The French media has always had a fascination with the American presidential election system. Every four years, they trot out “US experts” who explain the arcane Electoral College to their baffled French viewers, and point out what the red and blue areas on the map mean. And, being French, they engage in one of their favorite exercises: moderating debates.
We had a hunch that French media interest in the 2020 US Presidential election would be particularly intense, and we wanted to ensure that we were ready to meet the triple challenge of explaining the role of Democrats Abroad in helping overseas Americans vote, educating the French public about the American election system, and promoting the Biden-Harris ticket as well as the down-ballot Democratic candidates. To do so, the DAFrance national leadership prioritized expanding the experienced spokespersons pool so that it better represented the diversity of our leadership and our regional geography.
If you’ve never been a press spokesperson, you probably can’t imagine what a perilous exercise it can be to go on live TV and radio to answer questions from journalists who excel in getting their guests to say something controversial. You must be careful about every word that comes out of your mouth, because you are there not to give your personal opinion, but rather to “carry the word” of the organization you represent. [The French word for spokesperson– “porte-parole”– expresses this perfectly.]
To be an effective spokesperson for an organization such as Democrats Abroad, there are many elements to master: knowing what to say, knowing how to say it, answering difficult questions, and, of course, skillfully wielding the spokesperson’s specialty: NOT answering certain questions, but rather pivoting to a slightly different topic. (If you’ve ever watched a politician being interviewed and thought “well, what he just said was interesting, but he didn’t really answer the question”, you know what a pivot is.)
So, the DA France leadership and Comms team recruited leaders who had relevant experience, or were willing to learn, and would have the time to devote to the team’s effort once the requests started pouring in. We set up a training program, led by former professional spokesperson, Amy Porter. It quickly became clear to all that you don’t magically become a media spokesperson: it involves training, homework and practice.
From top left (clockwise): Joe Smallhoover, Philip Breeden, Amy Below, Didier Moutou, Gretchen Pascalis, Kate Barrett, Julia Grégoire, Fred Hoffman, Amy Porter.
Our team of 18 trained spokespeople, reaching every corner of l'Hexagone, was comprised of diverse profiles: from teachers and fitness coaches to former State Department staffers, lawyers, and constitutional law experts. They each attended practice sessions where we tried our darndest to get them flustered! Armed with frequently updated Talking Points, the team handled more than 130 media hits by election day, of which 100 were done between November 3rd and 8th. In this whirlwind of activity, some spokespeople did as many as 5 interviews per day, including:
- Panel discussions, interviews, and debates with Republicans.
- National media outlets, such as LCI, BFM, M6, FranceInfo, RTL, FranceInter, France24, Libération and Le Parisien as well as numerous local television, radio stations and newspapers.
The appetite for debates in the French media was seemingly endless, as was the stream of Republican spokespeople. But we outmatched them: the people invited to TV studios had not benefited from the professional training that our spokespeople had undergone, and were armed only with “alternative facts” and conspiracy theories. In that respect, they accurately represented their candidate… Some of those debates got a “bit” heated. But our team rose to the occasion time and again, showing calmly and patiently that truth prevails over lies.
We continued to comment on the election results through mid-November, and expected a quiet few weeks until Inauguration Day. That calm came to an abrupt halt with the Capitol Insurrection on Jan. 6th, which we were compelled to comment on in real time as the events of the day unfolded! No amount of training or talking points could have prepared us for that… But we persisted, and were again asked to comment on TV, radio and print through the Biden-Harris Inauguration Day, doing an additional 49 hits in January, after which we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Here are a few examples of DA France spokespeople in action (and a trip down memory lane):
November 1: Le Progrès (Lyon) with Diane Sklar
November 4: France 24 with Amy Below
November 5: France 3 (Paris/IdF) with Didier Moutou
November 6: FranceInfo with Fred Hoffman
November 7: France 24 with Gretchen Pascalis
November 7: Libération with Ada Shen and Amy Porter
November 8: BFM with Philip Breeden
January 19: 20 Minutes (Toulouse) with Scott Stroud
January 20: LCI with Julia Grégoire
February 9: LCI with Amy Porter
DA France is proud of the work done by the Media team, which has led to a higher profile in France for Democrats Abroad, supporting our mission around the world. Now, we stand ready for whatever the news cycle throws our way.
