“If X wins, I’m moving to Y”
We’ve all heard it, read it, gagged over the privilege of the statement. I understand, it’s a way to powerfully state your strong opinions about the potential-elect. It’s saying ‘I would hate so much for this person to win that I’d be willing to leave the country, my hometown, my friends and family to avoid being under his/her rule.’
But let’s all admit that it’s a tad bit melodramatic. Moving abroad isn’t as simple as a declarative sentence.
See, I live abroad. I decided to move abroad of my own volition, for my own needs and goals. I wasn’t pushed here by an autocratic president. I didn’t have to run here to escape war or famine, nor economic strife, per se. I love living in Italy and I’m thankful for the opportunities that allowed me to come here. I’m a proud American citizen enjoying life in another country.
Just because I’m abroad doesn’t mean I’ve escaped the strife that many Americans are feeling after this election. It doesn’t mean that I am not influenced by political, social and economic changes in the United States.
It doesn’t take away my rights nor my responsibilities as a United States citizen.
I follow U.S. politics extensively, both from US news outlets and outlets abroad, both in English and Italian, both formally and informally. And I care.
While so many joke or claim or shout out that they’re leaving, all I want is be home to support my fellow citizens, to have my voice be heard and to help others voices be heard.
From an ocean away, it can feel difficult to do these things. And yet, it’s not impossible.
Here’s how you can support your country even from abroad:
Inform yourself, but choose wisely
It might seem like the lamest of the suggestions, but it’s also the most important by far.
In the New York Times’ new newsletter, The Interpreter, journalists Max Fisher and Amanda Taub discuss “authoritarianization”.
Authoritarianizers consolidate their power not by doing anything as dramatic as putting tanks on the street, but by slowly chipping away at checks and balances, undermining the authority of other branches of government, and restricting the free press and civil liberties.
This idea has changed the way we read the news, because it means we need to focus more on institutions in order to really understand what’s going on, and look more for initial warning signs. And something we would emphasize: Initial steps down this path can be within the bounds of the law, and they often have popular support.
We need to follow the news. We need to follow it closely. But not only, we also need to dissect the news. Evaluate the source and the journalist and the bias. We need to understand and interpret it, and watch out for warning signs that might predict our future.
As our U.S. government lashes out again and again against traditional media, I’d suggest following it now more than ever. The headlines might be grim or the newspaper’s bias slanted, but it still remains more informative than Facebook feeds and Twitter followers. It’s simply a better use of time. Worried about the biases? (which have always been there, by the way.) Read a wide variety to get a better picture of the story. Read newspapers on both sides of the political spectrum, or at the very least read with a keen eye for opinion, subjectiveness and persuasion.
Explore outside of the United States for your news with The Guardian and BBC. Try the Globe and Mail from Canada and keep up with your local city newspaper.
Even better – subscribe and pay to a news organization with integrity. Your support will go a long way.
Evaluate your privileges
I live in a predominately white, Catholic country. My friends all look like me. They all speak the same language. Besides the occasional English expat, they were all born in the same country. On first glance, the demographics in Italy is in stark contrast to those in the United States. And yet for many it’s not all that different than they’re social circles in the US. Though my friend circle was much more varied in the US., my privileges were still on full display. We were still remarkably homogeneous in one way or another. So check yourself, evaluate what you know, study about how to become an ally.
Though I can’t physically place myself in American minority culture (not being physically in America and all) I can dramatically immerse myself and my ideas in the culture. I follow podcasts like Code Switch, Another Round, Call Your Girlfriend and The Bridge. I want to read and listen to and hear voices outside of my own. I want to know the things I don’t know. It’s time we learned about the marginalized people in the United States and they’re history. It’s time we fill in the enormous craters of our history books. It’s the basis of our dialogue.
Discuss it with others
Once you do learn about those histories and the structures that are keeping them in place, once you are informed on a day-to-day basis, discuss it with your friends. Whether you like it or not, as an expat you are automatically a representative of your country. Respond to your friends’ questions about the U.S. Then, call your friends in the U.S. and talk with them as well. Write emails. Vent. Discuss. Just be sure that you’re holding real conversations and not only social media tirades.
