If the United States of America has Founding Fathers, Americans abroad have Founding Mothers: Phyllis Michaux and friends.
In 1961 they founded an organization called the Association of American Wives of Europeans (AAWE) and then in 1973 formed the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO) which launched two fights with the homeland: the right to vote from overseas and the right to transmit US citizenship to children born abroad.
The Right to Vote: Not nearly enough American citizens today vote; and this is just as true of Americans at home as it is of those living outside the US. But prior to 1976, Americans abroad couldn't vote at all. In the early 70's, AARO, FAWCO (Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas founded in 1931) and the Bipartisan Committee on Absentee Voting started a grassroots campaign which ended in victory when President Gerald Ford (on the advice of Barry Goldwater) signed the Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Rights Act on January 2, 1976.
This was the Teabag Campaign and every time I read the story on the AARO website, I take heart. Make no mistake about it, the homeland was not exactly falling over itself in its eagerness to give us the vote. It took unity, political savvy and persistence. And they (we) won.
US Citizenship for Children Born Abroad: Another battle and one that is still controversial (see this award-winning article from The Foreign Service Journal called What Makes Someone an American Citizen?) was the fight to transmit US citizenship to our children born outside the United States. If you are an American living abroad today and have gone to the US consulate to register your child's birth as a US citizen, know that just a generation or two before that would have been very difficult, if not impossible.
It was due to Ms. Michaux' and these organization's tireless efforts (and all of them putting up with an enormous amount of crap from dubious bureaucrats and politicians in Washington who did not take them terribly seriously at first - not even Phyllis who was a WW II veteran) that the citizenship laws of the US were changed to be more favorable to transmission of US citizenship through jus sanguinas (blood).
"Strenuous AARO advocacy helped to abolish in 1978 the law requiring that a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen married to a non-American reside in the U.S. for a specified period of time in order to keep the American citizenship the child was born with. In 1986, largely through our efforts, the period of residence in the U.S. required to transmit citizenship to children born abroad was reduced from ten years to five."
Today we face yet another challenge - homeland efforts to strenuously enforce its unique tax system, citizenship-based taxation, and its onerous reporting requirements (FBAR and FATCA). Those women I've talked to who fought so hard to obtain citizenship for their foreign-born children are very worried about the impact this will have on them and their children. As Ellen says:
"The ones most likely to renounce are the American children born abroad and the accidental Americans, the ones born in the US to foreign parents and who never really lived in the US. The US only sees their potential as taxpayers, none other, so the country will lose them as potential ambassadors. In addition, the country will lose those of us who followed our hearts and chose to live and work almost our entire adult lives elsewhere."
This is the hand we've been dealt, mes amis, and the situation is dire with renunciations of US citizenship reaching all-time highs.. But every time someone tells me that I and others are wasting our time taking on the all-powerful US government, I have to wonder if they know their history - the history of Americans abroad and the fight for legitimacy (the right to have rights as American citizens wherever we live.) It was not something we just have today that we can take for granted; it was something the Founding Mothers had to fight long and hard for. CBT and FATCA/FBAR are just another battle (like voting and citizenship) in the long long war for recognition of the American Diaspora which goes back to the middle of the last century.
So I would humbly suggest that the naysayers take a good long look at that history. The facts are clear - those Americans abroad who came before us fought and won.
And if they could do it, damn it, than so can we.