Call-in Equality in the Wake of Charlottesville

By Elizabeth Voss.

My journey to activism

My family and I moved from Peoria, Illinois, to Basel, Switzerland, in January 2015. The past two-and-a-half years have been a learning experience, full of culture shock and discovery, but overall pleasant. I find that the Swiss locals wish I spoke more German (I’m trying!), but are generally accepting of our family and our obvious American-ness.

I started feeling differently as the election got closer and closer last year. As an example, my mother-in-law was visiting us at the beginning of the November, just before election day, and the man selling us train tickets at SBB asked us all who we were voting for and how Donald Trump had made it so far. I knew the answer to the first question, but I had no good explanation for the second.

The days after the election were the first time that I had been glad not to have a job in Switzerland. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to look my coworkers in the face and try to explain how Trump had won (both the rhetoric that had gotten him so far and the electoral college system which had actually handed him the Presidency). I did not envy my husband that task.

In the months since the election and inauguration, I have gotten more politically involved than I ever had been in my life. Previous political activities included making “Vote for Clinton” signs for the 1992 Presidential election; attending the rally in Springfield, IL, where then-candidate Barack Obama announced Joe Biden as his running mate; and making financial contributions when I felt I could afford them. While important, those things are no longer enough, especially in a non-election year and when so many civil liberties and basic human rights are under attack on a near-daily basis.

My first step was getting involved in Democrats Abroad Switzerland. We have a very active chapter here in Basel, as well as chapters in Geneva and Zürich. Democrats Abroad is the official Democratic Party arm for the millions of U.S. Americans living outside the United States. Democrats Abroad strives to provide citizens living abroad with a voice in government and elect Democratic candidates by mobilizing the overseas vote.

Through my involvement with Democrats Abroad, I became aware of an organization called Action Together: Zürich. Founded in March 2017, Action Together: Zürich, CH is an organization of Americans, Swiss, and other nationals living in and near Zürich, who are committed to protecting American values currently under threat by the Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress. They are a group of volunteers dedicated to taking real, concrete, creative and effective political action as efficiently as possible. Although I don’t live in Zürich, it’s only an hour away by train.

In my quest to be more actively involved in the political process, I have been making calls, writing postcards, sending emails, and attending marches for the first time this year. When it’s been possible, I’ve also been including my daughter in these activities. She’s five and she’s seen the effect this administration has had on me, and I’ve been doing my best to explain the impact that it’s having on other people. She received Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls as a Christmas present and I cannot read her the stories about Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton without crying (every time). She attended the Zürich Women’s March with me in March and made a sign for the Freiburg March for Science (although she wasn’t able to attend). We’ve had many discussions at the dinner table about “the mean President” and the definitions of words like “racism,” “feminist,” and “gay.”

Zürich Public Call-In: Stand Up for Equality/Stand Against Hatred
Watching the news coverage of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the counter-protest, and the ensuing violence was heartbreaking. Americans fought against Nazis during WWII and now Nazis were emboldened enough to walk down the streets with swastikas and photos of Hitler while the KKK marched without concealing their identities. I wish I could say I was surprised that someone was killed and so many were injured, but sadly I’m not. People who rally around hatred don’t have any qualms about taking a human life, as we have seen time and time again.

Democrats Abroad held an international virtual vigil for Heather Heyer over social media; my husband and I participated. When I heard that the Zürich Chapter of Democrats Abroad and Action Together: Zürich were holding a public call-in as a creative response to the tragedy in Charlottesville, I knew that my daughter and I needed to attend. She’d seen me march, and now she would see me calling my members of Congress. I wanted her to really see how American representative democracy works, even if it’s not usually very thrilling!

Photo 1
We had 42 attendees, representing the US, Ireland, Canada, Cuba, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Lichtenstein. (Photo credit: Johannes Dietschi)
Stand Against Hatred #Charlottesville
Darcy Alexandra explaining the plan for the call-in, Alexandra Dufresne of Action Together: Zürich presenting the hashtag for this event, and Yael Borofsky of DA Zurich giving us all words of encouragement to keep fighting.

