The struggled to convince myself to apply for this project:
1. On June 1st, my lovely college advisor, Ms. Laizer, forwarded me the call for applications you had sent to Amherst College. I read it and instantly thought “This sounds incredible! Sign me up!” So I clicked on the link and landed on an English/German website and read about the purpose of Atlantic Expedition. Lucky for me that I speak both (unlucky for someone who does not?).
2. I then continued to read the Call for Applications, which caused my excitement to grow with every line: Meeting fellow Germans and Americans, thinking about how we can transform transatlantic relations, meeting politicians and other key people in the transatlantic world – a dream come true. But then there was a 1000-word article requirement. And the prompt sounded so… college-y. You see, to someone who writes around 20 papers with 3000 words a semester, this really should not be a problem. But it was. Because somehow, every word of the prompt had a connotation of a political science research essay. Actors. Allies. Mobilized. Innovative. Decision-Making. Fostering this and that. Words I’ve seen too often, heard too often, written too often, but rarely with much meaning at all. It also contained an invitation to submit a creative performance, or infographic, but of course, stay within the chosen category. Because thinking within categories is paramount when being creative. And of course, one should still be original and underrepresented – as long as original is within the category and underrepresented means educated enough to have casual command of political science jargon.
3. Thus on June 2nd, I decided not to apply. It seemed like this was either a research essay competition, in which case I probably would not win, or a fellowship competition, in which case I most certainly would not win because I’m not that good at essay-writing and truth be told, I’m not particularly accomplished in the area of transatlantic relations.
4. On June 16th, after waking up from a dream of being in a workshop in Chicago with what seemed like a bunch of people from the Atlantic Expedition, I realized that I could not just let this go. So I sat down at my laptop, and attempted to fill a word document with around 7 different incredibly academic essays about strategic communications, agenda-setting policy, and other fancy theories I’ve learned in my classes, and cited every notable agenda-setting theorist I could think of. But it seemed dishonest. Too much fostering, too much mobilizing, too much engaging. Not enough conviction. Not enough action. DELETE.
5. On June 18th, I had a late-night crisis. Because it is stupid to give up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because of 1000 words. But I also felt stupid writing something – and that I realized was the real problem– that creates more problems of understanding than it solves. Because I could tell you that “transatlantic civil society relies on the actions of individuals and their commitment rather than on top-down dialogue,” which is technically true, but also one of the emptiest, blandest sentences ever written, and it wouldn’t help anyone understand what transatlantic relations are all about.
I believe that there are parallels between my struggle to apply myself to this essay and other people’s struggle to feel any fire whatsoever for transatlantic relations.
Here are two:
1. Language: We speak two different languages. It is impossible to get people excited about things they do not understand. It is a bit ironic that the Atlantische Initiative itself only has a part of the website translated into English, and that the Expedition application has no translation support in German. Americans, who speak no German and want to research more about the organization, can’t. And Germans, who speak little English and might need help with the application, may get scared from a wall of text of which they understand only about half. This points to a deeper problem – historically, transatlantic relations have been dominated by a very limited group of highly educated, powerful people. But if we are serious about creating friendship between the U.S. and Germany, regular people matter. The people who speak no foreign languages. The people who don’t speak political theory. The people who don’t even know what “transatlantic relations” are because that term itself is more obfuscating than helpful. The first step in reaching out is speaking the same language, so let’s make that a priority when we present the Atlantic Action Plan. And let’s meet people where they are. We can go into schools and teach the subject (I have some experience doing this; I am confident we can adapt the methods to this program). We can go into community groups, German/American Clubs, Rotary Clubs, former Germany-stationed military clubs, and (as ridiculous as this may sound) all of the hundreds of Oktoberfest celebrations occurring all over the US every year and come up with exchange programs, town partnerships, and other forms of engagement so that we can continue to build this incredible friendship.
2. Actions: If one thing has become clear over the last few years, it may be that people generally notice when those in power do not stick to their word. Empty promises hurt credibility. It seems like our generation especially has become cynical toward politics. A cynic would ask what we are going to do with the Action Plan after the expeditions – Present it once? Twice? But will anything actually happen? So let’s prove them wrong and not bury this plan in a drawer. Aside from the individual responsibility we all have to carry this forward, we can at least try to get this plan to where it’s needed. Meet with politicians. Meet with the Marshall Fund, Think Tanks, the respective countries’ Committees and Ministries and everyone else we might be able to catch an appointment with. Meet influencers in business, media, non-profits, and all the other sectors the action plan addresses. I know some people, and so do other people, and I’m sure between your organization and the 30 fellows we can come up with a list of places that would be willing to take in our ideas. Throughout my work in politics I’ve found that people are usually willing to listen, just not do much, because their lives are busy. But since we have a ready-made plan, we have a very strong selling point. Let’s figure out where our overlaps with existing organizations and leadership priorities are, and I am confident that we will be able to join forces with some.