Stephen Donnelly and his four friends, aged between 39-42, met through Australian campus politics
This year they embarked on a trip to the US for what they call "the NBA of political election campaigns"
They cannot vote. They cannot give money. They cannot accept a paycheck or make decisions for the campaign. Yet they have traveled about 10,000 miles to arrive on American voters’ doorsteps, and knock.
“We are all Labor Party people, Social Democrats who noticed the world is getting smaller,” says Stephen Donnelly, the assistant secretary of the Australian Labor Party. “People feel a kinship between the social democrats of the world and we like going to help our sister parties when we get a chance.”
Donnelly and his four friends, aged between 39-42, met through Australian campus politics in the late 1990s. This year they embarked on a trip to the US for what they call “the NBA of political election campaigns.” Their goal is to get as many Americans involved in the electoral process, and encourage them to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Their journey in a minivan – dubbed “The Truck of Justice” – has taken them from the deep south of Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia, through South Carolina and North Carolina, and all the way up to Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, for Election Night.
“We’re starting in Republican territory because we want to see all sides of the country,” Donnelly explains. “Even Republicans appreciate we’re here, they’re fascinated, and that warmth and welcoming nature is a testament to the country,” adds journey mate Steve Cusworth.
In a small Democratic campaign office in Charleston, South Carolina, the Australian group immediately stands out, with “Aussies for Hillary” t-shirts and matching swag, including beer holders they gift to the local party chairman, Brady Quirk-Garvan, for hosting them.
“We get emails and calls from people who want to volunteer all the time, most of them live within 10-15 miles of the office,” Quirk-Garvan says. “This is our first group of people who have come to this office from out of the country to volunteer, but the great part is it shows the importance of this election, how critical it is that people are willing to spend their own time and their own money and travel to help elect Hillary Clinton and other Democrats.”
This isn’t the first time the politically passionate volunteers have been around to campaign in the US. In October 2008, “Aussies for Obama: a road trip you can believe in” kicked off a three-week journey that culminated in the group attending a Barack Obama rally and shaking the future president’s hand. Donnelly says he was also inspired by American campaigning tactics, which he later brought back to his homeland and utilized to win the electoral campaign for state government of Victoria, Australia
This time around their aim to “Make America Australia Again,” is both a pun on Trump’s slogan and a wishful hope of preventing the US from going down “a silly path,” says team member Matt Nurse.
The Aussies are not alone. During the final stretch of the American presidential campaigns, it is not unusual to come across a growth in politically-minded volunteers from across the world.
“We believe that the outcome of the presidential election has huge ramifications for international relations,” says Victoria Desmond, who leads the delegation for the British Young Fabians.
The group of 10 delegates from the United Kingdom ranges from teenagers to 30-year-olds, and they are currently helping with the “Get Out the Vote” campaign in Florida, making calls and canvasing the towns. “We are very concerned by the rhetoric of Donald Trump and his particularly stance on Mexico and comments on the Muslim community,” Desmond adds.
“As civil rights activists, we believe electing the first female President of the United States is a huge step forward for women across of the globe,” she says.
According to the US Federal Election Commission, “even though a foreign national cannot make campaign contributions or expenditures (including advances of personal funds), he or she can serve as an uncompensated volunteer for a campaign or political party,” with the exception of a decision-making or management role.
The Trump camp is also receiving support from people all over the world. “Our plan is to explain to French people that Donald Trump is a solution to US problems, but also to European problems (with terrorism, Russia, and so on),” the managers of “France for Donald Trump” Facebook group write in a message.
They present themselves as two young Frenchmen and asked to remain anonymous “as it is quite bad seen to support Donald Trump in France, and especially to support both Trump and Le Pen,” they write, referring to far-right French politician Marine Le Pen.
Meanwhile, the Israeli group “Trump White & Blue” is organizing a November 7, Trump support rally in Jerusalem, which will include Trump yarmulkes and prayer “for the success of Mr. Trump as the next president.”
But taking it a step further and crossing the ocean to meet American voters face-to-face sparks a different kind of conversation and helps better understand the various community voices, the Australian volunteers say. And as for reactions, Donnelly says that other than a slight accent barrier, people are either intrigued by their presence or simply “too busy to notice.”
Back at home, the group says their family and friends are mostly supportive, though not everyone understands the drive. “My wife knows I’m a political tragic,” Nurse laughs, “but my little daughter, who’s four, said, ‘Why are you going to America, why are you doing that?’ and my boss is looking forward for me coming back and tell him exactly why I did this.”
“There’s a lot of curiosity because it is a bit different,” Nurse says, “but I think going out there and giving up your labor to a serious cause is just as good as sitting on a beach for a day.”