The American Diaspora: Outreach and Organization

It’s been awhile since I wrote about what I call the American Diaspora Tax War. Yes, I took some time off to think and observe and to get some distance from a cause that I feel very strongly about.  As a recovering alcoholic, I have to be very careful about things like “justified anger,” resentment, and frustration.  When the world isn’t going my way, is the answer to become angrier and more outraged? Or is it to calm down, think, and try to determine the best way to move forward?

What was particularly helpful was spending time in countries other than my adopted country, France.  Over the past few years when an occasion presented itself I asked my fellow Americans about what they thought about it all.  Their answers gave me new insights and a greater appreciation for the difficulties we face in organizing around the issue of citizenship-based taxation and FATCA.

Today, I thought I’d share with you some of my observations.  They are in no particular order and you may not agree with all or any of them.  Feel free to make this a conversation in the comments section.  Here goes:

The Triangle:  It’s useful to think of the relationship triangle that diasporas/migrant communities are in when they seek to act politically and transnationally.  There are three sides:  the home country government, the homeland citizens and media, and organizations that could be allies or enemies;   the host country governments, local citizens and media; and finally the migrant/expatriate communities themselves which could be organized in various ways, both locally (in the host country) and transnationally (with the home country or with other migrant communities in other countries.)

For Americans abroad fighting CBT/FATCA keeping this triangle in mind is vitally important. On the one hand we have possibilities that are not available to our fellow citizens in the home and the host countries; there are two places we can act and not just one.  On the other hand we are, I think it’s fair to say, the weakest side. In neither the home or the host country are Americans abroad any more than a small minority.  Our issues are generally not very high on anyone’s political agenda.

So a first step for all of us is to acknowledge the complexity of the triangle relationship and our relative lack of power within it. Does this mean we should just throw up our hands and give up? I don’t think so.  I just think we need to be a lot savvier about where we sit, and a lot more knowledgable about the local and home country political arenas.

Not to mention that, in my opinion, we still have not reached a level of organization and solidarity that would allow us to be taken seriously.  There is work to be done on our side of the triangle – to make it stronger and more credible:  international organization and outreach.

Spreading the word:  Want to know how many Americans I encountered in my travels who were not aware of FATCA or had only a hazy notion of the implications of citizenship-based taxation?  A lot.  Most even.  For those of you who are living and breathing the nightmare this may come as a surprise to you.  And I only met one person in Japan who was aware of the Japan/US FATCA agreement.  For those of you who belong to an American Abroad organization, you might be even more surprised how many people have never heard of AARO or ACA.  None of this is on their radar.  Our task is to get it there and we have not done a good enough job of finding them so we can make our argument and earn their support.

American communities have very different circumstance depending on the host country. In some places there are so few Americans and they are so scattered about the country that finding them (presuming they wish to be found) is hard.  But it’s not impossible.  They can be located, for example, in trade or professional organizations or in migrant groups that call themselves “international XXXX.”  One way to go about making contact is “snowballing.”  Find a few Americans locally with a lot of time in the country and good networks.  Get their support and ask them to go out and convince others and so on and so forth.

This is important because even though we may share a nationality local people are almost always more credible than outsiders.  The Americans I met in Japan were very pleasant people but I was an American abroad from France and how could I possibly understand the American in Japan perspective?

Organization:  We have a cause but we don’t, in my opinion, have a satisfactory organization.  What we have is a lot of committed people doing what they can individually or through different organizations like AARO, ACA, RO, DA, Brock and many others. Why is this not enough?

Not enough people for one thing.  We just can’t get huge numbers of people to sign petitions, write letters and so on. When the word goes out to support some initiative, it goes out to a relatively small number of people in the know  (or on the mailing or FB list) and doesn’t spread beyond that.

Some Americans abroad are fearful and don’t want to hand over their names and contact information to any organization lest the US government get that information for their own purposes.  Others are put off by the location, perspective or affiliations of some groups:  they don’t like the commentary at Brock; they wouldn’t join any organization with Republican or Democrat in the name; they look and see that one organization is based in France and the other in the US and they live in India.  Membership dues are also an issue for many.

