This is the text from an ad placed by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton one hundred years ago. Rumour has it that Shackleton received 5000 applications.
What is it that drives people to rise to a challenge, even when what’s asked of them is extremely difficult and success is far from guaranteed?
Why would 5,000 people respond to a call for a “hazardous journey, small wages, butter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger” where safe return was “doubtful”?
The answer, I believe, is that the people who responded to the ad are people seeking a bigger purpose. They are looking for a challenge worthy of their short, precious time on this planet. When presented with to an opportunity to be part of making history, it is hard to turn your back.
Dorothy McRae-McMahon, an extraordinary woman and the former Pitt Street Uniting Church Minister in Sydney, calls it “living with a bigger dream”. She writes:
To live with what is, and to imagine nothing more, can be quite satisfying….
The “bigger dream” lifestyle I see differently. For me, it is a matter of looking out on one’s own world, small or large, and imagining it could be expanded in helpful, just and creative ways.
The bringing in of this dream may involve quite small changes or it may be no less than an attempt to transform the universe… as you choose to participate in the brining in of this dream, your life moves from being passive, from being formed by others and by life itself, to being active and even passionate. You become a universal participant (even in your small place) rather than an individual who views life by looking into yourself and your own interests….
Not all of us are prepared to be captive to what is sometimes defined as ‘the rational’. Those who do not encourage larger dreams sometimes refer to themselves as having that quality. But are they really rational? Or are they simply pessimistic or cynical? I think they are the letter because a truly rational – that is, based on the facts – view of history and humanity would tell us that bigger dreams and their living out are often possible. It is actually irrational to underestimate possibilities.
A friend of ours just made a choice to take six month’s unpaid leave from his job to work full-time on Simon’s senate campaign. He’ll be moving here from interstate to be part of our attempt to stop Tony Abbott controlling both houses of Parliament. Simon and I called him today to thank him, and his words are in my head as I type this tonight.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said our friend.
If you’re not a climate activist staring down the barrel of a government poised to bulldoze every tiny step of progress Australia has recently made on climate change, I can see why you’d call our friend’s actions irrational.
If you’re not scared by the possibility of Tony Abbott having total control of both houses of Parliament (perhaps in partnership with with Katter’s Australia Party), then you may not understand why someone would uproot his whole life for six months to be part of Simon’s campaign for the Senate in the Canberra.
But if you are one of the many Australians dedicated to solving the climate crisis, I think you probably get it. We have a chance of stopping Abbott, and Canberra’s second Senate seat is the most marginal in the country. The Liberals only just scraped a quota last election, and just 1500 votes stand between us and winning the seat.
As climate activist Bill McKibben says, the only thing a morally awake person can do when faced with a situation as important and urgent as climate change is do everything we can to change the odds.
So that’s where you come in. That’s why you are a game-changer. And that’s why I’m writing this for you to read.
This blog post began as a letter to another friend I am hoping will volunteer full-time on the campaign. But then I started thinking of the list of all the people I need to send it to – and the number of people we actually need me to be sending it to if we’re going to win – and I realised I need to dream bigger. I need to send this call for history-makers into the universe and see what happens.
What we need is twenty people to commit to volunteering full-time as field directors on the campaign. That’s what would change the game.
Running for Senate is a big commitment for Simon and I. We’re putting all of our time, talents, savings, and our hearts and soul into this. We’re doing it for the same reason I’m asking you to consider joining us: because what’s at stake is too important not to try.
The threat Abbott poses to action on climate change, to any chance of stopping coal exports through Government regulation, to tackling global poverty through increasing (or even maintaining!) the foreign aid budget, to women’s rights, to compassion for asylum seekers and to all the progressive values that we share is Just. So. Big. that I know this Senate campaign is the most strategic thing to work on this year.
And take it from me: we can win.
We need to enrol 6000 new voters and shift 1500 people who would normally vote Liberal away from doing so. To do this we need to speak to each of these people an average of 7 times, and in order to do this we need 1600 volunteers by election day, which means 400 volunteers (at least!) by mid August. We can’t make this happen without an ambitious, creative and unprecedented field campaign. And we can only have that kind of field campaign if we have dedicated full-time (or close to full-time) field organisers.
We can’t afford to employ the army of field organisers we need, but we also can’t afford not to have them. You can see our dilemma.
So Simon and I are asking something big of you, but with the promise of something in return. You’ll get to be an inside part of a campaign that has a chance of making history by stopping Abbott seizing control of the Senate.
Every conversation we have with a voter; every phone call we make; every door we knock on; every new young person we enrol to vote; every media story we generate and every single thing we do in the next six months increases the odds of us stopping Tony Abbott getting a Liberal Senator from the ACT and increases the odds of the Greens retaining the balance of power in the Senate.
The last two elections in America have seen tens of thousands of people volunteer for Obama’s field efforts. Many of them take time off work and move to battleground states for months at a time without being paid. Some young (and old!) Australians even flew to the States to help out. Why? The same reason people applied to be part of Shackleton’s expedition. The same reason our friend is moving here for six months from interstate. Because it’s too important not to, and there’s a chance we can change the course of Australian history.
So please, consider living with a bigger dream this year by being part of our field directors program. And please pass this opportunity on to your friends. The Field Directors program will be a structured, intensive internship opportunity with training, mentoring and support every step of the way. You’ll be working with some of the best organisers and strategists from around the country (and the world – we have some key former Obama campaign staff helping us out) and you’ll know you are doing the most important thing you could be doing this year if you care about a progressive Australia.
If you’re reading this, I don’t necessarily know you. But I do know one thing about you – that’s that you understand there’s only one way to wake up after September 14th this year. It’s with no regrets.
Perhaps our new ad could read:
PEOPLE WANTED for groundbreaking, history-making Senate campaign. Subsistence wages, bitter cold (well, it is Canberra after all), long months of complete dedication and hard work, immense learning, brilliant teammates, honour and glory in case of success.
If you want to apply to be a full-time field director, please get in touch via Facebook or by sending me a message in the comments (If you haven’t posted before, I moderate all posts so your message won’t appear on the page).