A special campaign event was held in Berlin on the 23rd of May for and with Diana Kerry, the sister of Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry. It was part of a European tour organized for her by the Americans Overseas for Kerry along with the local Democrats Abroad and the American Voices Abroad. Since I am active in the latter two organizations I volunteered to help with the decoration and the absentee ballot voter registration. Besides, the event took place in the Tipi tent where Gayle Tufts was presenting her Soul Sensation show during May. She helped host the event by performing part of her show and since I am fan of hers, I didn't want to miss this even though I got to see her whole show just a couple of weeks before.
First of all I was there early in the morning to help Michael Steltzer and his son to inflate hundreds of balloons and string them up. Other helpers came later, but I was mostly busy with tying red, white, and blue balloons into triplets so that they could be strung up in a spiral pattern. The two long thick chains we suspended under the tents roof was quite impressive - just my fingertips where sore for a couple of days afterwards. We also strung up many helium-filled balloons from the handrails. Michael gave me a Stars-and-Stripes kite afterwards for my help. He owns a kite shop.
The event had initially been planned as a fundraiser, but that was not allowed because of the campaign finance reform law. Everyone had to pay 15€ entry though, for which they got a donation receipt. No BBQ either, unfortunately. I'd say there were about two hundred in attendance, several of whom I recognized and hadn't particularly considered being Democrats.
Well before the show started I was seated up on the side with four others passing out absentee ballot registration cards. The interested voters would come to us and we'd explain what needs to be filled out. It isn't that difficult. Mainly we asked what their State-side voting address was, such as last place they voted or lived or else where their family lives. Then we'd look up the address of the respective local authority in the large reference books we had from the Federal Voting Assistance Program. They have to mail in the ballot request themselves. Then we'd also check if anything special needed to be filled out for their particular State, especially if the signature needed to be notarized or not. Michigan is one of the few such States for example, so Anita and I were down at the US consulate a couple of weeks ago where the officials OKed our signature and even mailed the applications to Michigan for free.
Diane Kerry came by our tables too to greet us. She looks a lot like her brother, especially the strong jaw and the kind eyes. I asked her if she had visited Berlin since living here back in the mid-50s as a girl along with her diplomat father and brother John, who would travel to Berlin by duty train from Frankfurt. Yes she had, mentioning also that she worked in Munich in the early 70s. She also said she was going to visit her old neighborhood down in Dahlem. Told her I also grew up in that area and had also ridden the duty train often back then.
I served many applicants that afternoon and was surprised by the number who hadn't voted in a long time. Some said they haven't voted in decades! This shows how important they feel this election is; that they want to prevent President Bush from being re-elected (voting FOR Kerry seems to be the secondary motivation for some).
The best part though was meeting Gayle Tufts. I saw her standing nearby talking to the management of the Tipi and when she was done I had the nerve to call out "Hey Gayle, are you registered yet?" She replied, "No, that's why I'm here." And with that she came up to my table and I had the honor of helping her fill out her application. I asked what her American address was and immediately felt like a fool because she mentions N.Y. City and Brockton Massachusetts all the time in her show. But she said it was neither and both would be too long ago. She settled then on Plymouth Massachusetts, because that is where her sister lives and that's where she last lived at the beginning of the year. Besides Gayle is an ardent Kerry fan herself, so the address naturally had to be the home State of the Senator. On leaving the table she said out loud that if it weren't for this President, she wouldn't be up this early in the morning. (I refrain from writing her exact description of the President here.) This was at 1:15 p.m. Got her autograph on a Register-to-vote flyer (see above) after the show.
Then the event started. Introductions where given by Juan Diaz from the AOK campaign and John C. Kornblum, the former Ambassador. He had been in charge of asking Gayle if they could ask her to host the event. He admitted it was like asking someone a very personal question, but was overwhelmed when Gayle enthusiastically pledged her support along with the talent donated by some of her musicians and technicians. She preformed several of her numbers from her Soul Sensation show, much to the enjoyment of the audience. And her "Dinglish" jokes and comments on German/American differences were entertaining as usual. Like why Germans clap on the beat and American clap on the off beat. (Photos by Michael Stelzer)
Then there were some more speeches given by special guests. Steven Hill, author of "Fixing Elections", spoke of how undemocratic and archaic the electoral college is and has become even more so recently by redefinitions of voting districts. There is a need for a voting system that truly reflects proportional representation. No wonder voter interest has been declining! I attended a more extensive talk of his a couple of evenings before in the "Haus der Demokratie" where he spoke at length about the mess.
Then Jeffrey Eugenides, Pulitzer-prize winning author, read an excerpt from his bestseller "Middlesex". He recently found out that John Kerry had purchased this book. The page he read was about the difficulties of Michael Dukakis' campaign for presidency back in 1988, which Eugenides thinks could be Kerry's favorite passage.
Finally Diane Kerry gave her speech starting with "Ich bin eine Berlinerin." She also got a lot of applause for her key statement that her brother "expects to return us to the community of nations." This is what her audience was expecting to hear. Diane cautioned though that John's international skills don't go over so well with the conservative Washington establishment, so he is playing that low key at the moment. That is why this event isn't publicized so greatly. She did relate an anecdote of their childhood where they were at a train station in Germany and had to meet their parents at a certain time. John studied their phrase book and practiced the proper way of asking for the time before asking a passer-by. Unfortunately he wasn't able to understand the answers he was given by several Germans. Fortunately for the two of them a train pulled out of the station then, revealing a large clock showing the time.
After I helped a few more people with their applications - I did about 20 personally plus 10 take-alongs out of a total of 80 - I went over to the Reichstag where the new German President Köhler had just been elected. Met my friend Franziska there out in front who was excited about having gotten a invitation as a guide for staff representatives visiting from the US Congress. She had wanted to see Diane Kerry too, but it was too late for that. She said this was one of the most exiting days of her life to watch the proceedings and to rub shoulders with political VIPs of the Federal Republic during the reception afterwards.