As I type this three American citizen advocacy groups, ACA, AARO and FAWCO are in Washington, D.C., USA for the annual Overseas American Week.
They will be meeting with members of Congress and U.S. agencies and departments to call attention to the concerns of the more than 6 million American citizens living outside the U.S.
Clearly tax issues will be a big part of their efforts: "OAW delegates will meet in particular with House Ways and Means Committee staffers that specifically deal with tax and banking problems for Americans living abroad." Other issues are on the table as well: Social Security, Medicare and citizenship.
I wish them well in the belly of the beast.
As I perused their websites, however, something began to bother me. They are going to Washington to fight the good fight but what about the rest of us? You know, the other 5.9999 million U.S. citizens abroad whose interests are being represented? Not that we all want to go, mind you, (I personally hate that city with a passion), and Homeland Security would probably have a fit if millions of Americans abroad descended on Washington, but the whole thing kind of leaves the rest of us hanging. Where is our role in all this? Or are we supposed to sit on the sidelines, recite the chapelet of the Divine Mercy, and let others do the heavy lifting?
Only FAWCO has an answer. A limited one. They ask their members to "contact their legislators to ask them to co-sponsor HR 597 early in this new Congress." This is the Commission on Americans Living Abroad Act.
I know and love all of these organizations so what I am about to say is meant to be constructive: Sometimes you look a lot more like gatekeepers than leaders and mobilizers. Is this really ideal? We pay the dues and you do the work makes for a pretty passive membership. There are people spending hours each day working on the issues you care about and need support for, but many are doing these things outside your organizations because they feel a desperate need to do more than write a check, read the newsletter, and send the occasional email to U.S. lawmakers. A lot of energy out there and a lot of anger. If people can't find a channel for those feelings with you, then they will look elsewhere.
This is a defining moment for the American diaspora. We have burning issues that are bringing us together wherever we live and it's just too good an opportunity to squander.
So, what can we do together to make things happen?