And finally all these organizations don’t necessarily agree with each other on how to go about fighting CBT/FATCA.  The different proposals can be very confusing and to someone who is already leery about joining any movement, the arguing itself is a reason for some to pass on the whole business.

Something I became aware of in my travel is that quite a few people are DIYing their own personal strategies for dealing with FATCA/CBT which may be imperfect but still makes them feel that they aren’t compelled to join anything or participate in anything.  Those folks are a tough sell and all of the above things tip them to the side of hunkering down and staying out of sight.

I think the time has come for us to think about alliances and federation.  I think we need an organization devoted to the fight against FATCA/CBT which has no dues, no political affiliations, and is organized at the country level or below.  All Americans abroad would have the option of joining anonymously.  This organization would not take a stand on any particular FATCA/CBT proposal but could include the work of all organizations working on the issue and their efforts at outreach.  A single website would gather together all the links to different initiatives, news reports and perspectives.  It could include country reports by local American communities so that we can all better understand what is going on outside our own little corner of the world.  Hopefully, this would encourage different organizers in different countries to form their own alliances.   Ideally, it would promote the broadest circulation of ideas.

And above all, no forums.  Look, there are plenty of places out there where we can write to our heart’s content about how we feel about all of this.  The focus here would be different:  outreach, alliance, information exchange.  Think of it as a simple federation where we are united by the fight against FATCA/CBT and the devilish details and disagreements can be taken to email.

The ultimate goal of this umbrella organization would be to strengthen our side of the triangle, no more no less.   I think that’s something worth doing.  I can’t see how we will achieve anything without it.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

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Victoria

Born in Seattle, USA. Generation Xer. Lived on 3 continents (North America, Asia and Europe). Country agnostic. Mother of two Frenchlings. MA in International Migration

11 thoughts on “The American Diaspora: Outreach and Organization”

  1. There’s a similar conversation going on at the American Expatriates FB page. I know I’m sick of the partisanship distractions and want action, but more specifically results. Where is the “action” in your plan? We won’t get anywhere unless we make a concerted effort to get through to those who can actually change the laws, something outreachers have been doing for years to little avail. There are been inroads made leading up to tax reform, but were not broad enough to have made an immediate difference. I do regret saying that this latest tax reform effort was “our last, best chance” for change, for its clear the battle is far from over.
    I still can’t fathom how the US finds it so difficult to do what the rest of the world knows what’s best. It’s like the entire nation is sitting in a black room, where someone (presumably us) needs to turn the light on to see there’s an elephant in the room.

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  2. Ah, thank you, Suzanne. I can understand the frustration. Some thoughts:

    Organization is what makes action effective. It’s not a guarantee of success but I consider it to be something that increases the odds. We have a lot of action out there but so far, no dice. If the organizations who have worked on this for years have failed, well, so have we. As of today, we have zilch. Seems to me that we can either give up in the face of failure or we can rethink how we are going about getting what we want.

    I think we haven’t even begun to explore all the possibilities for action. And let me be clear outreach to a community that spans continents *is* action. And it’s hard and it takes time. Believe me, outside of the places where I (and perhaps you) spend time there is a universe of people who still don’t know what the fuss is about and when they do don’t see why something needs to be done. It’s going to be very hard to earn their support and even harder to get people to act. My sense is that we haven’t done that work. My question is: How are we going to convince the deciders when we haven’t convinced a significant number of our compatriots to back us?

    As for the US government side of the triangle I can think of all kinds of issues that in retrospect look like no-brainers and it nonetheless took decades for things to change. We need a much better sense of the political landscape in the US as it pertains to our cause. It has never been enough in any country for a few citizens to stand up and say, “This is unjust. Change it! Right now!” Governments are slow and clumsy and politicians have their own games and ambitions. We need a much better sense of how the game is played in Washington, D.C., and we need connections, and allies (and are the ones we have really useful AND reliable? Or are we wasting our time and need to find new “friends”?) That’s something we have to work on and, again, this is action that isn’t a lot of fun. How many Americans abroad really want to spend the time thinking about and working with the cesspool that is American politics?

