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October 18, 2019

All Roads Lead to Rome — Okay, Athens. A First Timer's Recap of the Regional DA Meeting

My name is Claudia Clark and I am the recently elected GOTV coordinator DA Germany. In order to properly discuss my experience at my first EMEA Regional Meeting in Athens, I find it necessary to briefly explain who I am and how I found myself in my current role, and thus in Athens. In no particular order I identify as: an introvert, a writer, a historian, a feminist, a political activist, a community organizer, and an American expat living in Germany. Both political activism and the sense of adventure are in my genes. My mother volunteered on Kennedy’s presidential campaign before she was even old enough to vote. She was a very gifted linguist (master’s degree in French literature), so she spent some time in France, and eventually answered Kennedy’s call and joined the Peace Corps and taught English in Africa.

I first visited Germany in 1990 following the fall of the Berlin Wall and fell in love with the country, and vowed I would live there someday. That “someday” turned into “get me out of the U.S. immediately” following the November 2016 election. While people protested in the streets following Trump’s victory, I planned my exit, and in September 2017, my husband, our 2 dogs, and I left everything that was familiar to us to begin a new life overseas in Germany.

I had been a political activist since I was 15 years old — doing everything from organizing protests for women’s reproductive rights to volunteering for candidates running for political office to organizing boycotts of the local Walmart. Because of the activism I had done in the United States, I was familiar with Democrats Abroad, and in fact I had joined their mailing list before I had even left the states. No sooner than I moved to Germany, I participated in events such as detention center protests and women’s marches. Because of my involvement, in February 2019 I was elected as the Get Out The Vote Coordinator for Germany. I figured this position would be an excellent opportunity for me to travel to different parts of Germany, meet new people, and engage in activities which where important to me. It was in this role that I found myself at my first regional meeting in Athens.

I knew accepting the position would expose me to different people and places in Germany, but the thought of being able to meet other people from different countries and visit places outside of Germany was an additional bonus for me. When I found out that I was eligible to attend the regional meeting in Athens (someplace I had never been), I was beside myself with excitement. Unfortunately, the trip to Athens came less than a week after my husband and I returned from vacation in Italy, where I had contracted a bad case of bronchitis. The bronchitis was bad enough that I was exhausted all the time, and I could barely talk because the cough was so bad. I knew going to Athens was probably a mistake, but unable to receive a refund for my flight or hotel at this late stage, I felt I had no choice but to go, and hope to get something out of the weekend anyway.

The conference was scheduled to begin on Saturday, so I made plans to fly out on Thursday night so I would have Friday to sightsee. My flight arrived after 8:00, so it was already dark. At the airport, I handed the cab driver the address of my hotel and asked him if he knew where it was. He nodded, and said yes. Ten minutes later, he turned to me and said, “GPS?” Not understanding what he was implying I ignored him. Five minutes later, he asked me again, “GPS?” At this point, I discovered he did not speak English, and when I had asked if he knew where he was going, he ignored me. Growing extremely frustrated and scared that he did not appear to understand me, and I did not know how I was going to get to my hotel, I began to yell at him in German. The irony, that yelling at him in German was obviously not particularly helpful, but the ease with which I did it. I remember thinking, “If only I could speak German this naturally when I am in Germany.” To make a long story short, after the cab driver stopped two different cab drivers, and the police, he finally safely got me to my hotel. It was not the ideal way to start the weekend, but it ended up okay.

Even though Will Bakker, EMEA chair, had created a Facebook page with different pieces of information for attendees, I somehow managed to miss the post about a DA sightseeing tour scheduled for Friday. Luckily, I had booked a walking tour on my own (with Emily Frömel, the VP of the DAG Munich Chapter). We saw the “changing of the guard” in front of the parliament in Athens, and we saw some major landmarks of Athens including some neighborhoods, statues, and we ended at the Acropolis. The view of the city was amazing and the sites were truly unbelievable. Following the tour, Emily and I had lunch in an amazing Greek restaurant. After lunch, we wandered through some neighborhoods, and witnessed firsthand the level of poverty in the city — the sheer number of homeless people sleeping on the streets and people begging was quite astonishing, and heartbreaking.

