The U.S. president is the most powerful man on Earth. That’s why these initiatives aim to give the rest of the world a voice in this year’s election.
As the United States exerts greater economic, political and—especially—military might around the world, people everywhere else feel left out of decisions that affect their own and humanity’s future.
While envy of American power has been a factor in international relations since at least World War II, things have escalated sharply since George W. Bush entered the White House. Notoriously indifferent to foreign affairs while a candidate in 2000 (he had rarely traveled beyond U.S. borders), Bush defied world opinion as president on many issues from the Kyoto global warming accords to UN population programs to military intervention in the Middle East. Now, as Bush pushes for re-election, people around the planet feel a growing sense of frustration at having absolutely no say in choosing the most powerful man in the world.
The President’s challenger, John Kerry, has made a campaign issue out of Bush’s go-it-alone vision for U.S. foreign policy. The contrast between the two men could not be more clear. Kerry was partly raised and educated in Europe, has seen combat on foreign battlefields, has family ties to France, an African-born wife and sincerely believes that American interests are best served in a global age by cooperating with other nations.
But it doesn’t matter that billions around the world might prefer Kerry. In July, the Seattle-based Global Market Institute polled voters in G-8 nations and found that Kerry was favored by at least 74 percent of citizens in each of the seven leading industrial nations besides the United States; in Germany and France his support topped 90 percent. The incontrovertible truth is that only Americans can cast a vote for the American president.
But that has not discouraged a new wave of globally-minded citizens, who are using the internet to offer the rest of the world a voice (even if it’s an indirect one) in determining how the world is run over the next four years. The following websites represent an ambitious, unprecedented effort to bring broader global influences into U.S. politics.
Tell an American to Vote
Claire Taylor, a native of Florida now living in Amsterdam, notes that American voters living abroad could make the difference in key electoral states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Wisconsin. The purpose of the website she launched with Robert Checkoway, organizer of Democrats Abroad in the Netherlands and an overseas delegate to this year’s Democratic convention, is to help people around the world convince their American friends to vote.
Appearing in 13 languages, the website is stocked with information about campaign issues and all the details needed for American citizens to negotiate the rather cumbersome process of voting from overseas. Taylor, who is married to a Dutch man and works in advertising, admits that she herself has never voted since moving to the Netherlands in 1985—but not because she hasn’t wanted to. “Every time I tried, it turned out that I did not have the right forms or I was too late to register.”
The idea for TellAnAmericanToVote.com came out of many political conversations with European friends. “To see what’s happening in American politics is very frustrating to people around the world. And as Americans living overseas we have to hear about it all the time. So with this I can say, ‘Don’t complain to me, here’s something you can do.’”
OverseasVote.com sees Americans abroad as a “proxy vote” for the entire world. Co-founder Brett Rierson, originally from Wisconsin and now living in Hong Kong, disputes the conventional wisdom that overseas voters are largely Republican. In a typical election year, he notes, a large of majority of Americans living abroad don’t vote, so military personnel and corporate employees, who lean Republican, dominate overseas ballots.
But this is not a typical election year, Rierson adds, noting that the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration’s canceling of many international treaties has sparked strong feelings about America’s role in the world—feelings that help convince many Americans living outside the country to make sure to vote. “Overseas Americans have different experiences and access to different media sources,” he says, “ so they have a different view of foreign policy this election.”
OverseasVote.com offers comprehensive information on how to register and vote. Rierson reports that by mid-August OverseasVote.com alone has registered 25,000 to 30,000 new overseas voters. “Seeing the websites these voters come to us from, I can say they are 95 percent Democrats.” And Rierson, who has worked in venture capital firms in Taiwan, London, and France, and run his own company in Hong Kong, says, “I know a lot of Republicans who will be voting for Kerry this year.”
The World Votes
One effort to include people around the world more directly in American politics grew out of an internet discussion among Dutch young people, who felt that having no say in the American election left them feeling powerless about the world’s future. So they organized their own global election. More than 8500 people on five continents had signed up as of August to cast a ballot for either Kerry or Bush. “It’s only a symbolic action,” concedes Bart Lacroix, a 29-year-old business consultant in Utrecht who helps run the campaign, “but we think it can help start a global dialogue. We hope Americans will see it and think about the rest of the world.”
The group intends to announce its world vote results on U.S. election day. Lacroix adds that the group will consider sponsoring international votes on crucial matters such as UN resolutions or other nation’s elections.
Talk to U.S.
William Brent, who lived in China for 16 years working as a journalist and filmmaker before returning to the U.S. two years ago, was surprised at what he found back home. It wasn’t how much the country had changed; he was prepared for that. “It was how many Americans lacked curiosity about what’s going on in the world,” he says. “I compared that to China, where people were hungry to know about the world.”
So joining with friends in the U.S., he decided to bring the world to America via the internet. “We weren’t sure what we were getting into, but we put videocameras in the hands of people who were willing to find other people who wanted to address the American public.” The TalkToUS.org website now features thoughts of people in 19 nations, from Bolivia to Sweden to China, on themes ranging from terrorism and the spread of HIV to how much people around the world have in common.
The interviews have been packaged in a DVD for teachers and some have appeared as Public Service Announcements on several TV stations. Now Brent and his friends are scrambling to raise money so that this material can be aired as ads in battleground states of the presidential election and in congressional districts or states represented by key members of the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees. “We want to gather as many of these interviews as possible and make them part of the election,” Brent declares.