Keynote Speech to the Liberal Leadership Convention

Transcription of Live Stream by Bono (2003-11-14)

My name is Bono, and I am a rock star. This is a lot more rock ‘n’ roll than I thought. If you’re wondering what I’m doing here, that’s OK, because so am I. There’s a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t be here. There is only a few reasons why I should. Maybe I should start with why you shouldn’t have me here. Rock star with a conscience — give me a break. That would do it for me. I mean, when celebrities open their mouths and they’re not singing, I run — and I am one. Ok, what else? I’m Irish. That counts, that counts for a lot in this country, but you know, I’m Irish. Thirdly, I’m not a supporter of the Liberal party, I’m not. I’m not a supporter of any political party. I like parties though. Now I’m not here to run for anything, but I’m not here to run away from anything either. I quite like being where I’m not supposed to. I know the job of a rock star is to do unconventional things, so…I am quite suprised to find myself at a convention. But I like it actually. I like it a lot. I feel quite welcome. Thank you. You have to forgive me if I’m a little shy, I’m not used to speaking to crowds of less than 25,000 you know!

Let me see. I’ve been here before to Air Canada [Centre] in my other life for the people who gave me that life. Edge, Larry, Adam and 20,000 other people I can’t remember their names, but they gave me that life too, and they know who they are. Some of them are here I think. I mean, it’s not really that different is it? It’s a party. It’s a party. So here I am, unidentified foreign object spotted at a Liberal Party conference. A political convention. But you know what they say about politics, it makes for strange bedfellows. How would you like to be the one that wakes up next to me? Well, in this case that guy is Paul martin. You’ve heard of him? This kid is great. I’ve got all his early albums. Later on, you know, he went to America…concept albums, the usual stuff. No he’s pretty cool, by pretty cool, I mean he didn’t have a mullet in the 80’s. He’s pretty cool – Paul Martin. I’m here because, in truth, he and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien have been very very kind to me. These two great men have been very kind to me. I might be the only thing they can agree on and I’m happy about that.

Here’s some reasons why I think I should be here. First, I joined the Drop the Debt campaign to relieve the old debts owed by the world’s poorest countries to the world’s richest. Paul Martin took my phone calls, he let me in, he promised to help and he kept that promise. Yes sir. Jean Chrétien, he did the same. And it’s not just about keeping a promise to me, it’s about keeping a promise to the poorest, most vulnerable people on earth and I’m grateful to them both for that.

Paul Martin let me in. As I said, I’m Irish, we’re not nearly as nice as Canadians and certainly not as well behaved. So, how am I going to return Mr. Martin’s favour? Well, I’m going to become the biggest pain of his life. Paul Martin thinks he likes me, he doesn’t know what he signed on for. More lobbying about debt, begging letters about people who should never have to beg, petitions about unfair trade, phone calls about money for the Global Health Fund. I already told him earlier today that if Canada puts in a fair share, and three times the current amount by the way, they’ll embarrass the rest of the world into doing the same. This is what we want out of Canada . Oh no! No! I’m going to be the biggest pain in his ass. A year down the line, a year down the line he’s going to regret tonight. I can imagine the staff meeting; whose idea was it to invite Bono? Anyway, so while he might come to regret it, I am here for Paul Martin. I am honoured and would like to thank him for inviting me. That’s the first reason I’m here tonight.

The second reason I’m here is because I’m a fan of Canada. I met Canada through the holy voices of Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, The Band, Daniel Lanois. The Canadian voice is hard-wired in my heart. I’m a fan because a certain kind of idealism lives and still seems to be alive in this country. You are not an insular place. You’ve always looked outside yourself, beyond the line on the horizon. You’re not so self-obsessed, and this coming from a rock star, so believe me, I know self-obsessed. I see it in the mirror, you know what I’m saying? I’m a fan who believes the advertising. The annoying fan who believes the hype and the slogans. I believe the world needs more Canada. Why is that? More Canada, yep. God, I’m good at this, maybe I should run for office.

