Bono: 'What's Your Big Idea?'
Rocker Bono tells this year's grads about his struggle to help end AIDS and poverty in Africa, and why he loves America.
Fast forward 50 years. May 17, 2004. What are the ideas right now worth betraying? What are the lies we tell ourselves now? What are the blind spots of our age? What's worth spending your post-Penn lives trying to do or undo? It might be something simple.
It might be something as simple as our deep down refusal to believe that every human life has equal worth. Could that be it? Could that be it? Each of you will probably have your own answer, but for me that is it. And for me the proving ground has been Africa.
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.