By Elaine Halleck
A week before their scheduled annual meeting June 23, board members in a newly formed Democratic group in Guadalajara reflected on their achievements and setbacks in the past year.
“Yes, our big problem is we need to motivate more volunteers,” said Michaele Rivera, an expat resident of Guadalajara for 35 years. “Our eight board members are stretched way too thin.
“But three of us just attended a national Democrats Abroad meeting in Puebla, and when I compared us to the older chapters, I saw that we have the same challenges and we’re not doing so bad.”
“Nothing happens overnight,” agreed Jude Wallesen, who helped get the chapter off the ground by volunteering to manage the database in 2015, when Ajijic Democrats Abroad activists Larry Pihl and Dee Dee Camhi were trying to seed the new Guadalajara chapter.
“It seems slow to us who are closely involved,” Wallesen added. “But what we’ve accomplished in our first year is amazing. We’ve had consistent board and membership meetings, we’re action oriented, we come away from our board meetings with a to-do list.
“What I really notice is the increase in our membership numbers since last year. We have 33 percent more people on the rolls than we did a year ago, a lot of them from outreach we organized at the American School and at a pilgrimage in Atenguillo. That’s very encouraging.
“We’re a diverse group,” she added. “Left to centrist, like Democrats in general.”
“I don’t think we’re accomplishing much,” said board treasurer Will “Memo” Prescott, “although I don’t fault us. At the national meeting in Puebla, I saw that Guadalajara is different from most of the other chapters in Mexico. For example, in San Miguel de Allende or Ajijic, a much larger percentage of the population are expats, so they’re more concentrated. In Guadalajara, it’s harder to contact people who’ve never voted, and our main goal is to get those people to request ballots and join DA.
“But for a young chapter, I think we’re well organized and active—we’re trying to do things, for example with publicity, that no other chapters have tried to do yet.”
Prescott added that he, like other board members, though at or near retirement age are far from retired. “I work what feels like half time in a non-profit called Trek Medics [dedicated to improving emergency medical systems globally in communities with moderate resources]. Other board members are the same—they have businesses or lots of other commitments.”
The board member from whom DA-GDL seems to have consistently demanded the most time is its president, Will Chapman, who explained how he began the chapter.
“The 2016 election had just happened and I was very concerned when I saw the catastrophe unfolding. I felt helpless. So when Larry and especially Dee Dee, whom I knew from New Hampshire, asked me directly to start the Guadalajara chapter of Democrats Abroad, it was like a light bulb went on. I’d been a Democrat all my life, involved in a couple of campaigns and with experience as executive director of non-profits. So I realized that by heading up this new chapter, I wouldn’t be stuck sitting on the sidelines. And I had the time.”
As for the chapter’s accomplishments to date, Chapman is upbeat.
“Starting from scratch, we’ve done a lot of work. We have a very engaged board. Of course, our numbers are small compared to what I think they should be, but our increase in membership and the number of people we’ve helped with ballot requests speak for themselves.
“Our board members support us financially and we got a major gift from one person that’s 10 percent of our budget, which provides for things that board members don’t cover out of our own pockets, such as advertising, publicity and other outreach.
“We have activities planned to help people vote and, very importantly, we have opportunities to get involved, from helping people request ballots and calling people to remind them to vote to serving on a committee or the board. I hope anyone interested will attend our annual meeting next Saturday.”
“It’s so gratifying when I make contact with people who signed on with DA,” Wallesen emphasized. “The people I call are delightful and I have inspiring conversations with them. It keeps me going.”
The annual meeting of Democrats Abroad Guadalajara is Saturday, June 23, 5-7 p.m., at the Condominium Las Rosas in Colonia Chapalita (Avenida de las Rosas 2975, between Avenida Chapalita and La Merced; entrance is on La Merced. A two-block walk from Lopez Mateos and any bus that runs along it, such as 24, 101, 258, 371, 640, 703, 707, etc. Michael Hogan will speak about his new book “Abraham Lincoln and Mexico” and there will be a silent auction and social reception.