Anyway…why? Why more Canada? Well I’ll tell you, that’s the third reason I’m here, because these are nervous times, they’re dangerous times. Things are falling apart, really, for the unlucky many who have to survive on less than a dollar a day. But also for us, the lucky few. Because, whether we like it or not, our fate is bound up in their futures. It’s Friday night…Well I don’t want to go on and on with a load of depressing facts, but you know I can, so I am. Excuse my French. And don’t worry, Daniel Lanois will be on after me to pick you back up again, all right?

We need to understand what’s going on here. Let’s stop for a second to remind ourselves that six and a half thousand Africans died today from a preventable, treatable disease called AIDS. Six and a half thousand died yesterday, and six and a half thousand will die tomorrow. Every day without a break for Christmas. That’s more people than this whole room. This is not just a rock star’s pet cause, this is an emergency and this is really why I’m here. Africa is a continent in flames. And, as we all know, fires tend to spread.

Now I’m a singer, I’m better with stories than statistics, let me just quickly tell you one of those. I want to tell you about somebody I met, a man called Jonah. Striking, extraordinary looking man, strikingly fit. He told me that five years ago he weighed half his body weight. Five years ago he had TB and scars all over his body, a scratching, terrible skin rash. Five years ago his family had written him off actually for dead. But he managed to get onto a meds program and his life has been transformed, they call it the Lazarus effect. He’s anti-retro viral. These extraordinary drugs brought him back to life, literally. We were excited, he was excited. Then he told me that his wife had died of AIDS, leaving him with two children. That made him feel even gladder to be alive. We were excited again. Then he told us that his new love, he had a new love in his life, she was also HIV/AIDS-positive. And I said well that’s great and he said it’s not great. He says she’s not part of the meds program. So here was Jonah’s dilemma. He said he could share his drugs with her and that they would both die slowly or he could give his drugs to her, knowing that his children would lose their last parent to AIDS. Or he said, I can keep the drugs and lose the love of my life. Well that’s a decision no civilized world should ask Jonah to make, in my opinion. That’s a decision we should not ask Jonah to make.

To me, this is all part of the journey of equality. I’m really not here to talk about charity. I’m here to talk about justice and equality and whether we really believe in it or not. If we really deep down believed that Africans were equal to us, really deep down, we wouldn’t allow this to happen. Canada is a country that’s starting to do something about this. Some of you may know that there is a move to get cheap generic drugs from here to Africa . This is great news. If you follow through on this promise, other countries will have to follow you. This is great news. The director’s now saying “oh shit, he, he’s going on and on, he’s going on and on, bursting the balloons before we blow them up.” Well, you know what I’m going to do here. You, got to be, I don’t do this very often so shit, I mean…give, give a rock star a break. Yeah, let’s move away from all the heavy bleeding liberal, stuff for a second and get to the really heavy heady intellectual stuff. It’s Friday night.

In his Nobel address, the great Lester Pearson said that poverty and distress, especially with the awakening of the submerged millions of Asia and Africa, make the risks of war truly greater. And I would like to add to that the risks of terror. AIDS creates a vacuum. And in that vacuum breeds despair. Despair is the next-door neighbour of anger, anger is the next-door neighbour of violence. Afghanistan was a haven for terrorists because it was a collapsed state.

Somebody recently told me, a senior White House official told me, “we know there’s another ten Afghanistans potentially in Africa.” You know what? It’s cheaper to prevent the fires than to put them out. More than half a century ago in the wake of a World War that Canadians fought so hard to win, Canada understood that we would prevent the next World War only if we turned our enemies into allies and built a stable and secure world order. You did it. You helped prevent World War III and helped a lot of us in other parts of the world prosper in peace. Thank you. Today we need the same sort of vision for the developing world from Canada. That’s gin and tonic, I’m a rock star, I’m allowed that.

The war against terror is bound up in the war against poverty. I didn’t say that—Colin Powell said that. He’s a military man. When military men start talking like that we should listen to them. It’s going to be complicated. We can’t fix every problem, but the ones we can we must. Some of Africa ‘s problem are it’s filled with corruption. Yes it’s true, and bad leadership. But it’s theirs and ours. Their corruption and our corruption. Their bad leadership and our bad leadership. Because we talk about free trade, but we refuse to let the poorest people put their products on our shelves, yet we flood their markets with ours. That’s corruption. That’s a corrupt relationship. The idea that we hold children to ransom for the debts of their great, great, great grandfathers, often loans pushed on them for Cold War reasons, that’s a kind of corruption. That’s unacceptable.