The Americans in attendance were given suggested scripts so that we could easily call and ask our Senators and Representatives to unequivocally stand against white supremacy, anti-Semitism, hatred, and bigotry of all forms, and that they do everything in their power to stand up for equality and inclusion during this pivotal time. The attendees of other nationalities were invited to make signs and write postcards to express their opinions as well.

Photo 3
Although I have been calling my members of Congress about issues since January, this was my first time actually getting a staffer on the phone. Every other time, I’ve received a busy signal or a full mailbox. This time, I was able to reach staffers for both of my Senators (Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin) as well as my Representative (Cheri Bustos)! (Photo credit: Johannes Dietschi)
Photo 4
More Americans calling their members of Congress! (Photo credit: Johannes Dietschi)
Photo 5
My daughter and her very important reminder to the adults she encounters.

Darcy Alexandra organized this event in only two-and-a-half days! Both her background in human and civil rights organizing, and the tremendous enthusiasm from members of Action Together Zürich and Democrats Abroad made the emergency response possible. Alexandra conceptualized the event for Charlottesville as a dynamic response with concrete results — phone calls to members of Congress, information exchange, and community building — something that other Americans living abroad could easily replicate in their cities and towns. As a historic site of civil assembly and the mythological place where the women of Zürich defended their city from hostile invaders, she chose the beautiful Lindenhof in the medieval city center for our peaceful gathering.

This public call-in was also in honor of Heather Heyer, and all those who educate, organize, and stand up for equality and social justice. It was great to come together with other Americans and citizens of the world who are feeling just as unsettled by recent events in the US, but it was also more than that. The Americans in attendance called their members of Congress while we were all together. We called and we made ourselves heard! Some of the attendees were calling their representatives for the very first time. It was incredibly empowering.

After I made my three successful phone calls, I was approached by a Swiss couple who wanted to know who exactly I had called. As I was in the middle of explaining the House and the Senate, and that I had never actually gotten through to any national representatives before, a cheer went up from the crowd. A news alert had just come through that Steve Bannon was leaving as Trump’s chief strategist. I must admit that I felt a tiny bit responsible! The best part was being with a group of people who all felt the same way I did at that moment: A small victory had been won, but there are many more battles ahead of us. Together, though, we can affect change and I do believe we will.

How to call your Members of Congress
Calling your members of Congress can seem intimidating, and the logistics of dealing with the time difference when calling from overseas does complicate matters. However, if you keep in mind that your representatives work for you (and do the ever present time math), making these calls can be quick and easy!

To aid in the process, Action Together Zürich has started a social media campaign called #nottoofarawaytocall. They’re asking Americans living, studying, working or vacationing abroad to share a photo of themselves calling their members of Congress from locations around the world that are famous or recognizably outside of the U.S. This campaign aims to help normalize the practice of calling our representatives -even from outside the U.S. ATZ want to show Americans who are currently nervous or feel somehow “too far away” to call that ordinary people from all walks of life take the time to call their members of Congress and that calling from abroad is fast, easy, simple, and effective. Photos are currently being collected and the campaign will launch on September 6, 2017. For more information go to Action Together Zürich to find out how you can be involved!

Photo 6
Attempting to call my Senators from the top of the Cathedral of Blessed Mother Teresa in Prishtina, Kosovo, in July 2017. I wasn’t too far away to call!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow how inspiring! I feel a bit a shame that I have put zero interess into the politics! Growing up in a country such as Sweden I never had to really think hard about it but I remember my classmates from an ex Russia or Turkey were at young age very intressted in politics. My classmate explained to me that its because their parents always followed the news and discussed it daily when family are gathered. And I belive that your daughter will growing up changing the world to a better place!


  2. Hanka says:

    Very interesting read. I didn´t have any idea that the Americans overseas are so active in the political life and issue concerning their home country! Thumbs up for your effort.


  3. D-Claire says:

    Good on you for actually DOING something. Really impressed. Keep fighting the fight!


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