The Role of Democrats Abroad in Democratic Party Policy

In March 2007 Michael Cuervorst, then the International Chairman of Democrats Abroad, discussed the role of Democrats Abroad in the formulation of Democratic Party policy in Views from the Chair on the Democrats Abroad website. "POLICY GUIDELINES Tens of thousands of Americans abroad participate actively in our nation’s political life by voting, getting out the vote, and articulating well-informed, determined views. This keeps Democratic ideals in the mix with practice. Reflecting on my experiences as chairman, I offer Q’s and A’s on how we as DPCA and individuals function in policy, protests, and progress. Q. Can I protest when I see something wrong with my government? A. No brainer here. Of course anyone can and likely should protest as an individual responsible for his or her own conduct and consequences. As citizens we protect our freedom of speech by exercising it. Just as obviously, one cannot claim to speak for others or violate local ordinances and laws in the name of others. Certainly one cannot protest against the local government as Democrats Abroad in that country since our organizational focus is U.S. politics, and not, for instance, Venezuelan or Australian politics. We are guests in, not citizens of, the local country. If someone also claims citizenship in the country of residence, then protests are as that nationality, not as a US Democrat Abroad. Q. Does DA have a role in formulating Democratic Party policy? A. Yes, in important, evolving ways. Our seats on Democratic Party committees are an important direct means. As Democrats Abroad we elect one of our members at a global gathering by votes of all the country committees, DNC delegates, and international officers to represent our own platform within the Democratic Party’s national platform committee valid for four years. (Same is true for the DNC rules and credentials committees.) Our elected representatives then work for us within national committees to get as much of our platform into the national platform as feasible, and to ensure our views are heard within the Democratic Party. The Party’s nominee traditionally is granted great latitude in platform formulation but the platform is a real sorting out of interests and representation within the Party. We as Democrats Abroad defeated our Party’s nominee’s pro-national missile defense stance in 2000, joining with other like-minded platform committee members. We are now starting the process of electing a significant delegation to represent us at the 2008 Convention in Denver. Q. How do we develop our own platform and its planks? A. Democrats Abroad builds its platform and planks internally. By adopting resolutions at the country committee level, the regional, and the international levels, we ensure that a fair exchange of views and opinions occurs throughout our organization, and whatever is adopted as a plank in our platform is truly representative of Democrats Abroad and can be touted as such. We can do more with our recent resolutions condemning torture and insisting on the writ of habeas corpus now that we have a Congressional majority, a change that we helped bring about by getting out the vote. My intent as chair has been that, by alternating regional and global meetings, items of more particular regional import (e.g. CAFTA) could also find formulation in resolutions to be considered globally with the weight of the regional consensus. This arrangement does not short-circuit resolutions at any level of more patently global import, e.g., environmental crises, Iraq war, impeachment, the Middle East, genocide (as in Darfur), nuclear proliferation, international trade arrangements, defense outlays, taxation (the IRS Code Sec 911), etc. We thus welcome vigorous debate and constructive resolution internally. Q. What about a regular forum inside and outside Democrats Abroad? A. The DNC has its own Resolutions Committee, through which all policy and other resolutions must pass before being adopted by the entire DNC. During this cycle we as Democrats Abroad through our eight DNC delegates succeeded in having resolutions adopted by consecutive DNC at sessions in New Orleans, Chicago, and Washington commemorating voting rights act, condemning torture and calling to account those whose policies made torture possible or more likely, and demanding the restoration of the writ of habeas corpus and other fundamental Constitutional rights. We are gaining a reputation throughout the Democratic Party as a voice of principle, clearly supported by members of the DNC resolutions committee. Democrats Abroad was mentioned three times from the podium in the last DNC session for our work to restore the moral authority of the party at home and abroad. Inside Democrats Abroad we have an International Policy Working Group to develop and approve well-articulated position papers on various topics from the environment to women. I have formally announced the group - twice! -charged to:

  • develop policy positions that add value from our experience as Americans abroad
  • assist a smoother and more expert development of our DA platform by providing well argued and developed positions for consideration by the global gatherings,
  • provide the basis for resolutions, media articles, or positions by Democrats Abroad through the executive committee or as a group at large.
  • I again invite serious and experienced participants to help round out our resources. (To our sorrow, Rey Riemer, who headed up this group, deceased in December. We seeking a similarly skilled replacement for him.) Q. What about individual country committees passing their resolutions forward to the DNC Chair? A. Individual country committees exist as constituent members of DPCA, and we in turn are recognized within the DNC. A year ago our Executive Committee formally adopted a policy that all approaches to officials within the DNC be funneled through the Chair and Executive Director, even from internationally elected officers. With tens of thousands of members and dozens of committees, we need this discipline to be effective. This holds for our committees whether of 50 or 4,500 individuals. Dems Abroad policy is not to squelch anyone but to function with discipline and common sense and to encourage effective policy initiatives in keeping with Democratic values (see our website for a current iteration of those). The DNC Chair may care about a municipal or county council’s views, but it is at the state level that the party is organized. We are treated as the state party for all Democrats outside the U.S. Q. Is the DNC the policy organ of Democrats? A. Rarely yes, usually no. When we have no Congressional majority and do not have an incumbent President, the DNC role in policy iteration is to obtain visibility for our platform and agreed policy. With Congressional majorities, articulation of policy and decisive formulation of implementing strategies lies with the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader and their deputies and caucuses, with our publicly elected officials. Democrats Abroad is part of, not the sum of, politics. Expressions from DA members sent to the DNC officers go directly to our Executive Director. Same is true if Nassau County sends its views to Chairman Dean. Those go to the New York State Party. The alternative invites chaos and left hand not knowing what right is doing. Meanwhile, the DNC continues its work on resolutions and platform, as does DA, hopefully in fruitful interaction. IN SUM, we are a team with lots of views and stances. We work through chapters and country committees, position papers in our International Policy Working Group, and through regional and global gatherings to shepherd our positions through the DNC, into Congress, and into public policy. We do not focus our views on some other country’s politics but rather on the U.S. aspect, e.g., re CAFTA or Iraq. Once we have DA positions (we have many fully adopted, from pre-emptive war to censure of Messers Cheney and Bush), we use those through our Media Contacts and our International Press Secretary. We all ought to call attention to those positions that have gone through the policy process. We effect change through the ballot - we can and should aim to assist millions of Americans abroad in voting absentee - and through policy initiatives and sustained focus on our interests before Congress as individual voters and collectively. And yes, we do make a difference. We intend, together, to help make better policy and progress, with protests when necessary." Michael A. Ceurvorst International Chairman, Democrats Abroad (former)