Monthly Archives: November 2016

Dancing with Speeches #47 Amnesty International’s Salil Shetty

Earlier this month the International Association of Volunteer Effort held its World conference in Mexico City. One of the keynote speakers was Salil Shetty Amnesty International’s Secretary General. He began his speech with the words: The world is spinning out of its axis. He talked about the role of volunteers in holding the spaces where institutions had failed or were compromising better futures for populations.  You can read his speech here. This week I am remembering speeches and submissions I wrote in my role a decade and more ago as CEO of Volunteering SA & NT and how my words have stood the test of time and perhaps need to be refreshed and re-stated in these times. It is not a dance with nostalgia, it is the stomp, a dance for solidarity to hold and gain ground.

It is eight years since I spoke publicly on the value of volunteers. In these times when the world is spinning out of its axis as Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said (addressing the 24th IAVE World Volunteer Conference in Mexico City on 10 November 2016), we need to make a correction and get the world spinning once again on its true north axis and balanced so we don’t all fall off this little blue dot.

All across the world conflicts are getting worse with deliberate and often desperate, attacks on citizens unarmed, unprepared and unable to face the military force or terrorist activities of repeated and unprovoked attacks. The arming and re-arming of criminal, radical, fanatic as well as organised war makers are in conflict zones in on all continents Africa, Latin America, Asia, Central Europe. Human tragedy and loss in the faces and lives of little children and their families risking all to escape from the worst places and trekking the globe for safe haven. Human rights violations abound where children are not able to get to school, are forced into labour and held hostage as sex slaves, donning uniforms and brainwashed to take up guns. Borders are held up as real boundaries and barriers to safe passage and walls, fences and legislative gymnastics are put up as the barriers to safe passage. Internal conflicts and divisions are deeper than ever from the recent results of the US elections to those moving against their own people such as President of the Philippines, Duterte who has killed over 2000 lives in a span of a few months in his war on drugs. At an international level the efforts to come to agreement on climate change such as the most recent meeting by COP in Marrakech coming to almost a standstill when the results of the US election came through where the candidate from the winning party was known and that party full of candidates and nominees who are climate deniers.

Poverty, fear, human rights abuses, gender and race inequity all mount up and can lead some of our species to paralysis and if that happens to too many of us our species won’t be much longer on this planet. But I am not one of those people and I know that we live in a world where there are those willing to get up, stand up and turn up to build the future we want for our children and grandchildren and generations to come.

When I was CEO of Volunteering SA & NT I regularly said that while we get to vote every three or four years, every time we volunteer by planting a tree, helping someone learn to read, delivering a meal, counting frogs, recording the weather … we are voting with our hearts and minds for the kind of community and world we want to live in. We don’t have to wait for the ballot box to build the world we want. Volunteers are peacemakers, healers, custodians of hope, antidotes to fear, architects of trust, bringers of good news. The rising movement of millenials who are opting to put their values into action by opting out of traditional systems and putting their energies in sharing economies, collaborative enterprises and community mobilising on line and in real time are creating new eco-systems and opening up new spaces for change. Technologies that didn’t exist a decade ago are being deployed. For example GIS mapping tools are helping with emergencies and natural disasters 24 hours a day and from all over the world ( see and ). An example from Amnesty International (AI), before the 2016 Olympics, they developed a network of organizations in Rio’s most violent favelas offering an app called Fogo Cruzado (Cross Fire) to report gun violence in their communities. According to AI the app got more than 50,000 downloads and reported over a thousand violent incidents in one month, giving more visibility to the problem and urging authorities to take action. Coders of the world regularly unite and one example was for Decode Dafur where 16,000 volunteered to do a task that would have taken months if not years of paid labour to map the most remote and vulnerable villages of Dafur (see ).

What hasn’t changed in ten years though is the willingness of people to gift their time, talents and energy and in doing so offer an antidote and help keep the world spinning on its axis for good. Every day people, not heroes or celebrities, your neighbours, friends, mates at work, come together around a common cause. The cause can be coaching an under 10 football team, growing a forest, saving a species, offering hospitality to the lonely, medical support to civilians in a war zone, counselling those at risk of suicide … the list goes on … generosity in abundance.

Amnesty International’s contribution through its volunteers have used the power of the pen to bring world attention to prisoners of conscience. In its annual campaign Write for Rights in 2015 3.7 million letters, messages, emails ad tweets were sent to governments. These are acts of solidarity. Here is a sample reported by AI’s Secretary General at the global International Association for Volunteer Effort this year:

Albert Woodfox in the USA was freed in February 2016 after 200,000 people took action for him; student activist Phyoe Phyoe Aung was freed from jail in Myanmar in April 2016 after almost 400,000 letters, emails & tweets in support of her; and Yecenia Armenta Graciano was released in June after being arbitrarily detained in northern Mexico, when she was beaten, near-asphyxiated and raped during 15 hours of torture until she was forced to “confess” to her husband’s murder. She had received 8,000 letters of support from around the world. Through our urgent action network,10 year old Syrian girl Ghina Ahmad Wadi, who was shot by a government sniper in Madaya was evacuated after mass pressure, and has since recovered from surgery.

