Americans Abroad, A Force to Reckon With?




M

illions
of people across the world marched against Bush’s war on February
15, 2003. For many of the seven million U.S. citizens living abroad,
it was a day of intense frustration and anger. Luckily, February
15 was also a day when many from the U.S. living abroad ran into
each other on the streets of Prague, Berlin, Paris, and across Europe.
This spawned the organization of a Europe-wide co-ordinated movement
that is now called American Voices Abroad (AVA). 


My
participation with AVA began as I was crossing Prague’s famous
Charles Bridge, running across the Vlatava River though the heart
of the old city. I was frustrated because I wasn’t home in
the U.S. organizing against this Iraq war as I had against the first
Gulf War when I was a student at Santa Monica College. 


When
the protest got to the U.S. Embassy, there were a number of speakers.
One of them was from the U.S., Arie Farnam, who I found out later
was a freelance journalist and regular contributor to the

Christian
Science Monitor

.  


After
the demonstration I introduced myself to Farnum and also met Gwen
Albert, a U.S. citizen working at Prague’s Buddhist center,
the Om Zentrum. The two invited me to a meeting in the coming week.
At this meeting of students and others generally opposed to the
war, we discussed organizing a press conference. 


The
Czech people were 70 percent against the war at the time, but the
Czech government was wavering, probably playing the U.S. in an effort
to win some aid. We thought it would be helpful to support the Czech
people by showing that many U.S. citizens living there were opposed
to war in Iraq. 


In
the next two weeks, Farnum organized a major press conference that
attracted 40 of the top journalists in Prague, including one of
Germany’s national public radio stations, as well as Czech
print and electronic media outlets. In the next week, Farnum got
us invited onto a national public TV program. We participated in
a debate with officials from the Czech Army, as well as someone
from the Iraqi National Congress who painted us as supporters of
Saddam Hussein for opposing the war. 


After
I finished working in Prague, I moved to Berlin to organize a conference
called Towards Carfree Cities IV. After a few weeks of settling
in, I saw a leaflet for a three-day film festival during the July
4





weekend,
organized by a group called American Voices Abroad (AVA). The festival
featured a number of films focusing on various U.S. foreign policy
gaffes and such recent leftist films as

Unprecedented: The 2000
Presidential Election

, a documentary. 


At
this film festival, I signed up to be on the AVA email list and
soon attended my first meeting. AVA had formed officially during
the lead-up and beginning of last year’s gulf war, with various
U.S. citizens organizing just as in Prague. I found out that there
were a number of other AVA groups, including ones in Amsterdam and
Paris. 



Early
Organizational Focus 



A

t
its first congress in the summer of 2003, AVA agreed on a few major
points. The first was that it was against the USA PATRIOT Act. The
second was that AVA would support any presidential candidate opposed
to Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war. 


At
the time, these issues seemed easy to coordinate around. The problem
was that as a campaign this would only be relevant through the Democratic
primary. Furthermore, (from the information available in Summer
2003), AVA might end up supporting a Ralph Nader- type candidate
as the possibility that the eventual Democratic candidate in the
2004 election may have voted for the USA PATRIOT Act as well as
the Cheney/Bush war in Iraq. 


Nonetheless,
AVA has been an active, visible, and feisty group. In March 2003
at the beginning of the Iraq war, AVA members were often outnumbered
by journalists at its press events. The German news gobbled up the
story of an estimated 10,000 people from the U.S. living in Berlin
actively organizing against the war. No longer was the U.S. Embassy
the sole source for a U.S. position on the largest issue of international
concern. All this took place against the backdrop of a Berlin filled
with “No War” and rainbow colored “Pace” (Peace)
flags, flying in every district and in a very high percentage of
store windows as well. 


Also
in 2003, another group of radical U.S. anti-war activists had led
a clever, satirical “We Love War” demonstration. This
action had a large number of Anarchists donned in bright red, white,
and blue garb, with signs such as “More War, More Police,”
“War =Freedom & Profit,” and “Peace? No Way.”
This crowd of 300 marched through the heart of Berlin and the old
squat neighborhoods of the Prinzlaur Berg district, attracting bemused
smiles and confusing many police. 


AVA
was organizing rapidly. Members included visiting professors, filmmakers,
journalists, translators, student backpackers who had first come
to Berlin long ago and decided to stay and teach English to survive,
and 1968 radicals who had organized in Berlin and then decided to
stay. Contacts were made with local journalists. 


AVA
decided that education was a priority. More film nights were organized.
A National Lawyers Guild attorney toured across Europe, giving lectures
about the unconstitutionality of the PATRIOT Act at large public
events. Scott Ritter made it to Prague for a lecture to accompany
the screening of his film about the U.S. government manipulation
of the weapons inspection process. All in all, AVA was staying out
in front of the public and getting coverage in the mainstream press. 



100,000
in 2004 



B

y
the time of the second AVA European congress in Prague (November
2003), it was agreed to start a new campaign. The “100,000
in 2004” campaign was kicked off on Martin Luther King’s
birthday by AVA chapters across Europe, including chapters in Paris,
Amsterdam, Munich, Hamburg, and Montpelier. 


The
Prague group held an all-day event at a U.S.-owned English language
bookstore. The Globe bookstore had readings from the U.S. Constitution
and such writers as Martin Luther King, Mark Twain, and Ralph Waldo
Emerson. They also had poetry, more films, and they registered voters
online. 


One
AVA member had read an

LA Times

quote from 2000, “Republicans
abroad elected Bush in 2000.” This quote inspired some members
to research the process by which U.S. citizens living abroad can
register to vote. Shockingly, they found that the U.S. Department
of Defense is in charge of this process, which may explain why so
many U.S. soldiers register to vote. Luckily for AVA, we have been
experiencing a number of current and former U.S. military and governmental
staff joining our ranks. 


Further
inspiration for AVA comes from groups like the GI Hotline. This
organization provides advice and information to U.S. military personnel
that either have gone absent without leave, or may be interested
in leaving the service. This group in Europe has been stunned by
the number of calls they have received. They also have been designing
leaflets to give out across Europe at spaces frequented by U.S.
military personnel. 


AVA
has taken the position that it needs to be a potent force in Europe
to get a large turnout of U.S. citizens living abroad to vote against
Bush. One of the top stories in the European press in mid-February
was about the massive growth in Democrats Abroad. DA chapters in
places such as Paris and Tokyo experienced a 400 percent growth
rate in turnout for foreign Democratic Party caucuses over the 2000
figures. 


It
is obvious that it is not only citizens of “old Europe”
who are at odds with Bush/Cheney foreign policy. 


Colin
King, who teaches Philosophy at Humboldt University in Berlin, sized
up why many have joined AVA: “Many of us are expatriates by
choice. We feel better far from a country in which we see so much
apathy, provincialism, unreflective consumer egotism and obstinate
ignorance of the rest of the world—to name just a few things
which could irk someone about the United States. AVA is poised to
stand strong as an organizational political tool for progressive
U.S. citizens in Europe and its strength and effectiveness will
only get stronger.” 







Jason
Kirkpatrick is the former vice- mayor of Arcata, California.