You may have noticed our event series that kicked off last week in Geneva: Let's Get Candid About the Candidates! Vance White, our new Chair, is traveling around the country holding these discussion groups so that members can advocate for their Presidential Primary Candidate of choice or maybe come to a decision about who they want to vote for, if they've been having trouble deciding in such a wide field.
A reporter from the Aargauer Zeitung attended the Geneva event and wrote an excellent summary, which you can read in German here, or an English translation is available below.
Number of members doubled: US Democrats in Switzerland upgrade
Spurred on by the goal of chasing Donald Trump out of the White House, US expats are increasingly involved in the election campaign, including in Geneva. Visiting a party event in French-speaking Switzerland - with nachos, bagels and open questions.
In English one would speak of a "safe zone", a place where one can feel safe. Safe from the current US government, for example. That night, the name "Donald Trump" is off limits. "We want to be positive and look ahead," said the chairman of the organization "Democrats Abroad Switzerland" as he welcomed the guests. About 20 Americans came to get a picture of the Democrats' large field of candidates, or to convince the undecideds of their preferred candidate.
It is seven o'clock in the evening in the noble Champel district of Geneva. Farid, 36 years old and from California, has made his apartment available for the party event. The guests come straight from work - many of them work for NGOs or renowned organizations in the international UN capital. Two small US flags hang on the front door. In the kitchen there are nachos with guacamole and bagels with cream cheese.
For the Democratic Party, starting next week, the task will be to select the candidate who is to oust Donald Trump from the White House in the presidential elections on November 3. Probably the most unusual president in US history, Trump is mobilising not only his own supporters in the Republican Party - but also the opposition in Switzerland. At the beginning of 2016, before Trump's election, "Democrats Abroad Switzerland" counted about 1700 members. Today there are 3200 - almost twice as many as before the election of the US billionaire.
More advertising, more polling stations, more commitment
"We sense that more Americans abroad want to get involved so that a Democrat will win the elections this fall," says Liz Voss, spokeswoman for the Democrats in Switzerland. The current president is definitely playing a role in this internal push. "In the 2016 elections, we only had two polling stations in Switzerland, where our members could cast their votes during one day. For the upcoming primaries, we are planning polling stations in Zurich, Geneva and Basel in March, where our members will be able to cast their votes in person over two days. We are investing more in advertising and contacting our members to make them aware of the elections". In addition, there will be various information events. According to Voss, only 700 Democrats voted in the last elections in Switzerland. "Hopefully this year, the number will be significantly higher," Voss says.
The guests in Geneva on this evening will not miss the opportunity to vote - even though about two thirds of them do not yet know whether they will be voting for Bernie Sanders, Elisabeth Warren, Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg. Host Farid, a video game producer from Los Angeles, has already made up his mind. "I vote for Warren, definitely." Farid, who also campaigned for Barack Obama, worked in Washington, D.C. ten years ago on the team of Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator. "She's a very warm person with great ideas and that's exactly what we need right now."
When almost all experts predicted that Hillary Clinton would be the clear winner in 2016, some voters said they would leave the country in an election trump. Most did not - but Farid did. "I said I was going to Switzerland, and I did." As a US citizen with Arab and South American roots, he didn't feel comfortable in his country:
“I stand for everything Trump hates.”
The wall to Mexico, the travel ban on Arab countries - at some point it became too much for him. "It was depressing. So I went to Switzerland to look for a job, and I found one at the WEF." He's now self-employed in the media industry.
A projector shows a list of possible topics that the guests could talk about: gun laws, climate change, women's rights, and so on. But it doesn't get that far. In Farid's apartment tonight, there is only one topic that interests the US citizens present: the Democratic candidates and their chances of being elected. Young, a lawyer from Washington D.C., explains to those present why she will be voting for the underdog Pete Buttigieg: "When I first heard about him and learned he was only 37 years old, I didn't give him a chance." But then she heard the former mayor of the town of South Bend, Indiana, speak. "With his compassionate nature, he is best suited to bring the people back together, he looks down on no one." Right now, she feels so much hatred in the United States.
Book author and political activist Eric, 64 years old and originally from Brooklyn, New York, stays in Geneva on business and takes the opportunity to meet party members. He makes a passionate plea for Bernie Sanders, the 78-year-old, who also grew up in Brooklyn, has been sitting for Vermont in the Senate since 2007 and was narrowly defeated by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries. Eric had already campaigned for Sanders back then. "He is the candidate who, despite his advanced age, is generating the most enthusiasm among young voters. And it was the lack of enthusiasm in Clinton's candidacy that caused too few Democrats to vote."
Sanders is going up against "The Cheating Crook"
Someone counters: it is still unclear how Sanders intends to finance his socialist plans, for example the free universities. Moreover, his results as a senator are modest. Eric responds as if Sanders is telling him the answers through a chip in his ear, and with the same Brooklyn accent as the senator. Once the excessively high health care costs are reduced, he says, free university courses will be possible - "just as they were in the US in the 1940s and 1950s". In general, Sanders is not running for the Senate with his record, but with his vision for the country. In his first 100 days in office, he would reverse as many of the decisions of the current US president as possible. Eric doesn't mention Trump's name, but speaks of "that fraudulent scoundrel". It's legal in the safe zone.
It is already 22.30 o'clock, most of the bagels and chips have been eaten. Before this discussion evening the majority of the guests were still undecided. And so it remains after the two and a half hours of discussion. Some say at least that some politicians have emerged from the big field for them. In conclusion, the organizers once again emphasize that one should vote as a foreign democrat, since the complicated electoral system in the USA makes it more important than voting in one's own US state.
A total of about 9 million Americans live abroad, about 20,000 of them in Switzerland. In the 2016 primary elections, most of the US expats' votes went to Bernie Sanders. Who will receive them in 2020 will be decided in mid-March.