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American Ireland Fund's Humanitarian Award Acceptance Address

delivered 17 March 2003, Washington D.C.

 

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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio. (2)]

I've good news, actually, breaking from Dublin: The potato famine is over; you can all come home.

Alright. Tommy Thompson, Secretary Thompson, a -- a man with a big heart and -- and a very big wallet -- the HHS [Health and Human Services] -- It's a very big wallet and he had the imagination and the intelligence to give some of that budget in the fight for global AIDS, and I'm really, really proud to know him. The first time -- The first time I met him, though, I was -- I was trying to stop him being thrown out of a U2 show in Wisconsin. The security came. There was a guy in leathers on a Harley Davidson. They thought he was a Hell's Angel, not the ministering angel of the HHS. I'm glad we let in the governor 'cause [he] turned out to be very important.

I've got a lot of thanks to say tonight. I want to thank the American Ireland fund, Kingsley [Aikins] and Loretta [Cassidy], and Tony O'Riley for this great organization and the work they do, especially because it's the Special Olympics tonight. And I don't know about you, but I think one of my favorite human beings has got to be [Eunice] Shriver, and I think the Special Olympics. This is an extraordinary thing. I want to thank Bobby Shriver, Jamie Drummond, everybody at DATA -- thatís the organization I represent, "Debt, AIDS, and Trade in Africa." Our organization, which is now has a formal office here, in D.C. thanks to Ed Scott whoís sitting over there. You can yell at him afterwards. Bill Gates and George Soros, they have given us the cash to sort of clean up our act a little bit -- a little bit.

It is an honor to be in this city at this time, to be invited here. But the real honor, as I see it, is the people in this city have let me in -- really let me in. And its kind of an extraordinary way -- extraordinary because these people know that once I'm let in the door, I'm very very hard to get out -- Isn't that right Tommy?

People think it's an odd look -- a rock star hanging out with politicians, but to be fair it's -- it's uncool for both of us. Our manager -- manager of U2, Paul McGuinness, is here tonight. He was speaking to me before this event and he said, "Look, later on could you throw a few television sets out of the hotel window or something. Youíre really in trouble." Actually, what he taught me was the lesson he'd learned in the music business: that if you treat people with dignity, they'll act with integrity, and I have found that in this city here.

Now I do have to accept that some people don't think art and politics should mix, but you're the last people I have to explain myself to because you're friends of Ireland and you know that Ireland was dreamt up by mad poets and painters and playwrights and drunken priests -- as much as it was politicians. I consider my self to be a member of all the above at this point. But art and politics -- itís not strange. The mix is not strange -- the mark of a whole society. I'll tell you what might be strange -- getting away with it might be strange.

When I'm here in D.C., I keep expecting people to tap me on the shoulder and say, "Bono we don't have to listen to you. We're politicians; you're a musician. Were American; you're Irish. You're a fan of America, but let's be honest you're not in the band. Why donít you just go home?" It hasn't happened. I'm amazed. I'm thrilled. Thank you very much and I mean that.

Itís like -- I think -- I think people know that I'm really a fan of America, and I love this country. Like all fans I can be a critic. It's like if youíre favorite act -- you know, favorite rock act turns into a disco band -- you know, you get upset. I am that kind of a fan. I'm an annoying fan. I'm like the ones who read the liner notes on the CD cover.

Just recently I -- I reread Americaís liner notes -- the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence. I read them before our tour -- our speaking tour in the mid-west just before Christmas. These are incredible and poetic tracts. It's no coincidence, in my opinion, that nine of the men who signed the Declaration were of Irish descent and another four were actually Irish. Yes! Yes! You can tell the -- the thirteen Irish ones. They were the ones sitting around Mr. Jefferson going "make it a bit more poetic." And, "Could you mention my mother" -- all that kind of stuff. It's an amazing thing. It's amazing thing -- the Constitution. And these words that Jefferson chose: "equality," "justice." They're not just poetic; they're not just expansive -- they're expensive. Because to make these words real, they cost us, and they're the words I'm interested in.

