Florence celebrates historic vote

Alexandra Lawrence
October 30, 2008

The ballots have been marked and mailed. The air is crackling with expectation. Americans abroad in Tuscany are being asked one question and one question only: Who did you vote for?


It has been a wild ride, complete with a primary season that threatened to eclipse the actual election. Over the last year, Florence has been right in the middle of it all: voter registration; global primaries; a ‘Florentine' delegate, Jo-Ann White, at the Democratic convention; absentee ballots; and plans for the biggest election night party in Tuscany's history.


Beginning with the U.S. Street Fair held at the American Consulate in September 2007, Americans in Florence have organized a steady stream of activities that rival any on Main Street back home. The energy surrounding this U.S. election is unlike any in recent memory, and not just for those with the power to vote. It is widely accepted that this is a turning point for the world, a moment of truth during a time of difficulty. All eyes are on America. And in Florence, all eyes are on Americans.


What does it mean to be an American abroad during one of the most important U.S. elections in recent memory? For writer Melinda Gallo, the hardest part is not being able to go, physically, to the polls on Election Day: ‘Sending in my absentee ballot was a little uneventful, though I do realize the importance of voting, no matter the form.' Gallo has spent months being asked by everyone, from her greengrocer to her in-laws, who she is voting for. Her answer is usually followed up by a discussion of who the other person would choose and why.


Fellow American Bari Hochwald observes, ‘The reality is that the rest of the world will be affected by this election; they are like a state that doesn't get a vote. The U.S. took on the global responsibility of the world-good or bad-and all voters should take that into account.'  Hochwald's student members of Creative Campus, an organization that offers creative alternatives to those studying abroad in Florence, understood the meaning behind her words and decided to dedicate this semester's theme to what they most wanted to celebrate as Americans: democracy.


It is impossible to talk about the U.S. 2008 election in Florence without talking about Democrats Abroad. A force to be reckoned with, Jo-Ann White, led the Democrats Abroad team to register thousands of people for absentee ballots. ‘Our nonpartisan voter registration outreach was very important to us. We wanted everyone who could vote to have the opportunity to do so-regardless of which party their vote was going to,' said White. The Florence chapter, which did not exist during the 2004 election, collaborated with every American institution in town, including St. James Church, universities, social groups and the Consulate.


And the Republicans? One American Republican we spoke to, who preferred not to be named, said she expects a Republicans Abroad chapter to spring up if the opposition is elected. However, she recognizes that Florence is a tough market for conservatives given its significant artist population and high number of U.S. universities, two groups that tend to lean left.


With the attention to the U.S. election escalating in the last few days before the votes are counted, a series of Election Day events are being planned by the Tuscan-American Association (TAA). Ranging from a gala dinner with local politicians to a roundtable discussion led by prominent Italian journalists, the events culminate in Election Night at the Saschall Theatre on November 4.


Lynn Wiechmann, co-president of the TAA, has been in Florence for 40 years and strongly believes in American democracy: ‘I believe in the potential of the U.S. to learn, mature and move forward. And I believe in the opportunities which still exist for so many to make their way professionally and socially in America.' A tireless organizer, Wiechmann stresses that TAA does not make a profit from its activities. ‘I don't know anyone who could give us a fair price for what we do,' she quips. Her organization works to maintain ties between the U.S. and Tuscany, which she reminds us date back to Amerigo Vespucci and Giovanni Verrazzano.

Video from www.intoscana.it


As demonstrated by the active support of the Province of Florence and the Region of Tuscany as well as the patronage of the City of Florence and City of Prato, local leadership has proven its interest in keeping these ancient bonds strong. The local press has eagerly followed TAA's events, helping to direct interested participants to them. And as TAA and other groups have worked on the serious business of helping Americans in Tuscany exercise their right to vote and on the lighter side of celebrating democracy, local agencies have been fully supportive. For example, Toscana Energia sponsored the Quizme contest for American students (read more).


 We can't predict the results of the election, but we can tell you what's in store for Election Night at the Saschall. TAA is expecting upwards of 3,000 people for the all-night party that features a ceremonial ‘vote' regardless of citizenship, big-screen satellite connection to the States, live music, Internet streaming on RTV38, free food and drink. After midnight, said Wiechmann, everyone will grab a bombolone and a cappuccino, watch the first live exit polls and learn who won the fabulous prizes, including a trip for two to New York City and a chance to ‘live and spend like a Medici' sponsored by Palazzo Tornabuoni.


As for the incredible international cooperation and enthusiasm tangible in Florence over the last several months? We at The Florentine hope to see it continue long after the election results are in. We invite our readers to use our pages as a forum for ideas, energy and above all, communication between our communities.


if you like sign the Election Night event on Facebook.


For further information download the following document (Pdf format):- SASCHALL November 3rd and 4th - program- Free shuttle bus service

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