Trans people have become a political football in the US. Trans youth find themselves on the front lines of the culture wars. Eleven people (nine in person, two online) attended an afterwork on 31 January to sort the facts from the fictions and try to set the groundwork for informed discussion in what is, for many, a sensitive area. The slides can be found here.
How does one turn out the overseas vote to help decide the US midterm elections coming up on 8 November – elections that could be very close? Göteborg resident Rick Wicks has one answer.
Wicks, a 75-year-old member of the Western Sweden chapter of Democrats Abroad who has lived in Sweden for 30 years and has dual citizenship, decided to put his bicycle to work. Since the summer, he has cycled around Göteborg and taken the train around western Sweden, posting flyers and stickers on community notice boards. The flyers and stickers urge the estimated 20,000 Americans living in Sweden to request their ballots (and, of course, remember to send them in!).
All 435 seats in the US House of Representatives and a third of the members of the Senate are up for election. Control of both houses, currently in the hands of the Democratic Party, are up for grabs with the polls, especially for control of the Senate, extremely close. It is not unusual for a candidate’s margin of victory in a race to be less than the overseas vote in that district.
Wicks carries a stepladder on the back of his bicycle, the better to post up high where he hopes that the cleaners won’t remove his efforts and others won’t post over them. First, he cleans away old posters and staples so that the flyers will lie flat. Then he staples the new flyers in place, leaving an empty border so as to attract more attention.
“Two years ago [for the last presidential election] I started posting with little postcards that I had on hand. Actually, first I started with big posters. I just posted like other people do, but of course they got covered up right away, and I ran out of them. Then I had postcards, and I thought, they’ll disappear even easier. But if I put them up high, maybe they won’t get covered up.”
Encouraged by his success, he decided to expand his operations this year by hitting all 30 notice boards in Göteborg and as many as he could easily reach by train throughout the Västra Götaland region: 18 by his count, including Halmstad, Jönköping, Mariestad, and Åmal. He designed his own flyers in heavy card stock and had them professionally printed – larger than the postcards so they are easier to see, but not so large as to be hard to place.
The work is slow and labor intensive.
“I clean away all the old staples, which is kind of crazy. It can take an hour per side. It can take four hours to do one location.” The results look good though, and with any luck, passing Americans will notice all the US flags lined up and stop to have a closer look.
He gets occasional curious glances, he says, but for the most part just gets ignored by passersby. Occasionally someone will strike up a conversation.
“Just the other day, I was down at Kungsportsplatsen re-posting and a woman said ‘oh yeah!’ and took a picture. It sounded like maybe her daughter had been in school here and was back in the States now. She was here on a cruise. She wanted to give the picture to her daughter. She thanked me so much for doing this.” Another time it was a young man interested in US politics.
Some notice boards pose distinct challenges.
“I got to this one little town somewhere – it was Mariestad – and I get out to this one location, and I think, oh wow. Some of the notice boards are wood and some of them are metal but this one, just looking at it from a distance before I got up close, must be some kind of styrofoam. And then I realized, it’s a layer this thick [6-7cm.] of old posters. It’s never been cleaned.
“It was all wet from the rain. It was stuck together like paper mâché. In places it was breaking loose, so it was hanging out. That was a mess, but I managed to clean a spot. I had to rip away everything.”
Wicks finds it much easier to vote in Sweden – where everyone is mailed a voting card and early voting is easy – compared to the States, where all overseas and most other absentee-ballot voters need to request ballots for each year they vote, and where early voting is increasingly restricted.
“We should make it a lot easier and have a holiday in the States [where federal elections in modern times are always held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November – a workday for most people] and do lots of things so that everybody can vote.”
No matter how many additional Americans vote next month because of his efforts, Wicks sees benefits.
“It’s good exercise. I figure that I’m biking a lot, and I’m climbing up and down this ladder. It’s hard work.”
Seventy-five year old DA Western Sweden member Rick Wicks – a 32-year resident of Sweden and dual US/Swedish national – is biking around Göteborg posting flyers on communal bulletin boards urging Americans resident in Sweden to request their ballots for the U.S. congressional (and down-ballot!) elections in November.
He carries a step ladder on the back of his bicycle to post up high where, he says, cleaners hopefully won’t remove the flyers and others won’t post over them. First, he cleans away old posters and staples so his will lie flat, leaving an empty border to attract attention.
Our local chapter of Democrats Abroad Sweden proudly marched for LGBTQ pride at West Pride, Saturday 18 June. Remember the ongoing struggles of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters around the world, and remember to vote in the primaries and the November election for LGBTQ-friendly candidates! If you haven't requested your ballots yet, please do so today at http://votefromabroad.org.
Shown in the pictures are chapter members Cheryl and Rick.
We had another fun meet-up – unfortunately in response to the repeated (unending?) mass shootings in the States. Rick, Diane, Cheryl, and Nan were at Condeco on Fredsgatan in Göteborg where we had our recent abortion-rights meetup. Nan made another wonderful poster (see picture) and buttons! We enjoyed meeting two new members, helping them request their ballots, and sharing our back stories and current life situations. Conversation went on for three hours (!) beyond the planned three-hour event! We expect to have another get-out-the-vote (GOTV) event in a month or so.
At our May Last-Tuesday Afterwork, DA Western Sweden member Barney Fyman – a Swedish advokat and US lawyer – described the myriad ways of getting temporary or permanent visas for the US (amazingly more complex than one might have realized) and answered questions. In keeping with our recent practice, it was a hybrid event: in-person – upstairs in the back room of John Scott’s Linné near Järntorget in Göteborg – and online. Barney promised to come back another time to talk about immigration to Sweden. He has a long-time interest in constitutional law, so a talk about Roe v. Wade is in the works as well.
