Beliefnet

Africa makes a mockery of what we say, at least what I say, about equality and questions our pieties and our commitments because there's no way to look at what's happening over there and it's effect on all of us and conclude that we actually consider Africans as our equals before God. There is no chance.

An amazing event happened here in Philadelphia in 1985--Live Aid--that whole We Are The World phenomenon the concert that happened here. Well after that concert I went to Ethiopia with my wife, Ali. We were there for a month and an extraordinary thing happened to me. We used to wake up in the morning and the mist would be lifting we'd see thousands and thousands of people who'd been walking all night to our food station where we were working. One man--I was standing outside talking to the translator--had this beautiful boy and he was saying to me in Amharic, I think it was, I said I can't understand what he's saying, and this nurse who spoke English and Amharic said to me, he's saying will you take his son. He's saying please take his son, he would be a great son for you. I was looking puzzled and he said, "You must take my son because if you don't take my son, my son will surely die. If you take him he will go back to Ireland and get an education." Probably like the ones we're talking about today. I had to say no, that was the rules there and I walked away from that man, I've never really walked away from it. But I think about that boy and that man and that's when I started this journey that's brought me here into this stadium.

Because at that moment I became the worst scourge on God's green earth, a rock star with a cause. Christ! Except it isn't the cause. Seven thousand Africans dying every day of preventable, treatable disease like AIDS? That's not a cause, that's an emergency. And when the disease gets out of control because most of the population live on less than one dollar a day? That's not a cause, that's an emergency. And when resentment builds because of unfair trade rules and the burden of unfair debt, that are debts by the way that keep Africans poor? That's not a cause, that's an emergency. So--We Are The World, Live Aid, started me off it was an extraordinary thing and really that event was about charity. But 20 years on I'm not that interested in charity. I'm interested in justice. There's a difference. Africa needs justice as much as it needs charity.

Equality for Africa is a big idea. It's a big expensive idea. The scale of the suffering and the scope of the commitment, they often numb us into a kind of indifference. Wishing for the end to AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa is like wishing that gravity didn't make things so damn heavy. We can wish it, but what the hell can we do about it?

Well, more than we think. We can't fix every problem--corruption, natural calamities are part of the picture here--but the ones we can we must. The debt burden, as I say, unfair trade, as I say, sharing our knowledge, the intellectual copyright for lifesaving drugs in a crisis, we can do that. And because we can, we must. Because we can, we must. Amen.

This is the straight truth, the righteous truth. It's not a theory, it's a fact. The fact is that this generation--yours, my generation--that can look at the poverty, we're the first generation that can look at poverty and disease, look across the ocean to Africa and say with a straight face, we can be the first to end this sort of stupid extreme poverty, where in the world of plenty, a child can die for lack of food in it's belly. We can be the first generation. It might take a while, but we can be that generation that says no to stupid poverty. It's a fact, the economists confirm it. It's an expensive fact but, cheaper than say the Marshall Plan that saved Europe from communism and fascism. And cheaper I would argue than fighting wave after wave of terrorism's new recruits.

It's a fact. So why aren't we pumping our fists in the air and cheering about it? Well probably because when we admit we can do something about it, we've got to do something about it. For the first time in history we have the know how, we have the cash, we have the lifesaving drugs, but do we have the will?

Yesterday, here in Philadelphia, at the Liberty Bell, I met a lot of Americans who do have the will. From arch-religious conservatives to young secular radicals, I just felt an incredible overpowering sense that this was possible. We're calling it the ONE campaign, to put an end to AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa. They believe we can do it, so do I.

I really, really do believe it. I just want you to know, I think this is obvious, but I'm not really going in for the warm fuzzy feeling thing, I'm not a hippy, I do not have flowers in my hair, I come from punk rock, The Clash wore army boots not Birkenstocks. I believe America can do this! I believe that this generation can do this. In fact I want to hear an argument about why we shouldn't.

I know idealism is not playing on the radio right now, you don't see it on TV, irony is on heavy rotation, the knowingness, the smirk, the tired joke. I've tried them all out but I'll tell you this, outside this campus--and even inside it--idealism is under siege beset by materialism, narcissism and all the other isms of indifference. Baggism, Shaggism. Raggism. Notism, graduationism, chismism, I don't know. Where's John Lennon when you need him.

But I don't want to make you cop to idealism, not in front of your parents, or your younger siblings. But what about Americanism? Will you cop to that at least? It's not everywhere in fashion these days, Americanism. Not very big in Europe, truth be told. No less on Ivy League college campuses. But it all depends on your definition of Americanism.

Me, I'm in love with this country called America. I'm a huge fan of America, I'm one of those annoying fans, you know the ones that read the CD notes and follow you into bathrooms and ask you all kinds of annoying questions about why you didn't live up to that.

I'm that kind of fan. I read the Declaration of Independence and I've read the Constitution of the United States, and they are some liner notes, dude. As I said yesterday I made my pilgrimage to Independence Hall, and I love America because America is not just a country, it's an idea. You see my country, Ireland, is a great country, but it's not an idea. America is an idea, but it's an idea that brings with it some baggage, like power brings responsibility. It's an idea that brings with it equality, but equality even though it's the highest calling, is the hardest to reach. The idea that anything is possible, that's one of the reasons why I'm a fan of America. It's like hey, look there's the moon up there, let's take a walk on it, bring back a piece of it. That's the kind of America that I'm a fan of.

In 1771 your founder Mr. Franklin spent three months in Ireland and Scotland to look at the relationship they had with England to see if this could be a model for America, whether America should follow their example and remain a part of the British Empire.

Franklin was deeply, deeply distressed by what he saw. In Ireland he saw how England had put a stranglehold on Irish trade, how absentee English landlords exploited Irish tenant farmers and how those farmers in Franklin's words "lived in retched hovels of mud and straw, were clothed in rags and subsisted chiefly on potatoes." Not exactly the American dream...

So instead of Ireland becoming a model for America, America became a model for Ireland in our own struggle for independence.

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