it is worth the effort to put ourselves into conservatives´ shoes, to try to understand the beliefs that shape their world view, and to use vocabulary and images that will make them at least listen, and possibly eventually convince them. It behooves our party to follow this advice too.

For further information, here are links to three recent newspaper articles pertinent to this discussion:

A German journalist follows the lives of one American liberal and one conservative for a year, before they meet in person, with a surprise ending: A long read, but worth it.

Editorial by David Brooks on an organization that brings conservatives and liberals together to talk.

Article on how conservatives interpret efforts to preserve National Parks in Oregon:

Book club members recommend Hillbilly Elegy and Deer Hunting with Jesus, both reviewed on this website: . Those interested in environmental issues will appreciate Strangers in their Own Land, Arlie Hochschild´s attempt to understand the paradox that those who suffered the most from environmental pollution nevertheless continued to vote against their own interests for Republicans.

Even if you have not read this book you are invited to the next Book club discussion of it with coffee and cake around a cozy fireplace on:


Text by Maryann Schmunk
Photo by Chesney McKinley Severance


AGM Notes: Executive Committee Meeting

DemsAbroadGermany_AGM-2018_5389_lo-res_1_.jpgThe AGM in Hamburg concluded with an ExComm meeting Sunday morning, which could have gone longer than the planned 6 hours. Best practices regarding the DA website, membership database and the DA Wiki were discussed, and members had the opportunity to share valuable information for the current election year. Katie Solon talked about phone banking, the single most effective way of getting Americans living outside of the US to vote.  (If you are interested in helping, you can find more information here:

Also for GOTV this year, each chapter received a tablet and portable printer to make voter registration right at our stands and during other events possible. We were all very excited about getting started with these new tools. If you are interested in helping with our GOTV efforts or have ideas, please reach out to us at or

Finally, the location of next year's AGM was voted on. It was a close race between Kaiserslautern and Heidelberg, with Heidelberg winning by only a couple votes. After the positive experience of this year's AGM, we in Hamburg are very much looking forward to it!



Text by Marc Castagnera
Photos by Eric Shambroom


March For Democracy 2018

If you worry about the millions of vulnerable fellow citizens who will soon be deprived of health care, March With Us!

If you wince at every mention of pristine lands of great cultural significance, once preserved for posterity, being greedily turned over to drilling or mining, March With Us!

If you are sickened by the ever widening gap between the rich and poor just reinforced by the cynical, hypocritical new tax bill, March With Us!

If you believe that children of illegal immigrants should be allowed to remain in the only country they know, March With Us!

If you feel that truth should still have a place in political discourse, March With Us!

If you are convinced that climate change is real and that our country should not abandon its responsibility to lead the international community in preventing a disastrous future, March With Us!

If you understand the important distinction between patriotism and nationalism, March With Us!

If you respect basic human rights and freedoms and the constitution of our country, 
                                                                                              THEN YOU MUST MARCH WITH US ON JANUARY 20th!

                                         March For Democracy

                                                            Saturday, January 20th, 2018

                                                                              Starting point: Hamburger Rathaus, Rathausmarkt 1, 20095 Hamburg
                                                                                                                 gathering at 13:30, marching at 14:00
                                                                              Ending point:    
US Consulate, north side, Alsterufer, 20354 Hamburg
                                                                                                                  ending at 16:00

Please join us! We encourage you to bring candles and posters bearing any positive message of support for humane and democratic principles.

The march will conclude with information on how you can become active in preserving American democracy. Come rain or shine!

If you have any questions, please contact

Please send this link on to any other Americans who might be interested in taking part. We look forward to seeing you on Saturday, January 20th!

Democrats Abroad Germany, Hamburg Chapter


Holiday GetTogether 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


GOTV, voting rights, 1 year after...

During the week of Nov 8th, one year after the 2016 US election, Hamburg Chapter members came together to talk about Getting Out The Vote in 2018 and the status of our eligibility to take part in US elections as citizens living abroad.  We were joined by some new faces and used the opportunity to exchange ideas and talk about what we consider important for the future of the USA.  Some of our members also took part in another performance of Neuland, this time in Lüneburg.  Thank you to everyone who came out - we look forward to seeing you at other upcoming events!