In response to the recent leak of a draft Supreme Court decision overriding Roe v. Wade threatening not only the right to abortion but the right to privacy more broadly, Democrats Abroad – Western Sweden organized a get-out-the-vote meetup at Condeco-Fredsgatan in downtown Göteborg Saturday afternoon 14 May. New volunteer Nan Albertson inspired the meetup and created a wonderfully big sign (see below) as well as small pins that she gave out freely, especially to children waiting in line with their families for the toilets (since, conveniently, we were located near the toilet queue in Condeco’s wonderful upstairs “living room”).
Steering committee members Diane, Cheryl, and Rick had a great time meeting Nan and a few Americans who wandered by, sitting down long enough to get help requesting their ballots.
The location seems perfect for such events so we expect to have many more there.Read more
Democrats in Western Sweden had an event-filled year while increasing our membership by about 25% and inspiring even many non-members (other Americans in Sweden) to vote in the very successful Mid-Term Elections. A few events are already highlighted with stories and pictures below: March for Our Lives gun-control demonstration, two Tax Events & Protests, and a very full Euro-Pride Week.
Early in the year we had several fun phone-banking parties at Frank & Gunilla Beal's home.
In May we attended the John Steinbeck play The Moon is Down -- about Nazi tyranny in Norway -- and starring our fantastic chair Kim MacKay.
We had five voter registration events including ones in Halmstad and Borås and a Sunday brunch.
In June went out to the ballgame (baseball) -- complete with Franks's wonderful crackerjacks! -- with the Göteborg Sharks (Hajarna)!
Photo credit: The Local
In August we toured Nordens Ark and met new members in Bohuslän!
In December we attended the new Glenn Close movie The Wife --- about the Nobel Prize in Literature -- and heard inside stories from our member Fredrik Gildea who has a part in the movie!
Throughout the year we had monthly Last-Tuesday Afterworks (and one special one, after the election), many with special themes -- bilingualism, problems with our democracy, varieties of democracy, U.S. taxes, food waste, bicycling across North America -- as well as several focused on the election and results.
Naturally all these events required at least seven Steering Committee and Event Planning meetings -- most if not all magnificently hosted by Carry Cooper and Bill Collier -- as well as a constant stream of communications.
Thanks to all our Steering Committee and other volunteers for helping with this wonderfully successful year!
Within a few months we need to elect (or re-elect) our officers and other Steering Committee members. If you'd like to get involved, please get in touch!
We had a WONDERFUL experience with EuroPride Week in Göteborg this year! Besides a panel discussion on Friday with Martha McDevitt-Pugh (chair of DA's Global LGBT Caucus) and Ian Higham (DA-Sweden member and political researcher) during the Human Rights Conference (with moderator Maria Sjödin, former chair of RFSL)
and that evening a "DNC reception" with Martha and our own Adrianne George (both are elected DNC members representing Democrats Abroad),
we had a literature/information booth several days where we gave out hundreds of Elect a Clown/Democrats Believe cards,
and then we marched in the parade on Saturday and gave out at least a thousand more!
The Make America Gay Again posters (showing Trump in bad drag) were EXTREMELY popular. Also buttons!
In alignment with DA globally, we have a focus on tax problems that Americans abroad face because of our U.S. citizenship. Previously we've called and written postcards to Congress expressing our displeasure with the way that FATCA and FBAR affect us, as well as the frustration and expense of having to file U.S. income taxes, only -- in most cases -- to end up not owing anything (other than, in many cases, paying tax professionals to prepare the returns!). We're not fat-cat tax cheats, we're ordinary Americans who happen to live abroad.
Our Last-Tuesday Afterwork in May featured Lisa Stefani, an American tax professional (and IRS enrolled agent) resident in Western Sweden who talked and answered questions about filing FATCA, FBAR, and income tax forms. We very much appreciate Lisa's sharing her knowledge!
Then we were joined this past Saturday by former DA-Sweden chair Deedee Gierow -- making a special visit here from Kalmar -- who updated us on DA's global efforts to lobby successive Administrations and Congress for relief from citizenship-based taxation (by changing to residence-based taxation), or -- failing that -- for a same-country safe-harbor exemption from filing FATCA and FBAR (so that neither we nor banks would have to report accounts in the country where we live), or -- failing that -- for merging FBAR and FATCA filing into a single procedure to at least relieve some of the unnecessary burden. Deedee is a member of DA's global Taxation Task Force (our volunteer research and lobbying team) and, among other things, has been door-knocking on Capitol Hill many times, attempting to persuade legislators and their staffs to take our issues seriously.
Deedee emphasized that the more votes we can turn out from overseas, the more clout our volunteer lobbyists will have when they enter those Congressional offices. One of the first questions that staffers and legislators ask is, "How many votes have you got?"
So that's one more reason -- besides saving democracy, saving the planet, etc. -- for us to get out the vote in this critical election year!
But meanwhile, tax deadline for us overseas is June 15, and we encourage all Americans abroad to contact Congress and express our unhappiness with citizenship-based taxation and with the way that FATCA and FBAR are applied. That way, when our volunteer lobbyists walk into a Congressional office and ask -- "Have you been hearing complaints from Americans abroad about the tax-reporting system?" -- they will say YES!