Thanks to our spokespeople! (in alphabetic order)
- Kate Barrett (Paris)
- Reed Kennedy (Paris)
- Amy Below (Paris)
- Didier Moutou (Paris)
- Philip Breeden (Marseille)
- Gretchen Pascalis (Grenoble)
- Victoria Gonzales (Paris)
- Amy Porter (Deputy National Communications Coordinator)
- Julia Grégoire (National Counsel)
- Ada Shen (National Chair)
- Rebecca Grossberg (Lille/Normandy)
- Diane Sklar (Lyon)
- Fred Hoffman (Paris)
- Joe Smallhoover (International Legal Counsel)
- Jonathon Holler (National Vice Chair)
- Scott Stroud (Toulouse)
- Aimee Johanssen (Brittany)
- Erik Teetsov (Bordeaux)
- Barbara Wells (Strasbourg)
Following are the National, Caucus and Chapter elections taking place this Spring 2021 across Democrats Abroad France. Public election notices with details will go out to every Chapter and Caucus member as well as Nationally. (Updated Feb. 13)
National Caucus Annual General Meeting & Elections
- Diversity Caucus - Sat. March 6, 2021
- LGBTQ+ Caucus - Sat. March 27, 2021
- Veterans & Military Families Caucus - Mon. March 15, 2021
- Women's Caucus - Thu. March 11, 2021
- Youth Caucus - Sat. March 13, 2021
- Avignon Chapter - Sat. March 6, 2021
- Bordeaux Chapter - Sun. March 14, 2021
- Brittany Chapter - Sat. March 20, 2021
- Grenoble Chapter - Sun. March 21, 2021
- Lyon Chapter - Thu. March 4, 2021
- Marseille Chapter - Sat. March 13, 2021
- Montpellier Chapter - Sun. March 14, 2021
- Normandy Chapter - Sat. March 13, 2021
- Paris Chapter - Sat. March 13, 2021
- Riviera Chapter - Wed. March 3, 2021
- Strasbourg Chapter - Sun. March 7, 2021
- Toulouse Chapter - Sun. March 7, 2021
Democrats Abroad France National Annual General Meeting & Elections
- DA France National Officer & Voting Representative Elections - Sat. April 17, 2021 - Save the Date! Details TBA
(All DA members in France may vote in the DA France National elections.)
Democrats Abroad Global Annual General Meeting & Elections
- Democrats Abroad Global Meeting & Election - Sat. - Sun. May 15-16, 2021 - Save the Date! Details TBA
(Voting Members of the Democratic Party Committee Abroad "DPCA" may vote in the DA Global Meeting and Elections. The DPCA Voting members of France are the Chair, Vice Chair, Second Vice Chair, and Voting Representatives.)
CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH with the DA FRANCE DIVERSITY CAUCUS
Excerpts from MAYA: A VOICE
Barefoot Productions and the Big Funk Company
MAYA: A VOICE tells the story of Marguerite Johnson, an African American girl who loses her voice following a traumatic event, her personal journey to find it again and how she becomes the iconic MAYA ANGELOU... It is a joyous story of resilience and hope, where words, music and poetry triumph over hardship.
Performed Ursuline Kairson, Julie Delaurenti or Sharon Mann, Vanessa Dolmen, Tiffany Hofstetter or Elizabeth Wautlet, and Audrey Mikondo.
INTERVIEW WITH DR. FLORENCE LADD by Audrey Edwards
Following the performance, we will be joined by poet, novelist and academic Florence Ladd to discuss her life as an Black American expat and her relationship with France. The interview will be conducted by journalist and author Audrey Edwards.
Florence Ladd receiving the W.E.B. Du Bois medal from Harvard University, 2018.
About Florence Ladd
Florence Ladd attended public schools in Washington, D.C. She obtained her Bachelor's degree in psychology from Howard University and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Rochester. Dr. Ladd has had an extensive career as a teacher and administrator. She has taught at Simmons College, Robert College, the American College for Girls in Istanbul, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She has held deanships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Wellesley College. Ladd also has a great deal of experience working abroad as she has spent time in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Turkey, and China. She is the author of numerous nonfiction and fiction works and has served as the overseer of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, as well as a member of the Board of Trustees of Hampshire College. Previously, she served on the board of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Among other honors she received the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal from Harvard University in 2018.
Dr. Ladd’s relationship with France began at the age of 12 when she “announced to my family that I was going to France.” Her first visit was as a student at Howard in 1953. Read Dr. Ladd’s essay, "Destination Paris 2020."
About Audrey Edwards
Audrey Edwards has achieved professional success in two career fields: media and real estate. A former senior-level editor for the national publications Essence (editor and executive editor), Black Enterprise (executive editor and vice president of editorial operations), Family Circle and More (senior editor), Ms. Edwards’s publishing years were spent mostly in black-owned and women’s-oriented media where for 20 years she assigned, edited, reported, and wrote about issues of race and gender for large, mass-media audiences. Her work has won awards, been used in university courses, and referenced on national television talk shows.
Ms. Edwards has spent significant time in France and is the author of "American Runaway: Black and Free in Paris in the Trump Years."
Join Political Forum host Jean-Pierre LaRochelle and leaders of Democrats Abroad France in this Special Weekly Edition of Political Forum - The First Hundred Days. We will discuss current events with a special focus on the critical first hundred days of the Biden Administration. Send your questions to [email protected]
Do you like this page?