Five months ago, Anthony Glavin decided he had had enough. Not satisfied with observing the election campaign from his adopted home in Ireland, the Massachusetts-born editor and writer felt he had to get involved in some way; he itched to do something that would make a difference. So he took seven weeks off, leaving his family to work as a volunteer coordinator for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in Florida.
Glavin is one of scores of American expatriates who have given up days, weeks and even months of vacation time to return to the United States and help rally voters in battleground states.
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What began as a steady trickle of overseas volunteers two months ago has developed into a concentrated final push in the last week before the election. Some expats are returning to their home towns in crucial swing states to take part in door-to-door canvassing; others are running phone banks or driving voters to the polls. A number have arrived in Florida to act as election observers.
Whether they are from as far afield as Japan or Europe or are simply crossing the border from Canada, these expat volunteers, for the most part describing themselves as anti-President Bush, say they are motivated by the belief that this election is the most important in their lifetime.
"This administration and its policies, both domestically and internationally, have been so painful to watch that I realized I was not going to be able to survive watching this election from afar," said Glavin, who has lived in Dublin for the past 20 years.
Not only does volunteering mean sacrificing precious vacation time, but for the expats, it also spells a financial commitment. Those coming from abroad bear the costs of flights and living expenses themselves, with the majority staying with host families during their time here.
Karin Robinson, 30, a marketing manager who has lived in Britain since 1999, said she had no hesitation in giving up a week to volunteer in Harrisburg, Pa. "I really felt like I had to do something hands-on. The last thing I want is to wake up on November 3 and wonder if there was something that I could or should have done as an American," she said.
So many expats contacted the Democratic Party to inquire about volunteering that a program, dubbed the 2004th Airborne, was set up to help assign people to swing states, explained Jim Brenner of the Americans Overseas for Kerry group. "There has been a lot of interest," Brenner said. "These people are coming a long way. I don't want to say it's surprising, but it's certainly gratifying."
Most of the volunteers traveling from overseas are firmly in Sen. John F. Kerry's camp. Joan Hills, co-chairman of Republicans Abroad, said she was unaware of GOP expats returning home to help with the campaign. "It's not something people have been contacting us about," she said.
While Glavin is a veteran campaigner, volunteering over the years for various Democratic hopefuls, many of the expat volunteers said they had never worked for a political campaign. Others, such as Terri McMillan, had not even voted before. McMillan, who has lived in Japan for eight years, is a member of the Tokyo-based Sunshine and Alligators group, a band of 11 volunteers working to get the vote out and ensure voting rights are protected in Central Florida.
"I don't think I'll ever be politically inactive again," she said. "But right now, thoughts of the future focus on being in Florida, helping the folks on the ground keep doing what they're doing and helping to keep spirits high and hopeful."
Matt Grayson, 36, a research scientist from St. Louis living in Germany, feels the same. "I'm not a political person. I had never done this kind of thing before. In any other situation, I would consider myself an independent, but this year is different," said Grayson, who spent a week manning the phones for the Democratic Party in Missouri.
For Clarisse Morgan, an expat living in Switzerland, volunteering was a family affair. She and her two teenage sons devoted four days of their summer vacation to the Kerry campaign in Pennsylvania. Morgan spent the time phone banking and coordinating volunteers. Her sons helped with passing out leaflets. "I just felt like I really, really had to do this," she said.
"Living abroad, you notice that while people don't quite hold it against you personally, there really is a feeling that people think the U.S. has lost its mind," Morgan said. "I think we owe it to ourselves, our kids and to the world to get a change here. I have never experienced a more important moment in our country's history."