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  3. Wow, their is a lot to respond to. Let me try to through out at least a few ideas.

    1. American Expats should NOT be in the business of taking one for the team or sacrificing for the greater good. There are some especially in the orbit of DA who believe despite their real life effects that FATCA and CBT are at some level are contributing to a “better world” and America even under Trump(who they despise) is STILL a global standard setter and US expats need to appreciate this. I still really don’t understand this argument and thus did a poor job of explaining it but I there definitely a sentiment by some to “back off” of both CBT and FATCA for the greater good

    2. Unwillingness to deal with host country governments. Many of the well established US expat organization in Europe essentially don’t want to deal with the local host country governments. While you are correct to suspect that in many host countries US expats are a small and rather non influential group it is also true that in France for example all of the US expat groups have long standing policies of refusing to communicate with the French government or any French elected officials. Thus one could say until French accidental Americans recently got in the game no one really ever tried to get the French govt to do anything about this.

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    1. Tim, Yep, there are people who disagree. Is this a surprise? I have a long list of arguments I’ve heard against what we are trying to do. Some folks will not change their minds come hell or high water. So confront, make your case and then move on.

      The long standing policies of expat groups concerning the host countries – what is the policy exactly and where is it articulated?

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  4. I totally agree that it is imperative that we unite in our common purpose of ridding our lives – and all future lives – of CBT, FATCA, and the FBAR (as applied to us out here in the world). Even getting the word out about our current campaign to solicit additional signatures for the Human Rights Complaint http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2017/12/03/un-complaint-seeking-additional-signatures-deadline-december-12-2017/ has been terribly difficult. Some emails seeking the help of people who have the ability to lend assistance with regard to advertising such a campaign have gone unanswered.

    Just this morning, an announcement was posted by the Alliance for the Defeat of Citizenship Taxation on the Isaac Brock Society website detailing perhaps the most significant development in our fight to date, the initiation of a lawsuit against Citizenship-Based Taxation itself. http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2017/12/08/alliance-for-the-defeat-of-citizenship-taxation-adct-seeks-major-donors-to-fund-united-states-lawsuit-in-federal-district-court/ The Alliance’s name certainly reflects what ALL of us want. Is it possible that the umbrella organization under which we all need to unite already exists?

    I have written this comment without consultation with anyone involved in ADCT. It’s just an idea that came to me while reading your post. I would be interested to know your thoughts as well as those of the ADCT leadership on this proposal.

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    1. MuzzlednoMore, Yes those are exactly the kind of initiatives that deserve a much broader circulation. So Americans abroad everywhere can have a look and lend their support if they so choose. Think of it as a networks of networks and you are absolutely right that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Every org does what it does best. However, the unbrella org would not lobby or come up initiatives – the only goals would be outreach and information exchange and networks.

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  5. Another comment I will make that is kind off topic is lack of political willingness in the Franco American blogging community(yourself, Art Goldhammer, Arun Kapil, Ellen lebelle, etc) to discuss at ALL the conflicting dynamics of the Macron and Trump elections and their relationships. I get the sense that the Franco-American community was quite happy to see Macron beat Le Pen but a very weary of the implications on US politics and the implications of Macron on the United States.

    On otherhand I talked to several French AA’s who are bankers and lawyers who are 100% Macron enthusiasts.

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      1. Victoria,

        I sent you an email about this topic and where I was trying to go. I won’t further this line of discussion on this particular blogpost. If your wish feel free to delete my comment so no one else is inspired to further this line of discussion as I do not intend too.

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  6. Thank you, Victoria, for another thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I’ve been lurking around here for a while, but this post has brought me out of the shadows because I’ve been closely involved with these issues for the past 18+ months.

    One minor stumbling block for me when discussing the American diaspora, is the host/home terminology. I mentally trip over this because the US is no longer home for me. Yes, it is where I was born and raised; but, like many of the people involved in this issue, I am no longer a US citizen. Australia is home. Perhaps source and destination would be better terms, though still not perfect.

