How American Ex-Pats Are Protesting Donald Trump Abroad
"There's something like 8 million Americans abroad, I don't think they should be silenced just because they are not currently in the States."
Anti-Trump protesters gathered in Paris on November 19. Photo by Roxanne Matiz
This November, Shannon Cain got the gift that all expats hope for: a visit from her daughter, who lives in Tucson, Arizona. She'd come to Paris to visit her mother hoping to celebrate the election of America's first female president.
The visit didn't go exactly as planned. Instead of staying up all night drinking champagne, they spent much of her visit in a slump at home. "We both just crawled into bed for like three days," Cain told me. "It was seriously depressing."
So Cain decided to organize something—not only for her country, but also for herself. She created a Facebook group called Paris Against Trump and invited Americans and Europeans to talk about the election at her apartment.
"I expected like 12 people in the apartment," Cain told me. "Forty people showed up."
The crowd was substantial enough that Cain had to ask her building manager if they could move the event to the lobby. The attendees—American expats, as well as some Europeans—spread out across the staircase, with little space left for people to pass. "The neighbors were like, 'What's going on here?' We would say it's anti-Trump, and they'd say, 'Bravo,'" Cain recalled.
After four hours of discussion and planning, the group of mostly strangers picked a date to have a protest: November 19—just six days later. They would have to get a permit from French police, make flyers and contact the media, all within a week. "I'm 52 now, I've been an organizer since my 20s," Cain told me, "and I have never seen a protest come together that way."
The response from American ex-pats in Paris is part of a larger trend of anti-Trump protests popping up around Europe—from London to Madrid to Berlin. On November 12, protestors gathered in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, where organizers told me more than 2,000 protesters were in attendance. Then on the 19th, Americans and European allies marched in Paris, the Eiffel Tower looming behind them. On December 2, several hundred protested in Madrid's Puerta Del Sol.
These protests—led mostly by American expats—serve as an outlet for United States citizens abroad, who told me they needed to be around other Americans to discuss the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. "I knew Thanksgiving was coming up, and I was feeling a little lonely," said Emilie Crabe, who helped organize the protest in Paris. "Most people don't know how important Thanksgiving is to Americans. I don't really know that many Americans in Paris."
Alex Baumhardt, an American expat living in Spain, attended the protest in Madrid and watched as protesters vented about a range of American issues, from the protest at Standing Rock to threats to reproductive rights. She told me the protest felt like a platform for American expats who feel like they don't have a voice abroad. "I think it was helpful for a lot of people, especially for Americans who are here that are feeling kind of helpless," Baumhardt told me.
Roxanne Matiz, an American who attended the protest in Paris, echoed the idea. "There's something like 8 million Americans abroad," she told me. "I don't think they should be silenced just because they are not currently in the States."
Large-scale anti-Trump protests held in major US cities since the election make these expat demonstrations seem small in comparison. In cities like New York and Los Angeles, thousands turned out for days-long protests following the election.
But for American expats like Stephanie Michel, who helped organize the Madrid protest, the small turnout isn't really an issue. For her, it was more important to give Americans a place to participate in a conversation they are thousands of miles away from. "It's hard to feel like you can do that much activism, when you're not actually in your country," said Michel, who is originally from Portland.
In Europe, these anti-Trump protests are a disjointed trend, planned and executed independently from one another. However, the groups seemed to have one thing in common: People who had never met one another before organized them on Facebook.
Diego Cano, an American living in Madrid, ended up planning an anti-Trump protest almost by accident, after posting on Facebook to invite people to meet up and process their feelings after the election. "A lot of people thought I already was planning [an event], so they were like, 'Oh, tell us where it's going to be and what time,'" Cano told me. "Then I was like, Oh shit. I actually have to do something now."
"We were complete strangers, which made the planning and implementation of the entire protest much more special and gratifying," American expat and Berlin protest organizer Whitney Buchanan told me.
Expat organizers in Berlin and London are now planning another set of protests for Trump's inauguration day, to mirror a number of protests expected to happen on the same day in the United States. Kathleen Brown, an American ex-pat who helped organize the Berlin rally, told me she hopes the protests will continue to provide ex-pats a voice and a stake in the issues happening overseas. "We're hoping for January 20 to have a kind of similar urgency."
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