The Delegate From Germany- a Definitive Peacenik

Shari Temple will attend the Democratic national convention in Denver as the lone delegate from Germany, representing the organization Democrats Abroad.

The Process: On Wednesday, approximately 4,200 delegates will attend the Democratic national convention to nominate Barack Obama as their candidate for the presidential election held in November. 57-year old Shari Temple from Marzling near Munich will be the only delegate from Germany. She became one of 22 overseas delegates in a complicated process for the organization “Democrats Abroad.” In total, about 6 million Americans live outside the United States. The election process began in Munich last January. Further elections were held in Brussels in March, as well as a caucus in Vancouver in mid-April. The 22 delegates chosen will have a total of 11 votes at the convention.

The scene is a small town in the United States. The year is 1961. A ten-year old girl goes from door to door on behalf of her father, who is running for a seat on the town council. Bravely, she rings doorbell after doorbell in her neighborhood, and occasionally she’s allowed to place a campaign sign in the front yard. But at one door, the reception is decidedly icy. With forced politeness, the lady of the house explains to the little girl that she can’t put up her father’s campaign sign because she already has one-–her husband’s, who is running against her father.

Cut to a scene in the village of Marzling near Munich. The year is 2008. The little girl, Shari Temple, is now 57-years old and tells this story about her first experience with politics. Her eyes sparkle as she relates her first flop; this is her kind of humor: dry, self-deprecating, political. She also tells the anecdote of how her father dragged her to see Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon at minor appearances in rural Oklahoma, and how she pushed to shake hands with the President. She says perhaps she’ll get to shake hands with her third president, or at least president-to-be, the day after tomorrow. Shari Temple is the lone delegate from Germany who will be there in Denver when Barack Obama is officially nominated to be the Democratic presidential candidate. She’s happy she’ll be able to participate even if she doesn’t get to shake Obama’s hand which, she admits with an ironic smile, she probably won’t get to do: more than 4,000 delegates will be attending the convention.

Many millions of people will also be there via television when the man on the placard is chosen, perhaps, to be the most powerful man in the world. It’s a strange thought that this sentimentalized living room in Marzling might have a connection with the White House in Washington, that a tiny bit of world political history will be made here between the cat-scratching post and the dining room table. But just who is this Shari Temple? And how did she end up here in Marzling between the stubble-fields and the garden gnomes?

Shari Temple was born into a typical American middle-class family. Her mother was a bookkeeper and housewife, her father a real estate agent and local politician. There wouldn’t be much more to tell if her family background hadn’t had an interesting twist to it. On her mother’s side, Shari’s ancestors were members of the Creek tribe. When you know that, you think you begin to see Indian features in her face. That’s “Indian” as in “American Indian” or “Native American” if you want to be politically correct.

This family background isn’t without meaning for Shari because it played a role in her political philosophy. Her Indian grandmother was born on a reservation at the turn of the last century and she didn’t get American citizenship until later. Some of her mother’s close relatives were innocent bystanders killed during the commission of crimes which were never prosecuted because “they were just Indians,” as the traditional family story is told. If she returns to the United States someday, Shari wants to work politically to do things for the Creek, her “nation” as she calls them. There’s much to be done regarding education and the fight against poverty. “I feel compelled to help. That would be an adventure,” she says.

Help, change, be politically active-–she mentions these words over and over in her Marzling living room. In German parlance, she would make a good “68er” but one shaped by the great turbulence of those times: Martin Luther King’s battles for racial equality, the student protests against the Vietnam War, perhaps shaped a little by Flower Power and certainly by the women’s liberation movement. In that turbulent year of 1968, Shari was studying mathematics and computer science at the University of Arkansas.

Shari Temple was the lone woman in a class of 40 students. She remains active today in a worldwide network that promotes women for management and technical positions. It’s all about showing adolescent females that they really do have opportunities in these fields, she passionately explains. She herself never encountered discrimination during her many years in information technology managerial positions with, for example, Texas Instruments. She is passionate about her profession: “I want to solve mechanical problems,” she says, “and I love mathematics!”

Her college and early professional years only became politically relevant through the great societal upheavals taking place: As she began her studies in Arkansas, drinking fountains at the University were still segregated. “Coloreds” were in the distinct minority, just 11 of 13,000 students were black. During her freshman year, the Arkansas football team fielded its first black quarterback, team leader in that most American of sports. He was ruthlessly booed for even the smallest of errors, but by the end of her studies half the football team was black.

Experiencing the slow end of segregation, however, didn’t define Shari as much as did the Vietnamese War. She got involved and wrote letters to Washington attempting to help her friends avoid the draft–all to no avail. “I lost two friends in Vietnam,” Shari says, “and others came home broken.” This experience was a decisive factor in her bitter opposition to the U.S. military’s war in Iraq. “I’m definitively a Peacenik,” she earnestly says, her pride giving the term a new luster.

Here lies the main reason why she is active for Obama. He promised to get American troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible. The fact that he also at least hinted that he wants the German Bundeswehr to take a more active combat role in Afghanistan doesn’t sit well with her. “I’m pretty anti-war,” she says. She’s also disturbed by Obama’s spongy position on capital punishment, but says one can’t agree with a candidate on everything. Despite it all, she wants him in the White House and says, with a smile that’s more bravery than victory, that he’ll make it.

Shari is down-to-earth as perhaps one would expect from her decades in the man’s world of information technology. But she also wants to improve the world. That’s why, after taking early retirement three years ago, she went into business for herself, developing software programs for charitable organizations. It’s a volunteer job that has required her recently to make short trips to South Africa.

Almost indignantly, Shari says that allowing charity work to fail due to a lack of information cannot be tolerated and she cites the example during the flood disaster in Atlanta when the Red Cross had to interrupt helping people to build a warehouse to store all the teddy-bears that had been donated. “There’s enough food in the world to feed everybody,” she says. It’s only a matter of the right distribution, and that’s where her help comes in. “I’ve got the perfect job,” she says, “it’s wonderful.” She helps hungry people, “and I use my talents to do it.” Shari is an idealist in a uniquely American way: very professional, clearly pragmatic, and somehow patriotic as well.

Patriotism was a motivating force for Shari’s engagement with the Democrats Abroad organization. She’s indignant that George Bush, whom she has observed since his days as Governor of Texas, could not only become President by such a narrow margin but that he could actually be re-elected. Through a somewhat complex, but thoroughly democratic procedure, Democrats Abroad will send her to Denver next Wednesday to cast her vote for Obama. Her life-partner, Manfred, for whom she came to Marzling will watch her do so on television.

By the way, she’ll pay all her campaign costs and travel expenses for the Denver trip out of her own pocket. She’ll get nothing more from it all than the opportunity to cast her vote at the convention. She’ll stand in the cheering crowd until they call the delegate from Democrats Abroad, just after the State of Delaware, to announce how many votes will go to Hillary Clinton and how many to Barack Obama. Shari promised at her departure from Marzling that she would wave at the cameras when she’s called.

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