Back in 2006 the Australian Bureau of Statistics Voluntary Work Survey indicated that 5.2 million adult Australians (34%) volunteer annually, contributing an annual total of just over 713 million volunteer hours valued at more than $40 billion. This grew in 2010 Survey to 36% of adults and in 2014 it had fallen to 31%. I am predicting it will grow over the next two years when the next ABS survey will be done – in these tough times people get out and get involved, this is solidarity. But we can’t just hope that will happen – it needs to be planned, intentional and supported policies and strategies. I was very proud of my efforts to keep volunteering and its role in supporting social cohesion, addressing climate change and building equity in my time in the role – mobilising and motivating – I had the job of chief cheer leader to all volunteers and saw this role as a vital piece of democracy.

At that time I advocated for volunteers and the voluntary sector effort need to be included in the nation’s balance sheet which would reflect the value of this unpaid and often unrecognised workforce.

Volunteers are an essential part of our national response to environment issues, in times of disaster and are key to all the major strategies such as awareness, education, fundraising and environmental management. Why not count that effort and big heartedness?

A well trained and skilled volunteer force can ensure that skills and knowledge flow freely through society. Voluntary activities are pathways into communities providing opportunities for education, employment, personal growth, social interaction and the sharing, broadening and development of skills. Volunteers drive the dollar further – they value add – they green Australia – they unite communities – they build trust and are the linchpin of democracy.

Volunteers are vital to the future of our country. Voluntary activities and associations need the investment of the time, talents and energy of volunteers and resources from the public purse and business to continue being the glue that binds Australia together. And binds our world and planet together.

By offering an alternative narrative to the pessimism and anxiety fear brings to our world, volunteering provides both inoculation and healing and as I have said before in this speech – solidarity.   Volunteers don’t fight back they fight forward – contesting the values and attitudes in what they spend their time doing – they address illiteracy by teaching someone to read; they address hunger by making soup and serving meals; they address fear and isolation by singing up a storm in a community choir; they address disability by coaching sports; they address an ugly landscape by hosting community clean ups and making public art; they address poverty by fundraising and advocating for justice; they are change-makers and their aggregated efforts turn back time by cleaning up rivers, liberating prisoners and saving endangered species. Division, extinction, exclusion and inequity are all countered by the acts of millions of men, women, boys and girls throughout the world who stand in solidarity, open their hearts, minds, wallets and share in the biggest collaborative economy we have – volunteering.

On December 5 it is the International Day of Volunteering – let’s make this a decade of solidarity volunteering and keep the earth spinning on its axis.



Dancing with Speeches #46 March on Washington

In late August 1963, Martin Luther King led the march on Washington for jobs and freedom and delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. His words rang in the ears of a generation: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”  This is a dream that is yet to be fulfilled and now we find ourselves on the brink of another march bringing another generation to a nation’s capital.  Here is a speech that might be heard in January 2017 to introduce a very special contributor.

Thank you for coming today to Washington.  We are living the dream – the dream of Martin Luther King; the dream of women and men, boys and girls throughout history who have stood together shoulder to shoulder, the dream of Maya Angelou to rise up, the dream of women like Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton to lead our nation, the dreams of all the little girls who have been hugged by their grandmothers and told they can do anything.  These are our dreams and we will not let them go  away for anyone and we will keep working on making them come true.

Thank you to the wonderful Indigo Girls for leading us in song – what a great choice – This Land is Your Land.  Yes it is this is our land and there is no more turning back.  Thank you Mavis Staples for rousing us with We shall overcome and to the amazing southern belles – Beyonce, Dixie Chicks and Dolly Parton – for singing Higher and Higher – because you know how it is …. when they go low … we go high.  There is no movement without music and it is a joy to see so many young musicians and singers taking up the mantle and leading the way for their sisters and brothers.

What are your dreams? I am dreaming for justice, for freedom, for emancipation from fear. I am dreaming for equity.  There is nothing else we can dream for – without equity there is no growth in our economy, no social stability and at worst no hope. We are trading in hope and we are in credit!  We are trading in justice and we are in credit!  We are trading in courage and we are in credit!

We are bound together.  We prosper together.  We grow together – and we liberate each other.  We turn to each other in our moments of grief, in our moments of disappointment and we turn to each other in our moments of success – and success we will have – we will overcome and that day is coming, not just some day, but today and tomorrow and the next day.

With grace, grit and gratitude we will rise.

With courage and humility and tenacity we will rise.

And now join with me to welcome our next next speaker – Michelle Obama.

