By Ariel T.
I was in Medellin, Colombia where I have lived and worked in the international development field for the past six years. On TV, I watched thousands descending on airports around the United States, moved to action by the sheer emotion of knowing the Muslim ban was wrong, unethical, outrageous. From my living room I was flooded with a sense of disempowerment, an ocean away from my country, without a way to help or have my voice heard. That was the moment a group of Americans living in four other countries outside the USA and myself launched Americans Resisting Overseas (ARO), an online platform for Americans outside the US to share actions and advice around what has worked and what hasn’t in overseas mobilizing efforts in the wake of the new US administration.
The simple act of starting the platform never felt like enough, but almost immediately through ARO other American activists with the same sense of isolation began to reach out. We caught each other in free fall, and today, six months since the Muslim ban and Women’s March, Americans Resisting Overseas is part of a network of expat resistance groups around the world who have come together to support each other and make our voices heard, even though we are not living in the United States. Together we have mobilized against the Dakota Access Pipeline, organized rights trainings, sent postcards, marked 100 days of resisting, campaigned for a release of those infamous taxes. We have never met, and probably never will. We are in Italy, Mexico, France, Spain, Norway, Colombia, Senegal, Switzerland, Argentina and dozens of other countries. Some of our groups started with the Women’s March, others with Indivisible or Democrats Abroad, some with the Executive orders, and others as the need to act emerged.
As activists in part of an overseas movement in some ways we experience the same frustrations as activists in the US. We wonder if our actions are making a difference, and if our Members of Congress are getting the messages we leave them every day by skype, facetime, or fax.
But there are some things that set our activism apart. For one thing, we live our resistance efforts from outside the US looking in. We have the benefit of taking in what is happening from multiple global perspectives.
In my case for example, I lived the pain and shock of November three times. Once when my husband’s country, the UK, decided to leave the European Union. Once from my current home, Colombia, when the Peace Agreement with the FARC was voted down through popular referendum, and of course through my own country, the USA. Seeing it this way, it has been impossible not to understand what is happening as a global phenomenon that we must fight together.
Myself and other Americans living overseas have tried to learn from the experiences of other countries. Colombians have shared valuable advice with me picked up from persisting through fifty years of conflict. One told me I must remember to laugh— that laughter is one of the only things that can help you through hard times, which I really related to with my new dependence on Saturday Night Live. More than one Colombian has told me something along the lines of ‘’No matter what happens, eventually it will pass. You will get through it.’’ It is easy to get sucked into the pain of what the United States is experiencing. But their words were also a solemn reminder that so many countries in the world have been living and continue to live their own conflicts and struggles, most of which we as Americans are oblivious to.
For many of us experiencing our activism from countries at war, recovering from conflict or in economic crisis, each with their own histories to overcome, living this period of history has challenged our perceptions of American exceptionalism. We see firsthand that democracy is delicate. It is not a given. Even our ability as Americans, to protest our government is a blessing that so many do not have. From outside looking in, I treasure the rights and freedoms that in its better moments the US can represent, and fear their loss having seen what that can mean.
Through the fear, what has given me hope is being part of a movement of overseas resisters. Since the inauguration, I have been inspired by people from all walks of life who couldn’t be still. They may send in absentee ballots, but by no means are they absentee citizens. Amongst Americans living overseas there is a lot of potential to have very little in common. We are professors, backpackers, computer programmers, missionaries, retirees, development workers, housewives, executives, students. We could be in a country for a month or live their forever. But despite these differences, we have come together for a common purpose.
In doing so we are defying a common misconception. If you are not in the country, your voice does not count. This view treats citizenship as based purely around physical presence within physical borders. What we, Americans resisting overseas, are doing is proving that we can live our citizenship within multiple countries and be equal players in the political arena despite where we are currently living. Citizenship for us has manifested itself as a sense of multiple belonging, identity and political participation.
The other thing that gives me hope is the way overseas resistance groups have built bridges with our new communities. Overseas groups have seen firsthand how what is happening in the US has immediate consequences in the countries where we live.
Through our activism across borders beautiful opportunities have emerged to collaborate around actions with our host communities that matter to us all. In Mexico I have seen resistance groups organizing to receive immigrants deported from the USA. In France, Americans are doing food drives for asylum seekers. In Medellin, as part of the March for Science we organized an event with local environmental activists to discuss what we could do as a community to address the city’s problem of air pollution.
One of the panelists at our event said what inspired him was something he hadn’t encountered before, an opportunity for Colombians and foreign residents to share a vision of positive change that transcends borders or nationalities. The panelist’s reflections reminded me of a phrase I heard someone say at a peace and reconciliation event, ‘’Ustedes son de nosotros y nosotros de ustedes” which I like to interpret as I am because we all are. Maybe this is one of the most valuable contributions that Americans resisting overseas can bring to the current movement.
We Americans living overseas are between 2 and 8 million people. We have the potential to be a fierce political force and are just getting started, more active and organized than at any point in history. So I would say to other Americans making their lives away from home, join us, find a local resistance group or start your own. When you do, don’t isolate our issues from those of the country where you live. Look for local allies and find what connects us.
Marine Le Pen, has controversially said the battle today is between patriots and globalists. I write as an American woman living and working in Colombia, married to an Englishman, mobilizing for the rights of the community where I live and where I am from, with Americans who I have never met but speak to everyday in dozens of countries around the world. To be honest, I have never felt so patriotic