When you’re an expat, it’s easy to distance yourself from politics back home – and even easier to believe, ‘well I live abroad, so it’s not my problem.’ But the reality is that collectively, Americans living abroad make up the 51st state and the 13th largest by population – which holds more power than you may expect.
“There are over 8 million Americans abroad, most of them are liberal and a lot of them don’t vote. That’s a big voting block missing from our democracy,” says David Knutson, former chair of Democrats Abroad Berlin.
After 47 years overseas, David understands the pushback that many Americans living abroad experience when they’re trying to participate politically. While this feedback can be discouraging, David says it shouldn’t stop you.
“We have, especially Republicans, in America saying, ‘you live abroad, so why should you vote? You don’t have anything to do with what’s going on.’ Well, we do,” he says. “Americans living abroad get to look at America from the outside. They also get to see things that we could do in America that aren’t being done and that are working from other countries. Like healthcare or why other countries don’t have the gun problem we do… America really needs this perspective.”
Fortunately, thanks to technology, getting involved and sharing your unique perspective is easier than ever. Here are 10 actions you can take from afar to stay politically engaged during and in between elections – and since you’re stuck paying U.S. taxes, you really might as well.
1. VOTE! AND NOT JUST IN FEDERAL ELECTIONS
Statistics show that only 12% of Americans abroad vote in presidential elections, and it’s safe to assume that even fewer vote in mid-term, state and local elections. Make sure you’re registered, keep it current and know the rules on how to vote from abroad. Once you know how, vote in each and every election wherever you call home (or at least where you hold a driver’s license).
The U.S. Vote Foundation is a great one-stop web application for all of the essentials: Current voting information for citizens abroad, election dates and deadlines, details on how to obtain your ballot electronically and so much more. All you have to do is create an account.
2. STAY INFORMED
It can be hard to stay on top of policy issues while you’re living overseas. If you have a specific cause that you care about, sign up for a newsletter that can keep you updated on relevant issues and policies, as well as notify you when to take specific actions. Some great examples are Menstrual Health Hub’s Menstrual Memo or NextGen America’s climate alerts.
If you’re looking for something more general, another option is to download a news aggregator app like Inkl or Flipboard and adjust your notification settings for the U.S.
3. MAKE YOUR VIEWS KNOWN TO CONGRESSPEOPLE
It sounds intimidating, but there are only two people you need to contact – Senators and Representatives. Call their Congressional district office (not the D.C. office) and voice your opinion. Services like Skype or Rebtel make this easy by offering low calling rates to U.S. landlines and mobile phones.
“You sign up for their news, mails and keep a contact with them,” says David. “They don’t listen to their emails all the time, but they do listen when you call up.”
Americans living abroad make up the 51st state and the 13th largest by population – which holds more power than you may expect.
“I call [my Congresspeople] on a close-to-weekly basis and express concerns about cabinet appointments, Trump leadership, defunding, etc.,” says Rebecca Duke, who splits her time between Berlin and Massachusetts. “Even though it’s ‘preaching to the choir’ [because my delegation is all Democrats], it’s important that my Senators and Representatives know that they are supported… and, in a similar vein, sometimes I call and push the ‘choir’ to do more ‘preaching’ – such as taking an even stronger stand.”
4. IMPACT MID-TERM ELECTIONS
There are a number of groups and websites looking to tip the scales at mid-terms. SwingLeft and Flippable are two. They target certain Congressional districts and form ‘teams’ to work on those races. You can search by zip code and see if where you’re from, where your family lives or where you have friends is a swing district. Pick a district and commit to working on it.
5. JOIN AN ORGANIZATION WHERE YOU ARE
Most political or social justice organizations have international chapters – and if it doesn’t exist where you’re at, look into starting one. Democrats Abroad, for example, are committed to keeping Americans abroad informed about their rights and help them participate in the political process. They have members living in more than 190 countries and vote in every state and Congressional district of the U.S. Similar groups include Republicans Overseas, American Voices and Pragmatic Progressives.
6. BUY A SUBSCRIPTION FOR REPUTABLE NEWS
Credible newspapers will need more investigative journalists and diligent fact-checkers in order to break the ‘fake news’ cycle. Whether you’re into Wall Street Journal or Chicago Tribune, take your pick and purchase an online subscription. Also don’t forget about your local newspaper, particularly the one in your voting district. They offer a unique insight to municipal issues while helping to hold local governments accountable.
“We need to make sure these publications are financially healthy and stay in business,” says Rebecca. “I subscribe to the New York Times and the Washington Post national editions, as well as my hometown newspaper in Massachusetts.”
7. DONATE TO ORGANIZATIONS PROMOTING IMPORTANT CAUSES
There are numerous organizations out there that will either lose their funding or have an increased workload with the Trump administration, so donate. Make a financial contribution to an organization that is working on causes you care about or to liberal think-tanks who will need to take the long-view to get out of this mess, like the Center for American Progress.
If you’re low on cash, consider volunteering your skills instead. This can be tricky when you’re overseas, but websites like VolunteerMatch have thousands of virtual or remote volunteer opportunities available.
8. BOYCOTT TRUMP PRODUCTS
This goes beyond the obvious Trump hotels, golf courses and products. The Grab Your Wallet campaign is leading the movement against any business currently profiting from a relationship with the Trump family. You can find a comprehensive boycott list, list of Trump-free shopping alternatives and resources for taking action on their website.
9. SHOW UP AND DEMONSTRATE
We all saw how powerful global solidarity was during the Women’s March. Participate in local marches, protests or other events to support causes you care about — just make sure you’re leaving the right impression.
“Some people show up and make up a sign saying ‘Fuck Trump,’ but where does that really get you?,” David explains. “You won’t be called on for a question if you have a sign like that. You have to work it a little differently.”
10. VOICE YOUR OPINION ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Being an American living in another country gives you a unique perspective, so share it. Encourage your family, friends and peers to have productive discussions online. Listen respectfully to opposing viewpoints and speak calmly when orchestrating your points. You never know who you’ll inspire simply by voicing your own opinions.
Published in the Winter 2017 Issue. Get it in digital or print here.