I want to tell you for a second if I could why I got into all of this. In 1985, I went to Ethiopia with my wife, Ali. Lots of Irish in Ethiopia -- Paddies jumping out of the bushes. Wherever you go, you know, you find Irish missionaries and -- its -- it's unbelievable actually. I think it's probably because in our folklore we have the memory of our own famine. The wanton and unnecessary loss of lives. I think this is what sends us to the poorest parts, or maybe it's just medaling. Either way, there's a lot of Paddies jumping out of a lot of bushes. Anyway I was there for a month with my wife Ali and on the last day a man hands me his baby and he begged me to take him back to Ireland because there his son would live, while in Ethiopia he knew his -- his son would surely die. In that moment I started this journey. In that moment I became that most awful thing: a rock star who wanted to change the world -- and a rock star who wanted to have fun and change the world, I might add.

Anyway, this Ethiopian man is the reason that I started coming here to Washington and I've kept coming back to argue, cajole, glandhand, tickle, and occasionally rock the house. He's the reason that I go and see Tony Blair, Jack Sherak, and Gerhard SchrŲder. Bobby Shriver is here tonight. He taught me that this city, D.C., was all about one thing. It's about the check--we got to get the check. The rhetoric is easy. The check is the hard thing. We're working for people's lives at the moment, who literally depend -- their lives depend on those dollars and those Euros. The buck may stop here, but it goes a long way over there.

I want to tell you that my father was a fan of America. His whole generation were fans. America was like the "Promised Land" for a lot of Irish people; not just the Diaspora, not even because America liberated Europe, but because America helped rebuild Europe. That wasn't just heart; that was smart. The Marshall Plan was a bulwark against Sovietism and the Cold War. The Marshall Plan was expensive -- one percent of Americaís GDP actually. So how much is being spent building Africa as a bulwark against extremism in this, the "hot war"? A lot less. We can move the point: point one of a percent. I don't think that anyone in this building thinks that thatís really high enough, if we can guarantee that the money is really being well spent. I appreciate that and I've learnt that. Americans are the most generous people in the world if they believe that the money will go and transform lives. Iím sure of that.

But -- but I...would like to challenge you tonight. There's a lot of corporations here tonight and we really need them. But if western democracies were all run like your corporations -- as some people suggest they are -- I think theyíd be bringing in their regional brand managers and asking them some hard questions about how the brand was perceived. The brand mangers would all have the same thing to say, "Youíre out of touch with your customers." There is no way around the fact that the richer we get in the western world, the less we are giving to the poorest, as a percentage of our national income.

I know Americans are these extraordinary, generous people. I know Europeans are, but I am sure of the lesson I learnt with Paul OíNeil in Africa: that if we can describe this efficiency, if we can get some measurable results, we can really transform the way aid is perceived and start calling it something like "investment in peopleís lives." Iím sure that can happen. You can clap there if you'd like.

It's not -- Itís not just about the money, actually. Debt cancellation for the poorest countries did have a check attached, but the issue we never argued is "charity." It was that word in the constitution -- it was "justice" again. When we talked about holding African children to ransom for the debts of their great-great grandparents we didn't argue this as charity. We argued this as justice. We donít ask for pennies to be thrown at the problem; we say, "this is a justice issue." We donít treat countries the way we treat people -- the way we use to treat people in the 19th century -- debtors' prisons. We donít do that anymore. It was a justice issue.

Now the "Drop the Debt Campaign" has been fairly successful and taught me a lot about how this town worked and how it didnít. I thought the President of the United States was the most powerful person in the country. When Bill Clinton promised to cancel a hundred percent of the debts owed to America by 23 countries, I was punching the air. Then I found out itís the Congress that makes this happen. Thatís why I accept these awards, because when you get the Congress in the room you can get some -- you can get the shit done. Okay?

Anyway, thatís when I started to become a regular in the back rooms and halls on Capitol Hill. Bobby Shriver and me set up camp, and my real lesson in consensus politics began. Lessons like, "Bobby, why are you hiding in the corridor at this meeting?" "Bobby, I donít think you need a Kennedy at this meeting." (I thought the Kennedy's were cool.) You really have a lot to learn. But I learnt one thing that you know how important an issue is when a Kennedy is trying to scramble out of the lime light. To Bobby Shriver, I owe everything. Thank you very much.

