I moved to Berlin the last year of the Clinton administration. When Bush first got elected, I remember sitting in Cafe Rix, opening up a copy of Die Zeit and seeing a cartoon of George W. in a cowboy hat, swinging a Colt revolver. “Well, this can’t be good,” I thought. Little did I know his presidency would soon go from “not good” to very bad to downright terrifying. And I constantly got flack for it.
“Hey, people. I didn’t vote for him.”
I did still vote, even in the local California elections. I’d order an absentee ballot far in advance and have my father keep tabs on it. When I was in California I’d fill it out, sign it and send it in. Civic duty accompolished.
At some point, my father said next time he’d register me as a Republican – I knew him well enough to know he was only half joking. In 2004, I voted for Obama here in Berlin, though the process was somewhat complicated (or at least that’s how I remember it.) Come 2008, I missed the registration deadline. “Oh well,” I thought. “California doesn’t really need my vote.” It would be different if I were voting for Iowa.
But I felt guilty. My German friends would ask if I voted and I would sheepishly grin and change the subject. I was caught in a bind: the longer you live abroad, the more flimsy your cultural identity becomes. I’ll never be German, but when I think of the US, sometimes I feel like, “Oh, yeah. That place I once came from.”
But now, with FATCA and citizen-based taxation, my fervor has been rekindled. Over eight million Americans live abroad – population-wise, this means we make up the 12th largest state. It’s time our voices were heard.
Voting has also luckily gotten easier. Last weekend I voted at the Global Democratic Primaries, organized by Democrats Abroad – they even had an official polling station. Over 15,000 Americans live in Berlin, but most of them live in suburban Steglitz-Zehlendorf, which was the American zone when the wall was up. A much different scene than the one I know in Kreuzberg and Neukölln. It was funny so many of my fellow expat countrymen – ranging in age from 20 to 75 – all in one place.
Hey German pals, guess what? Ich habe gewählt! 😉