Here’s a huge list of Ways to Organize for Activists that also lists good discussion as a catalyst for change:
Contact people you know in other states and ask them what their plan is to make a difference, share this list with them. Remind them that they are responsible for creating change as well. Reach out to all of your friends and family and do things off this list together.”
Never give up your right to vote. Your right for your voice to be heard. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be apathetic. Don’t ask ‘What’s the point?’ If you need a reminder, watch Selma, watch Suffragette and read about both movements. People have fought for centuries to be able to vote and though the system still is fallible, it’s the best one we’ve got. Continue to fight, continue to vote.
Call and email your representatives
Try 5calls.org, a website I found from freelance journalist Ann Friedman’s incredible weekly newsletter. 5 Calls identifies your location and provides phone numbers and scripts about different issues so calling is quick and easy. Those calling from abroad can pay the fee, considering your voicemail likely won’t be all that long, or call via Skype for pennies per minute. I have an unlimited calling plan via Skype for just $35 for the entire year.
Super don’t like the idea of calling strangers? Me neither. This page helped: How to Call Your Reps When You Have Social Anxiety. Still don’t want to call? No problem, send an email!
Some people will stop reading after this subheading, but for others it’s the best and maybe only way they feel they can contribute. Being active in your country’s politics from abroad is difficult. It’s disheartening. We may not have the time or the know-how or the mental energy, but with a small (or large) contribution to a cause you care about, you are absolutely supporting that cause. The truth is, without funds the organizations on the frontlines wouldn’t exist.
So how do you choose where to donate? Consider what matters most to you. Find organizations in that sector. Consider donating to places that usually get very little funds, that are being systematically attacked right now. Decide if you want a big organization or a small organizations, national or local, a one time or continuing donation. Then give where it feels right to you.
Join an expat political group
Your local embassy is sure to host events pertaining to American politics, but joining your own political party’s branch “abroad” will ensure you get detailed, specific information based on your political beliefs. One such organization is Democrats Abroad, the “official Democratic Party arm for the millions of Americans living outside the United States.”
At Democrats Abroad Italy I can find a list of resources and actions to complete, protests, events and upcoming elections or votes. I stay informed about political life in America, even from 4,000 miles away.
Their online voter registration tool – votefromabroad.org – makes it easy to request a ballot and vote absentee from any place on the planet and their on-phone support is top notch for those who have questions. Other events simply include regular meet ups to take action together and offer solidarity and support for others just as far from “home” as you.
Join international support movements
The cry for supporters to the Women’s March in Washington D.C. January 21, 2017 was large, and I felt it like a bugle sounding in my own home. I felt its significance, yet logistically couldn’t be there (for those of you saying there’s always a way: I was 8 months pregnant, working, 4,000 miles away and poor). My depression didn’t last for long though, as I watched city after city add their own Women’s March in solidarity with Washington. First throughout the United States, then even over here in Italy!
Milan’s Women’s March event said:
We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country. The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths particularly Muslim, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native and Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault.
We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear. In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore.
Rome planned the first solidarity march, but Florence and Milan each organized at the last hour to host a Women’s March of their own.
In all, there were 673 sister marches held throughout the world on January 21st, proving just how globally connected we truly are, and just how globally connected we can be.
Choose your battles
This election brought out bad sides in all of us. Though I was far from home, I can only imagine the tense Thanksgivings spent throughout America, as family members from opposite ends of the political spectrum speculated and sparred. Now is not the time to turn our back on our loved ones. It’s not the time to fight on Facebook. Note: I’m not saying to not publish political posts, I’m saying to keep it civilized. When they go high, we go low, and for your sanity, now’s the time to choose your battles. Is that political Facebook post a battle that will help you? Will it help your cause? Maybe instead your battle is to build support groups. To grow as an ally. To make those phone calls.
You can’t win every battle. The good news is, you don’t need to win every battle to win the war.