The geography covered by Canada’s Capital Region chapter is best marked by the rivers: the Gatineau, St. Lawrence and the Ottawa. “It’s a huge territory,” explains Rachel Eugster, the chapter’s vice-chair, “reaching all the way east to southwestern Quebec, then stretching west to Kingston. We’re trying to hold debate watches in these different areas.” At the hub, of course, is Ottawa and environs, where nearly 80 percent of the chapter’s 860 members live. It’s a challenge, admits David Schellenberg, chapter chair, to organize over such a large area. “We have endless discussions about how much we need to find and bring in more Americans. They’re out there.”
While Eugster was a member of an earlier incarnation of the CCR chapter – organizing events such as inauguration balls after Obama was elected and re-elected – Schellenberg was spurred to join Dems Abroad as Trump’s candidacy was heating up. “I remember sitting on the couch watching TV and realizing he might just win. I knew I had to do something.” Five people, including Lissette Wright, treasury chair for DA Canada, as well as treasurer for DA Global, came together in 2015. “We were all thinking the same thing,” says Schellenberg.
A sign of that collective energy was election night 2016, when the chapter organized an event at the Heart & Crown, an Irish pub in Byward Market. “It became the place in Ottawa to watch the returns,” says Schellenberg. “The entire bar was watching CNN. Both CBC and CTV hosted national shows that night and used our event, with reporters doing live hits back to both networks. It grew from just being a Democrats Abroad thing to being a big, non-partisan thing.”
Media is something Schellenberg, who also serves as communications chair for DA Canada, understands well. As co-host of the Morning Start-Up show on Live 88.5 FM, an alternative-rock radio station, for the past 11 years, he knows how important exposure is and how challenging it can be to get that exposure. Another challenge: how to juggle it all. Like Schellenberg, Eugster works more than full time as a theatre director, musician, actor, writer, choir director and editor. “My professional life is multi-streamed,” she says. “DA got added in as an extra layer.” “We’re all people with full-time jobs already,” Schellenberg says of the chapter’s board. “We don’t have enough hours in the day for all the ideas we have.”
Those ideas will carry the chapter into 2020. “I just want people to vote, to be involved in the political process,” says Schellenberg, a goal he shares with his co-chair. “Canada has this unique challenge, with so many ‘hidden’ Americans,” says Eugster, “but how do we find those people? Most would vote if they knew they could.” Globally, she’s hopeful “we’ll flip the Senate, change presidents and pass the ERA.”
It'll be accomplished through the efforts of hundreds of volunteers across Canada educating Americans on their right to vote. If you're interested in volunteering in 2020 please contact the DemsAbroad Canada Volunteer Manager through this email.