Although the conference officially began on Saturday morning, Friday night there was a reception in a private venue overlooking the city. It was a magnificent event. However, as ironic as it is for a community organizer to be introverted, I am. I can get up in front of a large group of people and help them demand justice (better wages, safer living conditions, etc.), but I honestly would rather have a root canal than mingle in a social setting with people whom I do not know. To add to my anxiety, I still was not feeling well and I could not say more than two or three words without going into a coughing fit. As uncomfortable as I was, I knew one of the main reasons I went to Athens was to force myself to broaden my horizons and meet new people.

Luckily, the DA Greece Chapter brought people in to teach traditional Greek dancing, and Emily participated in that, so I was forced to meet new people. I met and had conversations with the Chair of DA France, Austria, the UK, and Italy. We talked about the craziness of what was going on in the United States, our careers (Jennifer, from Austria, an architect) and the challenges I faced trying to find a publisher for my book. We exchanged stories on the expat life and the difficulties of trying to learn German. Despite my discomfort and initial hesitation of attending, by the end of the night I had met half a dozen people and felt much more comfortable than I thought I would.

Instead of spreading my wings like I had hoped to do, I stuck pretty close to Emily and we found seats together at the front of the room on Saturday when the conference officially began. It turned out that Julia Bryant, president of DA, was seated directly behind me. In the traditional icebreaker exercises that I enjoy as much as a root canal, I found myself getting to know her. I was more than a little intimidated since I had never officially met her. I was relieved to discover she was very nice and down to earth. I was even more relieved that I did not have to introduce her in front of a room of 100 strangers. After the introduction exercise, Julia Bryan gave a motivating presentation about how important our votes from abroad were — including setting goals for increasing membership for the 2020 election. As Germany’s GOTV coordinator; this was one of the most valuable sessions for me. The presenters discussed things such as when to hold the presidential primary, why this was important, how to register new voters, who could vote etc. — info that was extremely relevant for me in my new role.

Since I had not reserved my lunch ahead of time, I luckily found a group of other people (some I knew, some I did not) that found themselves in the same situation, so we all went to a restaurant together. It was nice getting to know new people from the UK, the Netherlands, and even Germany. Following lunch, we had breakout sessions (an activity I am very accustomed to in all my organizing activities). Since women’s issues are extremely important to me, I decided to attend the woman’s caucus breakout. In this session women’s caucus leaders talked about issues that were important to them — passing the ERA, International Women’s Day in March 2020, and a new committee formed to fight the ongoing attack of women’s reproductive rights in the United States. Following the breakout session, they adjourned for cocktail hour/dinner. Between being so introverted and being physically exhausted from being around 100 people all day long and the bronchitis, I opted to return to my hotel room where I could reflect on the day’s activities, regroup for the next day, and get some much needed sleep.

On Sunday, the final day, we spent the morning talking/planning for GOTV — most notably and importantly the person in charge of study from abroad spoke and offered suggestions/guidelines on how we can engage the college students and encourage them to vote. In the last breakout session, I attended a Call Hub Party 101 where the chair of DA Austria talked about the success they had had with call parties. She emphasized the purpose of the parties was not to call a lot of people but rather train people — help them to iron out their problems, and give them the confidence they need so they feel confident enough to make calls on their own at their convenience. As GOTV coordinator, it is my responsibility to ensure that we reach as many Americans living abroad as we can to encourage them to vote. Since there are many categories of people living abroad (students, expats on temporary work assignments, or Americans with foreign spouses) it is important to explore every possible way to reach these people to remind them of both their right and obligation to vote. I found these discussions to be pragmatic and useful with good takeaways that I can take back to Germany with me.

Despite the challenges and my reservations (fear of being in a new location, meeting new people, and being sick) the weekend was a valuable experience. I made some new friends, I broadened my horizons by visiting a new city and trying some new food, and most importantly I came home with some concrete ideas of how I can personally help the American Democratic community in Germany. This was my first experience at a regional meeting, and given the positive experiences I had, I am certain it will not be my last. I only hope that I can build upon the positive experiences and help the next generation of DA activists.


Claudia Clark is the GOTV Coordinator for DA Germany. She and her husband live in a small city outside of Munich. She is a writer and she is currently seeking publication for her first book; My Partner, My Friend: The Relationship Between U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel. When she is not writing, participating in DA activities, or in her German class, she volunteers at a local refugee center tutoring children in English.