Arriving in Athens a week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited, the US Democratic Party’s overseas arm (Democrats Abroad) is holding its 2019 regional meeting in the Greek capital from 11-13 October.

Each of the geographic regions of Democrats Abroad organizes regional sessions at central meeting locations chosen by the members. This year’s decision to hold the Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA) regional meeting in Athens has no connection to regional developments, but the venue was chosen by the majority of voting members (leaders) of the organization.

Regional meeting preparing the ground for 2020

These annual regional meetings are for the most part training sessions for new leaders and an opportunity to network and plot strategy. The primary focus, however, is on coordinating “Get Out the Vote” efforts and intensification of on-the-ground voter registration efforts in view of changing state registration laws, many of which now require re-registration of voters living abroad in every election cycle.

Democrats Abroad is treated by the Democratic Party as a separate state for most purposes.  As such the organization conducts a “Global Primary” near the start of each presidential election year.  In the 2016 Global Primary Bernie Saunders beat Hillary Clinton by a large margin, as his platform was more friendly to the state-controlled health and public education systems that Americans abroad encountered in foreign countries.

American community in Greece not quite the European norm

The community of American expatriates in Greece suffered along with the host country through the economic crisis and is structurally different from the average European country as there are few if any jobs for expatriates created by the minuscule number of American and foreign companies currently investing in the local market.  If anything, there has been an outflow, not an inflow of working-age citizens.

The challenge for the local Democratic Party organisation is massive since there are over 100,000 American citizens in Greece, but the membership of the Greek chapter has never exceeded 1% of the total as many returning American citizens with local connections prefer to remain off the radar.

Nevertheless, Democrats Abroad Greece (DAGR) has soldiered on over the years, working tirelessly to register local American citizens and the large transient US student population to vote in US elections. With extremely limited financial resources strained by the requirements of Greek legislation for non-profits/NGO’s that require the small organization to maintain an office and file monthly tax reports, DAGR’s chapters in Athens and Thessaloniki still manage to schedule regular events.

DAGR’s leadership worked for years to successfully overcome the impact of a scandal that arose during the 2008 Obama campaign, which unfortunately sapped the very strong momentum DAGR built up at that time, partially due to local opposition to the Iraq War.  While some of the leaders appear to be frozen in that time period, the organisation’s current focus is on US social issues and helping out where possible during the refugee crisis in Greece with special collections, etc.