Letter from the Editors
This month we are dedicating our newsletter to voting and taking part in DA’s efforts to get out the vote for ALL of us living abroad. We want to give you some of the newsletter team’s voting stories and why we think it is important to vote, both as Americans AND as Democrats living abroad. The election isn’t just 28 days away, it’s over in 28 days. We can’t let the right-wing silence our voices, deny our rights, and cheat their way to winning. Failure is not an option for all of the people and communities we care about. The election is happening right now as millions of people across the USA cast their ballot early. You cannot sit this one out. Democrats need your voice. Send in your ballot now. Forward this message to your
American friends who live abroad and talk to them about doing the same.
We hope that you enjoy this edition!Read more
After engaging with delegation members organizing to insert Medicare for All in the platform, many Democrats Abroad delegates still chose to vote yes. LGBTQ+ Caucus Chair Martha McDevitt-Pugh, an automatic delegate to the convention, voted for the platform. She stated, "after passionate discussions in our delegation about the platform, I voted to approve it. The party platform declares who we are and what we stand for. We can hold all Democratic leaders accountable for what is in the platform, which highlights the most important issues as we see them now.
In the right environment we can achieve even more. That's why winning the presidency and a majority in congress and the Senate is critical”. She continued by saying that Republicans have been working diligently for years in an effort to strip away healthcare coverage, with no program to replace it. And while we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court in June to overturn the Affordable Care Act. With the Republican Senate refusing to take up bills passed in the Democratic House of Representatives, Martha emphasizes that electing a Democratic Senate is necessary to forward the promise of healthcare for all: “I’m grateful for the organizing by our delegates to highlight that healthcare reform cannot wait. It inspires me to do all I can to turn red Senate seats blue in November.”
Welcome to our third Caucus Newsletter!
In this month’s newsletter, Fred looks at local and state legislative topics impacting the LGBTQ+ community and changes over the course of the Trump presidency. Clearly we are on a path to equality and attention is needed at all levels of government. With LGBTQ+ candidates across the country winning their primaries and on to the general election, we have a great opportunity to forward equality and respect for all. The women's caucus recently highlighted Gina Ortiz Jones, running to flip a red seat blue. If elected she would be the first Filipina-American, out lesbian and Iraq-war vet representing Texas. Fred will be working with the LGBTQ+ Caucus Candidate Team to bring us profiles of LGBTQ+ candidates running in this November’s election.
One of our writers, Fenna Milbauer, spoke with two of DA’s elected delegates to the 2020 convention, Anya Leonhard and Tyler (Ty) Cofield, about their organizing across DA and other state delegations to push for inclusion of Medicare for All in the 2020 party platform. Betsy talks with LGBTQ+ Caucus Co-Chair, Martha McDevitt-Pugh, on her work at the DNC and at DA to get out the vote.
Senator Tim Kaine followed up on a question posted at a recent Democrats AbroD webinar on denial of citizenship to children born abroad to Americans married and their same-sex partners, asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for clarification. His letter was signed by the Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and covered by CNN. Check it out here.
Matthew is a young voter who returned to DA (welcome back!) and shares his story about how encouraging it is to be part of the Democrats Abroad community in these times of the Trump administration’s attack on democracy and disregard for public health. Checking in with friends and family and making sure they are ready to vote is something all of us can do to deal with election year anxiety!Read more
DEPRESSION IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY
In recent years, depression has been more socially acceptable to talk about than it has in the past. Despite this, it can still be a taboo topic that people are afraid to talk about. Or they may even feel uncomfortable when it’s brought up. However, former US First Lady Michelle Obama did not shy away from discussing her mental health.
On the 6th August, former First Lady Michelle Obama indicated that she is suffering from “low-grade depression because of the pandemic, racial injustice and the “hypocrisy” of the Trump Administration. During the second episode of her podcast, the former First Lady revealed "Not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife, and just seeing this administration, watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out, is dispiriting."
YOUNG LGBTQ+ DELEGATES JOIN THE FIGHT
Young, passionate, and voting no till they see the change they want. Democrats Abroad LGBTQ+ Bernie delegates Anya Leonhard and Tyler Shamar are steadfast in their commitment to see the addition of Medicare For All in the party platform. Both Ty and Anya are a part of the most diverse and young delegation DA has ever sent to the DNC convention, and they are ramping up to push for progressive policies and get into ‘good trouble’.
Tyler or Ty Cofield (they/them) is a 26-year-old from Texas and now lives in Warsaw, Poland. They are passionate about socioeconomics, politics, and the arts and dedicated to upholding the civic responsibility of every citizen to participate in how they are governed and by whom. They write that “it's been so great to relate to other young, BIPoC also going through this process. I think we're the future of the party and running as delegates has helped us to see how we can influence and reimagine the Party in our image”.Read more
While many Americans are focused on the presidential race – and Democrats (and even many Republicans) are hoping Joe Biden wins this November – much of the action regarding LGBTQ+ civil rights happens on the state level.
