Vive la Liberté

France and the US have always had a strong friendship – most of the time. The Marquis de Lafayette came to fight in the American Revolution when he couldn’t find a suitable job for his aristocratic rank in France. The story is that he became like a son to George Washington. Even fifty years after the American Revolution was over, when Lafayette made one final visit to the growing USA, people cheered him wherever he went. Wikipedia says that there is a city or town named after him in every state.

Benjamin Franklin, who lived much of his adult life in Paris, was adored by Parisian society. A statue of him sits in a small garden park near the Trocadero. He also was friends with the young Lafayette. There are books that say that Lafayette and Jefferson were very close–first during the American Revolution and after when Jefferson had moved to Paris as the first American Ambassador of the brand new republic.

The Americans were not nearly as helpful to the French during the French Revolution. The ones living here either went back to the US or stayed clear of what was going on. Lafayette, himself, never supported a complete break with the King and for awhile, played both sides of the fence. He eventually had to flee France, surrendered in Belgium, and was held in a miserable prison for a number of years.

Today, both Lafayette and his wife, are buried at Picpus Cemetery along with many outliers. Starting in the early 1800s, the land was used for mass graves of those guillotined during the Revolution and after. Lafayette’s wife lost her mother and other family members during the Revolution. She became a founding member of the Picpus Society which is why they are buried in Picpus Cemetery. “In permanent recognition of his role in aiding the American cause, an American flag has flown over Lafayette’s grave ever since the end of WWI. The flag is changed every year on July 4 in a highly orchestrated ceremony attended by French and American dignitaries, including representatives of the U.S. Embassy, the French Senate, the Mayor’s Office, the Office of the Mayor of the 12th Arrondissement, the Society of American Friends of Lafayette, the Sons of the American Revolution in France, and the Society of the Cincinnati in France.” –Francerevisited.com The friendship between France and the US has managed to survive many obstacles through the years.

One of the largest chapters of Democrats Abroad is in France, and Sunday evening, the Paris contingent celebrated on the banks of the Seine at a funky bar called Les Nautes. It was the first live get-together in 2021. Plus, for many people, it was the first “night out” since the curfew was lifted. The larger part of the bar is outside seating: perhaps ten picnic tables that the staff of the Paris Chapter decorated in red, white, and blue and a Pride Flag proudly flew over one of the tables.

Waiting patiently for food

I heard a few lovely Biden stories. Our newly elected National Chair of France DA is about to leave Paris and return to the US with his fiancée. When I asked him why he ran if he was leaving, he told me that while Trump was president, getting Visas was a hard and long process. He was told it would probably be a minimum of two years. So he ran for office–and won. Then Biden was elected President. One of Biden’s first moves was to reverse that Visa policy and fiancés went to the top of the list. So Jonathon and his french love are headed to Texas in August and the very capable Dani F, National Vice Chair, will become our new Chair in France. This is a story I might not have heard unless I had known someone trying to get a Visa to the States. I, once again, thanked whomever above that we have a new President and one that has been around Washington so long, knows every in and out, and can address this kind of thing. It doesn’t hurt to have good advisors also!!!

The capable Vice Chair, Dani Folett, who will be the Chair starting August 15

Most of us didn’t talk politics. We all expressed gratitude for Independence from Trump. Then we reminesced to the French amongst us about the tradional 4th of July food that gets served at these picnics: Hot dogs on buns–the hot dogs were there but not the buns; Potato salad–Someone kindly brought potato salad and it went quickly; Cole slaw–not present although it is now sold in french markets; Corn on the cob–Corn is only eaten by animals in France. If you live in a district that has many Americans, you might find one of two cobs wrapped up in cellophane but they usually end up on the day old pile to be sold for one or two euros; Fruit salad–someone remembered that in many parts of the US, the fruit salad was stirred up in mayonnaise. Tune up huge groans of disbelief.

Paris has been having record-breaking rain–in my opinion. Every day threatens at least a small shower and we haven’t had more than three or four really warm days in a row all Spring. On Sunday evening, my iPhone said 90% rain all day. It said that for 6 days prior. I was bound and determined to go party anyway and, it seems, so were a lot of others. The gods smiled on us ex-Pats. There was a small shower just before the event started then sun. Then a threat but it never materialised.

