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The Other Caucus - Democrats Abroad
February 6, 2004
By Jonathan Cover-Messenger

From St. Paul's Within the Walls in Rome, the American Church in Paris, and the Foreign Correspondents' Clubs in Hong Kong and Tokyo, to the ABC Treehouse in Amsterdam, the Nueva Posada in Ajijic, Mexico, the Vinotheque in Bangkok, and the more mundane Holiday Inn of London Bloomsbury, overseas Democrats are expected to turn out in record numbers for the worldwide Democratic caucus this weekend (Friday, Feb. 6 - Monday, Feb. 9). Under the aegis of Democrats Abroad, Democrats in more than 40 countries will gather to elect delegates and consider platform resolutions for the Democratic National Convention.

Democrats Abroad, which represents the Democratic Party for the estimated six million US citizens living outside the United States, will send 22 delegates to the convention. That puts its delegation on a par with those from states like Delaware (23) and South Dakota (21). Not stellar. But more important than the number of delegates is the fact that Democrats Abroad has traditionally been the lone voice at the convention speaking out on a host of vital - but arcane - topics rarely of interest to those not living more or less permanently abroad: international taxation, divorce and child custody; dual citizenship; overseas voting rights, etc.

Unfortunately, these causes rarely even mobilize overseas voters themselves. And many overseas voters are discouraged from exercising their right to vote by the relative complexity of the ballot application process, or feel their votes are insignificant.

But Bush has changed the chemistry. And in the mix are sour memories of how overseas votes were handled in Florida 2000. "We lost by only 547 votes in Florida. The Florida election showed that every vote from Americans overseas must count," says Gary Suwannarat, Democrats Abroad Chair in Thailand.

Americans overseas apparently share Suwannarat's sentiments. In the past year, more than a half dozen new country chapters of Democrats Abroad have been formed. And chapters as far flung as those in Belgium and Thailand have reported their membership soaring by the hundreds. Meanwhile, a grassroots uprising of overseas Americans is generating voter education and registration drives around the world. Groups like the France-based Americans Against the War that took to the streets in the run-up to the Iraq invasion are now organizing town meetings to mobilize and register voters. American Voices Abroad, a non-partisan coalition with affiliates in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and Lebanon, has launched an ambitious overseas voter pledge drive to end the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war and repeal the PATRIOT Act.

Foreign policy is at the forefront of America's concerns this year, and overseas voters are saying they know - up close and personal - what it means to be American in Bush's world. Or as Suwannarat diplomatically puts it, "Living outside the country, they feel they bring a realistic perspective on how America and its actions are viewed abroad."

Chaired by John G. Morris, the Democrats Abroad France (DAF) platform committee decided to cut directly to the chase and omitted all mention of "such perennial overseas issues as double taxation and the census" in its recently released, 900-word draft platform. In straight-from-the-shoulder language, the DAF committee addressed only eight "urgent" issues - Iraq, terrorism, peace, the Mideast, the death penalty, women's rights, twin deficits, and voting rights. A few excerpts:

• "The United States was founded upon the principle that all of us are created equal. As Americans abroad, we see the people of other nations seeking their political freedom and trying, often desperately, to provide for their basic needs. America has grown wealthy and powerful. We should use our wealth and power to promote international cooperation, human rights and sustainable development. We cannot impose our will on everyone, nor should we. There are many paths to peace and prosperity. We should not be the bully of the block, but rather work with others to build societies, at home and abroad, which have internal equity and justice and renewed respect for international law."

• Iraq: "It is now clear that the Administration long intended such a war and sold it to Congress with false intelligence."

• Terrorism: "The Administration's so-called 'war' on terrorism has been grossly misused both internationally, as an unjustifiable reason for the invasion of Iraq, and domestically, to create a climate of fear and insecurity, eroding our civil rights and liberties... Guantanamo is a national disgrace."

• Peace: "We reject the use of preemptive force against sovereign states without international sanction."

• Death Penalty: "Democrats Abroad recognizes that the continued use of the death penalty is no longer considered civilized in much of the world, and thus contributes to anti-American sentiment."

• Voting Rights: "Democrats Abroad favors a constitutional amendment that will establish the right of all American citizens, wherever they live, to cast a vote for representation at every level of the Federal government, and to have this vote certifiably counted. This will guarantee the right of the people of each state to vote in a binding election for electors for president and vice-president and will thus prevent state legislatures from disregarding the will of the people. It will also enfranchise more than eight million American citizens who are completely or partially disenfranchised today."

What happens at the caucus?
Democrats Abroad caucuses in all countries will follow the same basic agenda. There will be a straw poll for presidential preference; presidential preference groups will be formed; delegates will be elected; and platform resolutions will be considered. All caucus rules and procedures are explained beforehand. You must arrive on time; if you are not present when the rules are read, you cannot participate.

Where are caucuses being held?
If you can't find out where your country caucus is meeting via the Democrats Abroad website, contact your country chairperson or Democrats Abroad.

Who can caucus?
Any US citizen living abroad who will be 18 years old on November 2, 2004, and who supports the principles of the Democratic Party can participate. You must bring your US passport or other proof of American citizenship to the caucus with you. You cannot participate if you have already voted for a presidential candidate in your state primary or plan to. Participating in the caucus counts as your presidential primary vote.

Not registered to vote overseas?
If you have not already filled out a Federal Post Card Application this year to register to vote and/or request an absentee ballot, you can do so immediately prior to the caucus. Remember, even if you are "permanently" registered to vote, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) says you must file a request for absentee ballots or you cannot use a substitute ballot-the "Federal Write-In Ballot"-should your official absentee ballot fail to reach you in time for the election. The FVAP urges overseas voters to file a Federal Post Card Application every year. An on-line version of the application that you can download, fill out on your computer, and mail to your election bureau yourself, is available on the FVAP website.

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