This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.


Dancing with Speeches #45 Lin-Manuel Miranda

Each year in June the Tony Award’s for Broadway are held. This year the winner of the best score for Hamilton was Lin-Manuel Miranda. The USA were reeling from the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida – a crime scene where gay and lesbian people were targeted. The composer decided to respond with a sonnet of love to his great love, his wife. Who are your great loves? How do they help you find a way? This week’s dancing with speeches might be a two-step – choose which one – Texan or Californian – yet another binary choice in this world of complexity.

This has been a week where divisions have become visible, no longer under the surface, bubbling away, but like a pot of liquid boiling, steaming, bursting the confines of the saucepan on the stove, spilling over.  Now the mopping up has to begin. The dreams and hopes of one generation, one colour, almost one gender, lost and in some kind of parallel universe their mirror image has their dreams and hopes found.

Disruption is the new normal. Playbooks have been torn up. Revolutionaries and radicals are on the rise. Fear is the currency being traded at every border designed to divide women and men, black and white, poor and rich, refugee and settled.  Dualism, binary options wriggle from complexities as we all struggle to be resilient in the face of perceived choices of globalism and neo-liberalism erode our confidence to face the future.  We look for certainty in uncertain places – the ripcord of a suicide bomber, the blackjack table, the ballot box.

When it all comes crashing we go to the poets, the artists and the songwriters to find the words and sounds and sights to guide and comfort our spirits, give meaning and hold us in the space.  Love holds the mop. Without love the mess will stay on the stove, the pot will get hotter, the divisions wider.

Here is my poem for this occasion.

Promise to Tomorrow

My grandson is the reason my vote is cast

His smile warms me with its glow

I nail his colours to my mast

And sail the ship: Promise to Tomorrow.

He fingers beads around my neck

And roars like a dinosaur.

We’re using his cards in our deck

Squandering each day more and more.

Gender, race and class

– the great dividing range.

Has left me wanting, waiting –

For sweet love to reign.

Go with a child in your heart

And horizon in your head

Only love decisions must be made – else

Our planet will be dead.


Snow Storm: Steam-Board off a Harbour’s Mouth              J.M.W Turner – 1842

Dancing with Speeches #44 Paul Keating

In 1993 Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating gave a powerful speech on the folly of war at the internment of the Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial. Imagining what it would be like to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Child, a victim of war is the subject of this speech as we head towards Remembrance Day.

We do not know this little girl’s name. We don’t know who her parents are, if she had brother’s and sister’s who is missing her with an ache that won’t go away. We do not know if she was running towards or running away from danger when she died in this zone of terror. We do not know if was holding someone’s hand as she spent her last hours and if that hand was squeezed and glued tight fused together for solidarity and the hope of security. We do not know if she prayed to a god, looked to the stars, had breakfast, sang a song, knew how to skip. We do not know anything about her. We do know she is just one of hundreds, thousands of children who have been fleeing this zone of terror, this place where children’s voices are no longer heard, where giggles and tickles have been replaced by shrieks and sirens.

We know she is a child who witnessed atrocities no human, let alone a child should witness. We know she is a child who touched someone with her toothy grin smile. We know she is a child who did nothing to bring the terror to her town, the destruction of her neighbourhood and the raining of bombs that led to her death.

We know she is a child who was born of a woman, a woman who would have welcomed her into the world, who would have cradled her and soothed her with lullabies and snuggled in to feed her from the breast. We know she is a child born in a time of fear and where promise and hope were in very short supply. We know she is a child who’s father was probably not in town the day she died or perhaps had already been killed in the war raging all around them. We know she was born in the year the city fell and became the zone of terror.

We know this is a mad, brutal awful struggle where human collateral is factored in to the cost to bring more terror and fear. We know this is not the kind of world we want for our children. We know she is not the only child being mourned. We know we have our excuses, our failures, our shame. We know we have to draw on the deepest part of our selves to turn this despicable situation around. We know we cannot do this alone, we will have to work with enemies and friends who are invested in terror and destruction.

We will fail, we will stall, we will make mistakes … we have done all that before … and we will have to do it again and again and again.

The little one, the civilian, the one who is on the front line lies here. Us in our bunkers, flying the drones, signed up for service, being paid by the State make the mess it is the littlest, lowliest and invisible who pay the price.

Today we intern the Unknown Child to assert and remind us it is the child who needs to be at the centre of our decision-making; whose anonymous presence transforms our memory, our hearts and our heads to act for the generation of the youngest. We come to this tomb to hold the truth of the ones who have been loved and died in their homes, play spaces and fields. These are the ones to whom we are accountable.

In this place of silence, place your hand on your heart. Feel the beat of the blood pulsing in your heart, notice your breathe syncopating in even time, bring yourself to stillness and pray: Holy Innocence give us courage for peace making.