I donít have a lot of body guards on the road when I'm with U2 -- I donít feel I need it. But I have some great ones in D.C. John Kaasik --  He's not here tonight, but he was a great body guard on this debt cancellation stuff. There's a man here, the real St. Patrick, Pat Leahy. He is a hero to me -- he is a great man; Chris Dodd, a wise man -- his counsel meant everything to us. These are great men and theyíre professionals, but they never reminded me that I was an amateur. Orin Hatch -- what an amazing man sitting over there.

That was one of the easiest meetings I ever had. I went in; we talked about debt cancellation for thirty minutes. He went, "Yep, I get it. This is a great idea; itís obvious. I get it." And I said "Wow, this is incredible; this is the easiest meeting weíve ever had." I got up to leave. He said, "Excuse me would...you stay on for a few minutes." I said, "Why is that." He said, ďI've got some songs that I write.Ē Pulled out the songs. Turned the stereo up to eleven. We listened -- he rocked the room. Some -- some very interesting songs went on. He said, ĒWhatís your advice on those; I've given you my advice on debt.Ē I said, ďI have one piece of advice for you: Change your name.Ē He said, ďWhat do you think? I'm serious.Ē He said, ďWhat do you think.Ē I said, ďJohnny Trapdoor.Ē And that is the name this gifted song writer that you have here in your midst is gonna be known as. Johnny Trapdoor, to you we owe everything. You're a great man.

Jim Leach, beautiful man, extraordinary family, been in his house -- showed us around his world. Nancy Pelosi, what an extraordinary, gifted, smart, sexy woman, Nancy Pelosi! Yes. Spencer Baucus, sitting at that table. You know people say, I made Jessie Helms cry, which is an exaggeration; it was my exaggeration. But let me tell you who made me cry: Spencer Baucus. And it was about ice cream. He told a story about how for the price of an ice cream cone and a movie ticket we can transform, for a year, one ice cream cone and a -- and a movie ticket per year, per American, we can change the entire world. And it brought me to tears. Very special and eloquent man, Spencer Baucus.

Neda Lowery [ph], Barney Frank -- all these people -- Joe Biden, thank you very much. John Kerry, the Jewish-Irish connection. Yes! Rick Santorum rang me up. "Can I help you?" Do you know how much that means? Heís a tough guy; that means a lot to me -- "we can help you" -- right across the isle. People didnít care about politics when they came to these issues, and believe me these issues are way above politics -- these peoplesí lives that we are -- we have such an important role in preserving. They deserve us not to play politics with their lives and on our issues with our organization, DATA, no one has yet played politics and I want to thank you for that, all of you.

I can go on a bit, but itís my night. The Clinton White House was great. It worked out really, really well and then, suddenly, they were all gone. Everything changed. I, apparently, would have to start shaving, get a suit, wear a tie. Everything was going to be different with the Bush Administration. Swearing was out, for a start. No swearing. Now, for Irish people, we donít see it as the way you see it. Itís a sort of onomatopoeia. Itís...a sort of -- itís expressive stuff. Think of Shea Masini [ph]. How would he not use bad language? He doesnít, actually, now that I think about it. I do. Trying not to.

Anyway, we have to work very hard for the respect of this new President, but let me say this: Weíre not going to agree on everything, me and this President. But on one thing we do: He put AIDS into the national consciousness. He was the first President to put AIDS in the State of the Union speech. And I am confident that that is a very serious, serious moment in time and history will remember it. And I'm confident that the money will come through if this room gets behind it. We have to get the money through. These drugs, these antiretroviral drugs for AIDS, they're advertisements for America. Theyíre the best of the West. They are advertisements for your innovation, for your creativity. Will you please help me get this 15 billion through? Will you please help me? Iím asking you in the room.