Need we say more???

One question I had for Dems Abroad and did not get a 100% confirmed answer is: Do I need to register this year to vote in California’s special election. As most of you know, unhappy Republicans are trying to remove Governor Newsom from office. So Californians are going to the polls this November 2. There are some other elections occasioned by vacancies after the Presidential election of 2020. Here in Europe, I have to re-register every year there is an election to make sure I get my absentee ballot. However, that might not be true for a special election. The assumption among those I asked is that California is good about absentee ballots and, if I voted in 2020 (I did), I will automatically receive my absentee ballot in September. It’s never smart for a Democrat to assume anything so you can be sure I will be calling the Registrar of Voters soon.

It stays light this time of year until 11pm. I didn’t want to go home while it was light so though people were leaving at 9:30pm, I asked my friends if we could slowly walk to the metro ( they live in the Marais but dropped me off at #1). I pulled out my phone to take a photo of the Seine and the light–something I don’t get where I live in the 16th. Here is my parting gift to you. This is the Paris I love.

On the Quai des Célestins. The light is like a Turner painting.

A bientôt,

Sara

GOTV (Get Out The Vote)

A reader asked if I would say something about voting from abroad. I will do my best. What I’ve learned, I learned from Democrats Abroad which is a huge organization. Right now, all the energy of Dems Abroad is focused on making sure that all voters have requested their ballots. We can get them snail-mail or by e-mail. Information, state by state, on voting from abroad can be found at: https://www.votefromabroad.org

As a voter who still votes in California but lives in Paris, it is mandatory for me to register every year. On my on-line registration form, I was asked how I would like to receive my ballot. I asked that mine come by e-mail. I read recently that a good 25% of absentee ballots get thrown out because the voter didn’t do something correctly. Dems Abroad Paris has set up tables with volunteers to help people walk through filling out their ballot step by step. On Sunday, phone lines are open all day long. Volunteers are answering any questions a voter might have.

Unlike voters in the US, we can vote twice. It is a backup ballot known as the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). Volunteers are set up in two places in Paris to walk people through that process. At the volunteer table, I was given two pieces of paper. I filled out the first with all my pertinent information: what state I vote in, how to identify me and my signature. The second piece of paper is a ballot with only federal offices. I filled that out with my choice of President, Senator (if someone was running), House of Representatives. Once I filled that out, I put it in an envelope and wrote Ballot on the front. I folded up the first piece of paper and, along with the envelope, put it in a second envelope. I addressed that to my Registrar of Voters in Oakland, California.

Why can we vote twice? The back-up vote is opened ONLY if the the absentee ballot doesn’t reach me in time to meet the voting requirements. At the time that I sent in my FWAB, I had not received my ballot. It has since arrived. Since I asked that it come by e-mail, I had to do all my choices on-line. When I was satisfied that it was complete, the program put it onto one piece of paper which I printed. I then went to the Poste and sent it with tracking. Some states allow you send back by e-mail. California only allows fax or snail mail.

I will probably wait three weeks and then go into the website of Alameda County Registrar of Voters. I can put in my name, address, and the end part of my Social Security number and I will get a message if my ballot has arrived. With all that I have heard about the beleaguered postal system, I felt it necessary to allow five weeks for it to arrive on or before Nov. 3.

Dems Abroad Paris is very active. Since we cannot gather inside with more than ten people, all the volunteer tables are outside in front of sympathetic stores. Shakespeare and Co., in the 5th arrondissement, has had volunteers helping Americans vote every Saturday since the beginning of September.

I will finish up this blog by telling you about something that I think is wonderful. On Monday, the website and app, http://www.TenPercent.com (a wonderful tool for learning and practicing mindfulness mediation) created something called The 2020 Election Sanity Guide. Started by Dan Harris of Channel ABC, ten percent will have a podcast each Monday in October and meditations available all the time for those of us whose brains are fried by the onslaught of information, the viciousness of campaigning and the weariness that makes one feel as if this will never end. “This guide will help you stay sane and engaged during the 2020 US Elections, without burning out. There’s something for everyone in the resources below.” says the webpage. And below there are talks and mediations and podcasts and more. Check it out. There will be a daily gift to us for the last seven days before the election. Even if you have never thought about meditation, you will enjoy the talks and podcasts. Dan Harris is funny, irreverant and knowledgeable.