With primary elections wrapping up over the coming weeks, the legislators we elect to congress, state houses and at the municipal level in November will also pay a big role in shaping the LGBTQ+ agenda.
According to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tally from March, about 40 pro-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country this year, although many of them have already died in committee.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
On the flip side, twice as many bills have been introduced – more than 80 – that negatively impact the LGBTQ+ community, including so-called “religious exemption” bills. These measures seek to allow religion to be used to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. “Whether a gay person wants to join a college student group, a transgender person seeks counselling services, or a lesbian couple tries to obtain a marriage license from a government employee or access basic medical care at some point in their lives, [such bills seek to open] the door to unequal treatment,” according to the ACLU.Read more
Greetings from the LGBTQ+ Caucus team! We're in the middle of one strange summer and are all missing Pride festivities, but that doesn't mean that there's nothing for us to do! The election is fast approaching and we need every one of you to grab your ballot at www.votefromabroad.org if you haven't done so already. Every vote counts! Don't let your voice remain unheard.
We would like to welcome Fred Kuhr to the team. He’s our new Senior Reporter at Large and is a seasoned LGBTQ+ reporter. We are glad to have him on our team.
In this month’s newsletter, Betsy shares the history of our hard-won ability to vote. Alex gives us a glimpse into the work of radical feminist Jill Johnston. For our member spotlight, Nathalie interviewed the amazing Angela Fobbs, Chair of the DA Global Black Caucus and vocal activist who is working tirelessly to get out the vote, especially among those Americans who are not in the urban hubs of the world. Finally, Matthew sat down with Antonina Vykhrest, a queer activist whose work has taken her from Brooklyn to various parts of Europe and back again.
Also, congratulations to our own co-editor, Sarah, for being appointed Chair of the LGBTQ+ Caucus for Germany!
Betsy Ettorre & Sarah Fancy, Co-editors
Angela Fobbs, DA Black Caucus Founder: Encouraging Turnout Across the Globe
“I know that a better world is possible,” said Angela Fobbs, creator of the Democrats Abroad Black Caucus based in Germany. “We have to imagine something different.”
Just over twenty years have passed since Fobbs first moved to Frankfurt in the fall of 1999. Though she now teaches business English, Fobbs originally worked with the American military, at first under Bill Clinton, continuing through George W. Bush’s administration.
“It made me more radical,” she said. “I was always on the left [...] it just pushed me over the edge.”
Fobb’s involvement with Democrats Abroad began in 2016 after she learned of a local women’s march. In 2017, she was elected communications coordinator of Democrats Abroad Germany and worked with the women’s caucus. However, she found the lack of a black caucus disappointing.
The logical solution was to create one. She quickly found others willing to help and established a steering committee in August of 2017. Just two months later, the Democrats Abroad Global Black Caucus was up and running. Today, the caucus has 1600 members across the globe, and focuses on issues of “universal justice.” It seeks to engage with a variety of issues impacting African-Americans both domestically and abroad, such as the justice system, economic inequality, and subconscious bias. (Click here to read more about the Global Black Caucus).
Much of the caucus’s action is centered around encouraging African-Americans living abroad to vote. They’re assembling voters’ guides, working with African-American groups, and leaving “no stone unturned,” as Fobbs puts it. The recent Black Lives Matter protests in the United States have kicked their work on voting rights into high gear.
The caucus also partnered with WeGlobal, a University of Michigan-based research project that surveys African-Americans living abroad. They worked together on initiatives to get the vote out, and tell the stories of African-Americans across the globe.
The goal, as Fobbs sees it, is one where nearly all of the nine million Americans living abroad exercise their right to political engagement. In particular, there’s a need to reach out to Americans living in relative isolation, outside of major expat hubs.
“Getting the vote out is critical,” said Fobbs.
She’s also a member of the LGBTQ+ Caucus, and hopes to collaborate further and create events for Black LGBTQ+ individuals.
“I want young children of color to see adults [like them],” Fobbs said. Adults who “accept that you don’t have to be straight, that people will still like them.”
Ultimately, the soul of Fobbs’ activism comes from her desire to create a better world.
“I want everyone to have universal, unconditional human rights,” she said. “We all deserve to live our lives the way we want and to do the things we want.”
Radical change requires radical thinking. As Democrats across the country continue to fight (and vote!) for radical change, it can be inspiring to look to trailblazers who helped forge the path we travel today. One such person is the outspoken feminist writer Jill Johnston.
