This article was originally published on the Daily Grab Back, a friend and ally of Americans Resisting Overseas and a member of the Action Alliance, on March 24th, 2017.
The Women’s March on Washington revealed the power and commitment of Americans living overseas to exercise their citizenship and participate in the current political struggle from outside the USA. By simply adding an international registration option to their online platform, millions signed up to march in over 50 countries. The global ‘huddles’ that mushroomed from the DC Sister marches represent a living experiment for transnational citizenship in the Trump era.
Despite this great success in overseas mobilization, other United States based social movements have not followed suit. The absence of international registration options on the wonderful ACLU People Power and RISE Stronger grassroots platforms are indicative of the absence of Americans living overseas’ voices and visibility in the current political context. While the Women’s Global Marches proved that Americans living outside the USA are willing to be politically active, they still remain largely under the radar and underutilized by US advocacy efforts as a whole.
Although not everyone has caught on to the fact that Americans living overseas have the potential to be an important political force, there has never been a better time to exercise transnational citizenship.
Today, as an American migrant who has lived in Medellin, Colombia for six years, I, like so many others in the world, receive news of what is going on in the USA as it happens through social media. I can volunteer for US NGOs “remotely’’, make cheap overseas calls to my Members of Congress via Skype, mail postcards to the White House that will arrive within 14 days, participate in public policy webinars, receive online civil rights trainings, participate in global marches, and coordinate with other activists through SLACK, all from outside the United States. Not only can I connect with my own country, but I can, in a second, coordinate with other American activists living overseas in dozens of other countries through apps like WhatsApp.
This is transnational citizenship at its height, the ability to be both here, the country where we currently live, and there, the country where we come from.
Why then has American overseas activism been left at the fringe? For one thing, American citizenship is still too often associated with physical borders, versus a sense of belonging, participation, and identity which can be nurtured regardless of the physical territory where we live. Indicative of this, is the fact that Americans living overseas did not even gain the right to an absentee ballot vote until the Overseas Voting act of 1975.
The case for including Americans living overseas in activism is not helped by the fact that there are not any real numbers on how many Americans live outside the USA. Estimates guess between 2 and 7 million, somewhere between the size of the population of Rhode Island and Tennessee.
Some might argue that another reason for the distance of Americans abroad from US politics is that many Americans living overseas left the US in order to escape American systems. Some of the strongest lobbying efforts that have historically emerged from the Americans resisting overseas movement have been around taxes, versus in defense of rights.
However, these are not ordinary times and the current political situation has motivated American migrants who otherwise would not become involved to mobilize, politicize, and stay active.
2 to 7 million people…How can this political power be put to use by the organizing efforts in the United States? I would venture that the responsibility is two-fold. On one hand, the movements in the States should be aware of how transnational citizenship can come into play in influencing public policy. We no longer live in a world where physical borders determine our ability to participate. Today overseas Americans can boycott Ivanka products and jam their MoC’s phone lines with the same ease as someone from within the States.
On the other hand, Americans living overseas must become better organized, find each other, and connect and form alliances, not just with other Americans but with activists from the countries in which they are living who almost certainly are also being harmed by the current administration’s policies. The establishment of online platforms such as Americans Resisting Overseas based out of Colombia, Progressive Action Global Exchange reaching countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, Solidarity for Humanity in Switzerland, and American Expats for Positive Change in the UK and Italy are just some of many groups that have begun to take important steps towards making visible what is happening from abroad and working collaboratively with others to organize against the current administration from outside the USA.
Advocating for social change is complex. Trying to understand what works and what doesn’t from outside the United States adds an extra level of complexity. But, like millions of other Americans living overseas, I am willing to be part of this living political experiment. I, along with others, will be organizing and making enough noise from outside the USA for Trump and my representatives to hear me, even from all the way across the ocean.
The Daily Grab Back, where this article was originally published, represent a diverse team of women from across the continent who just aren’t having it anymore. We are stay-at-home moms, academics, lawyers, clock punchers, child advocates, small business owners and lovers of tacos. This is how we answered our call to action.