Stay safe, maintain distance, be smart and stay well,

A bientot

Sara

The View from Paris–a political opinion

Last week, as I wrote here, I visited the D-Day Museum in Caen and also went to two of the Normandy beaches. At the same time, I was reading The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer: the story of one of many little known heroes who did daring feats and risked their lives to resist the Nazis and the Vichy. It’s 75 years since D-Day, June 6, 1945 and new stories of resistance in WWII are still being written. To me, the most distressing stories are the ones of human blindness and ignorance as Germany became proudly anti-Semitic and built up to war.

So why, I wonder, aren’t we learning from past mistakes? “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“(George Santayana). From my perspective here in Paris, the US Constitution is being trampled on in ways that were unimaginable three years ago. I remember November 9, 2016: I had gone to bed early the night before having seen the writing on the wall. I woke up praying. The computer and TV told me that Donald Trump would be POTUS come Jan. 20, 2017. As shocked and stunned as I was, I did think “we’ve gotten through bad times before, we can do it again.” Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the environment in the White House, a man with absolutely no moral compass being declared the leader of the Free World.

I do get it: People were fed up with the status quo. They wanted change at any price. Isn’t this similar to Germany in the early 1930s when Hitler came to power. Both men got into an office of tremendous power by instigating an atmosphere of fear and hatred. I wasn’t alive during WWII. I was raised by two parents who had lived through the war and tried to teach me the meaning of freedom. I was a slow learner. It wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that I grasped the huge price in human life that the Allies paid to win that war. And it was sometime in my 60s that I realized it’s not a given that the good guys win. I couldn’t actually grasp how people lived through the Hitler years, the Dark Ages, Spain under Franco. It scared me.

My generation rebelled against the Vietnam War. This younger generation has thrown all it’s protesting energy behind the emergency warning cry for Climate Change. Even Jane Fonda, the anti-Vietnam voice of my generation, is getting arrested for Climate Change each week.

Jane Fonda, center, being arrested on Friday along with other activists like Jodie Evans, right. The actress spent the night in jail. Credit…Jared Soares for The New York Times

What about the rest of us? Have we gotten so cynical that we can’t do anything. I have a friend who says “I’ll go to the ballot box but don’t talk to me about politics.” In some ways, I don’t blame her. When I visit the US, TVs blare 24/7. I don’t know if anyone actually listens. Here in Paris, I read my news. President Trump acts as if he does not believe in democracy. I think he really believes he didn’t do anything wrong on the July 25th Ukranian call. I’m told that the far-right Republicans say we are in Civil War and anything is fair game in war. Trump thinks of himself as Emperor and “off with your head” if you aren’t 100% with him.

I’m still watching the Democrats squabble among themselves and I don’t have any clear idea of the path ahead for them. Do they? I feel discouraged by my party. It’s not who is the best person to be POTUS, it’s who can beat Trump. When we get together, we don’t talk about a candidate’s pros and cons, we talk about whether a woman can beat Trump, whether a gay man can beat Trump, will the US elect another African-American president? Democrats Abroad is hosting Zoom meetings and inviting every candidate to present their platform to those of us who sign up. I think it is the only place where I hear what they stand for.

One month before the mid-term elections, Malcolm Nance spoke to an audience at the American Library in Paris. He told us, “Get everyone you know to get out the vote. This could possibly be the end of the great American experiment.” I feel that way today. But I don’t have time to get active with Dems Abroad. How many people say that and look back and wish they hadn’t believed their own voices? So I will get active. There is always time.

I pray a lot and end up saying the Serenity Prayer. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
–Reinhold Niebuhr

I don’t often write political opinion and probably won’t again for awhile but these things I had to ask. Thank you for bearing with me.

A bientôt,

Sara