    I really like your triangle analogy. Many groups do focus on what’s happening in the US – after all, our problem can only be completely fixed in the US through elimination of CBT and FATCA (either legislatively or through the courts or some combination). I’ve started a group in Australia (http://fixthetaxtreaty.org/) to focus on what the Australian government can do to ameliorate our situation. There were two reasons I chose to focus on action in Australia rather than the US:

    First, I’m no longer a US citizen. By renouncing I’ve forfeited my right to a voice in Washington. Sure, I can and do write to Congress as a concerned former citizen, but, really, why should they care? Plus, as I haven’t lived in the US for well over 20 years now, I am not interested in homeland issues or politics.

    The second reason for organising in Australia is that we have more leverage here. Australia is a small country (pop. 24m) with 150 federal MPs – so 1 MP for every 160k residents. Contrast this to 1 US Representative (House) for about 750k residents. In the Senate, each state (there are 6) has 12 senators (plus 2 each for territories), for a total of 76 senators. Based on that math, we figure we can have more impact per person in Australia than in the US. Essentially, in Australia we are operating in a much smaller pond.

    We launched the Fix the Tax Treaty! website about 16 months ago – the site gets about 75 page-views on an average day (almost 800 on our busiest day) and the associated Facebook group has over 400 members. I’ve recruited two others to form a “Steering Committee” and we have produced a strategy document with goals and objectives. We’ve also produced a document with “talking points” to help those who want to contact their Australian elected representatives. Our blog averages 2-3 posts per month, with a focus on easy to understand explanations of various aspects of the problem (the idea is that these will serve as a resource in educating new members as well as policy makers in Australia). And we have more initiatives planned for the new year. Yes, getting volunteers to contribute (time and expertise, not money) can be difficult, especially in the beginning. But we work with what we have, and if the members/audience think we’re moving too slowly, they are welcome to volunteer to help!

    As for a formal international organisation, I don’t see the need to re-invent the wheel. There are already some successful groups addressing various aspects of the problem on various sides of the triangle. I do see the utility, though, of having an international “umbrella” organisation to coordinate and provide outreach. I agree that any such organisation must be non-partisan – we need to focus on what unites us, not what divides us.

    And, should someone take up the call to create such an organisation, know that it will not be an easy task. Creating an effective organisation requires time and effort. The process needs to be strategic, and it will take time to hammer out exactly what the organisation’s strategy should be and how best to organise to further that strategy. I firmly believe that transparency is key to building a functional, thriving organisation. Volunteer burnout is a very real problem for all volunteer organisations, and finding ways to bring in new recruits and involve them in useful roles should be incorporated in the strategy as one way to avoid this.

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    1. Karen, What a delight to read about your work in Australia. That is exactly the sort of thing that could be a model for others – something to learn from and perhaps emulate. The org I envision would spread the word of what you’re trying to do and if you wanted to you could provide a country report from time to time to keep people updated. To be clear the org I am thinking of wouldn’t take a position on the merits of any particular initiative but ideally it would spread the word as far as possible.

      You read my mind. Yes, organization is hard work and it takes time and persistence. As I said in another comment a lot of the work isn’t fun. I note something that I call the “co-op effect” which is something I first saw when I was a hippy child. And that’s the tendency for people within the co-op or movement to turn on each other when frustration hits.

      Keeping the goals modest and achievable are paramount. Resisting the reinvention of the wheel is another. And above all staying out of controversies or partisanship is absolutely required for what I have in mind.

      The idea for this came to me when I was doing research for my dissertation. I did a study on anglophones in Japan and I needed participants and data. The outreach just for the study alone took months. I spent weeks talking to people, tracking down the organizations and dropping notes on forums where anglophones congregated. When I managed to reach the right person with a good network it “snowballed.” In the end I actually had more participants and more data than I needed for an MA. It made for one hell of a dissertation. 🙂 And I enjoyed it. I met a lot of people and learned a lot.

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