Secretary OíNeill, he wouldnít see me. I threatened to camp out in his home, the Treasury.  Paul, wherever you are, little did we know that we'd be camping out in Uganda together.  Little did we know that you would come close to ruining my reputation by calling me the one word you can never call a Rock Ďn Roll singer. He called me "serious." Paul OíNeill, that trip did more than get column inches and TV pictures. It helped break the ground -- and we know this -- for the Presidentís historic AIDS initiative announced in the State of the Union. And I want to thank you for the risk that you took in having me on your plane and generally messing up your sharply attired image hanging out with an Irish rock star. Thank you very much, Paul OíNeill.

Straight-talking kind of a guy and I like that. I like his straight-talking. Only one word we couldnít agree on was the word "no," I think. But you know, Paul O'Neill is not great at the word "no" either. I think thatís why heís gone off to the Blackstone Group. And I wish him, really, I want to wish you the best out there. Donít take no for an answer.

Alright, I want to thank Condi [Condoleezza] Rice, in whose office the Millennium Challenge Account was born announced a year ago almost to the day. The Millennium Challenge Account is an extra five billion dollars a year to the poorest countries who do the right thing by their people, deal with corruption. Serious money, itís a serious business. I want to give her a serious thank you.

The same to Josh Bolten, whoís not here; heís elusive as ever. He tries to keep his head down. Let me tell you he put his head up above the parapet on this. I want to thank him publicly. He started every meeting with, ďRock star, what do you want from us now?Ē I had the same answer every time, ďA lot, an awful lot.Ē Thank you to Josh.

If I could say at this point that everybody has their pet causes. I know that. Everybody here in this room has their things they feel strongly about in their community. Two and a half million Africans are going to die next year, because they canít get their hands on medicines we take for granted. That is not a cause. That is an emergency. I hope you appreciate the difference.

Now, I know that on everybodyís mind, today, is the impending war in Iraq. Iím a rock star; IĎm Irish; Iíve got opinions on this; Iíve got opinions on everything. But tonight, I promise myself that Iím going to stick to what I have some experience in talking about and that is the war against poverty and the war against AIDS in Africa.

Africa is an incredible place: giant, beautiful continent, full of smart joyful people. And Africa is dying before our very eyes. C. Payne Lucas, who's here tonight, who ran Africa for decades will tell you about that. A war is happening there in which millions have already died, millions of men, women, and children. This, I want to argue, is the other war. This is the forgotten war. The war against AIDS. How we respond to this emergency will be, alongside the war against terror, how our era is judged by history and, I believe, judged by God.

Two and a half million Africans are going to die next year, because they canít get the medicines that we all take for granted. And let me say, we really need the pharmaceutical industry. I have beaten them up; Iíve given out about them; I'm going to stop, because I actually now realize that we need them. We need their creativity. We need them. Make profits but get us a vaccine; get us a cure. I want to reach out to the pharmaceutical industry tonight.

Iím nearly finished.

Franklin Graham, I want to thank him for bringing in the -- the religious conservatives, very, very, very important. In our first conversation -- it must have lasted an hour -- we talked about Africa. Franklin kept asking me, though, Did I know the Lord? I said, "Franklin, I do. I certainly know the Lordís grace, but more importantly, I think the Lord knows me, and I'm a bit of a scallywag. Iím a pick-pocket; Iíve come to pick Americaís pocket. Thatís why Iím here." I want to thank Franklin Graham. Thank you very much for bringing in those people and showing that the Church really does have a important place to play in these things. Thank you very much.

Dick Durbin, who is here tonight, really raised the roof in Chicago -- really, really helped us in Chicago. He is in the trenches fighting this every -- every day, when Iím back with my rock band playing.

Two professors are here tonight. Tony Fauchee [ph], who worked on this historic AIDS initiative every single day; it would not have happened without him. Thank you very much. Professor Richard Feachem, who has set up the Global Health Fund. He's a very brilliant man. Heís a very tough manager, and heís going to demand measurable results out of the Global Health Fund. I want you to welcome him to Washington, very special man.

Now, what happens to an activist? Activists are used to banging dust pan lids [??], going on out on marches, cranking up the amps, trying to blow down the walls of indifference. But what happens to the activist when he's let breach those walls and heís lead into the rooms where decisions are made? What happens to the activist when he reaches that almost uncomfortable moment when people agree to your demands? What does an activist do then? The activist is here tonight to say thank you very much.

Thank you.


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