Johnston described her approach to feminism in her seminal work entitled Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution as, “…east west flower child beat hip psychedelic paradise now love peace do you own thing approach to the [feminist] revolution.”
Like her writing style, Johnston was a free-spirited cultural critic and feminist activist. Johnston was born in London in 1929 and raised in the US where she earned a bachelor’s degree from Tufts in 1951 and studied dance at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Johnston then moved to New York City, where she became a longtime journalist for The Village Voice, an acclaimed weekly newspaper primarily covering the creative downtown community.
Johnston was initially the paper’s dance critic. However, her column soon became a freewheeling weekly diary recounting her many adventures in the avant-garde art world of 1960s and 1970s New York City. Her writing brought her into contact with many of the great artists of the time — Andy Warhol, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Agnes Martin, and others.
During the 1970s, Johnston began championing the cause of lesbian separatist feminism. In Lesbian Nation, Johnston advocated for a complete break with men and male-dominated capitalist institutions. She defined female relations with the opposite sex as a form of collaboration and betrayal to true female liberation. While Johnston later softened on this vision of feminism, she argued that, “The centrality of the lesbian position to feminist revolution — wildly unrealistic or downright made, as it still seems to most women everywhere — continues to ring true and right.”
Though many may not agree with Johnston on every aspect of her thinking, Johnston’s originality and passion can serve as an example for us all to never accept oppression. She said, “Oppression is a worldwide interfamilial interstate intercontinental interpersonal phenomenon. It is a prime fact of a political structure… oppression is real.” But not all hope is lost. Johnston continues and wisely reminds us that, “An oppressed person becomes beautiful in the presence of a beautiful presence.” Let’s keep this in mind as we head to the polls this November and challenge the status quo in all its oppressive might.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
That Greek civilization created a firm democracy based on equality around 500 BC is equivocal (1). Voters were male landowners, who voted annually for the political leader they wanted to be exiled, which meant that voting was a form of ostracism. If any "candidate" received more than 6,000 votes, the one with the largest number of votes was exiled. If no politician received 6,000 votes, they all remained. Since voters were only male landowners, the number of voters was small. Usually only very unpopular political leaders were ostracized or exiled (2).
Let’s jump forward in voting history to 1776, when our constitution pronounced that “all men are created equal.” As we know, that equality only applied to some. When America was a young country, only white men over the age of 21 were allowed to vote. However, it could be argued that one of the strengths of our country is our ability to grow, change, and adapt. There were landmark changes in our voting system. For example, the “Civil War Amendments” following the Civil War. These were the 13th (in 1865, it abolished slavery), 14th (in 1868, it granted citizenship to slaves), and 15th (in 1870, it granted voting rights to slaves) Amendments. While civil rights and voting rights were extended to former slaves, numerous restrictions kept many blacks from voting until the 1965 Voting Rights Act. (Watch the film “The 13th”, directed by Ava DuVernay, to learn why large numbers of black people are still prevented from voting, even today). The 17th (1913) Amendment made U.S. Senators directly elected by popular vote rather than appointed. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
Some scholars have argued that in our contemporary world “voting is rivalled only by the market as a means of reaching collective decisions from individual choices” (3). That idea may reveal a major flaw in the struggle between American capitalism and American democracy. At the very least, it reveals an American bias vis-à-vis voting practices.
We decided to look further than our own ideas on voting and ask our own Bob Bragar (4), who is very involved in Democrat Abroad’s get out the vote (GOTV) activities about his ideas and experiences in this arena. One thing is clear for Bob – the role of the State is “to create a level playing field for voters.” As an American living abroad, Bob was very inspired when he came to Europe and first registered with DA for his absentee ballot. He said the experience speaking with the DA representative was “life changing.” Bob believes that the “way to get people to vote is to overcome cynicism.” He said, “Our votes do matter and it is the single most important right we can exercise as American citizens.” We need to know that “we do make a difference by voting.” He said we should “get friends and family to vote – make a voting party out of our voting.” He said “voting connects me to my Americanness. It is not materialist and racist. Rather it is deeply American.” Bob reminds us as those living abroad that “we are voting as citizens of our state - at least that is the deal since 1788 (i.e., the first quadrennial US election). You’re voting so your state will cast its electoral ballot in a decent way.” Bob continues, “Most states have a winner takes all in the electoral college and it flies against my sense of fairness. The single biggest problem we have is that winner takes all is the American way – alas…”
We agree with Bob, and as members of the LGBTQ+ Global Caucus, we remind our caucus members and all members of DA to make sure you request and return your ballot in time in this critical election year. Go to votefromabroad.org to request your absentee ballot now. If you want to get more involved to get out the vote, you can join the phonebanking team to contact DA members and support them in requesting and returning their absentee ballot.
Remember as Bob said, “voting is the single most important right we can exercise as American citizens.”