As I say, with Paul Martin’s help we made progress on this, but we’re still collecting these debts at the expense of people’s lives. These debts should just be cancelled. If we can be sure that the money is spent well, where there’s clear and transparent processes, let’s please finish what we started and cancel the rest of the debts. This is something to be proud of.

Now, as regards the ever-increasing gap between the haves and the have nothing at alls, I’m going to get a little technical with you, wonky even. So, this, this is not for everybody. Take a pee, make a cup of tea, get a beer. This next bit’s really for Paul Martin. You see, the richest countries in the world made a promise 25 years ago to give 0.7% of their GDP to the poorest of the poor. Yet throughout the 1990s, a period of unimaginable wealth and prosperity, as a percentage of national income we gave less and less and less. This is bad, this is true. Canada at the moment is at 0.29 of its GDP, its national income. That’s about, what? for every dollar of national income it’s a third of a percent or something like that. Your next door neighbour, mind you, is at 0.15%. This is not good. Europe on the other hand averages at about 0.33, what do you think of that? That’s not good enough either. We’ve got to get to 0.7, we’ve got to reach the millennium development goals which are to halve global poverty by the year 2015. So, I’ve just been talking to Paul Martin, I feel confident he’s going to make that journey.

Can any one country make a difference? Yes — Canada can. Canada already has. And Mr. Martin is the man to do it. If he shows the world the same commitment I saw during the Drop the Debt campaign, if he tackles AIDS with the same passion, like his father fought the fight against polio, if he carries the mantle of Pearson, Trudeau and Chrétien and if he joins hands with the groups that are leading this fight — the churches, the NGOs, the activists — then Canada, Oh Canada, will show the world the way forward. That’s another reason why I’m here. Yes sir.

This is our moment. This is our moment in the history books. Our age will be remembered for only about three things, I promise you: the Internet, the war against terror and how we stood around with watering cans [when] a whole continent, Africa, burst into flames — or not. Look…I don’t go around the world, crashing party conventions, talking. I might talk to anyone who will listen. I haven’t got more than three of these things in my calendar. I came here because I have a feeling Canada understands something that the rest of the world doesn’t. Well, not yet anyway. The idea is interdependence. We’re tied to each other, whether we like it or not. The Africans have a saying, they have a word for it, it’s Ubuntu. “I am because we are.” It’s cheaper to stop people from hating you than it is to defend yourself against it. Nobody hates Canada. Tourists around the world, they try to pass themselves off as Canadians so they get better treatment. You’re so nice. I was nearly “niced-to-death” today in the airport. I mean, with those manners you hardly need an army. You know, if Canada wanted to take over the world, it would just say, you know, please, thank you, sorry. You know, could I have the Kremlin please? You know, China, thank you very much. Fucking embarrassing, thank you.

But it’s not just that everybody likes Canada, everybody respects Canada, because something subtle is going on here. You’ve avoided a stigma that’s attached to the rest of the West or the Northern Hemisphere or whatever it is that other parts of the world regard with such suspicion and, or worse.

But I tell you, I tell you what I would like history to record. I’d like history to record that a vast and unusual cast of characters got together to say enough of this madness. And not just rock stars and activists, but church people, soccer moms…they’re the scary ones by the way. Politicians are used to rock stars and student activists but when we start hanging out with mothers’ unions and the churches they’re terrified. You ask Paul Martin’s friend Gordon Brown. We sent him 150,000 postcards on the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt campaign. And I guess he didn’t get to look at all of them, but they thought he should see one, they put it on his desk. It was from his mother. People are scared of mothers. I believe in mothers. I believe in women organizing around these issues. All the ladies in the house.

What’s extraordinary about what we’re going to do over the next few years is that people who don’t even like each other are going to have to work [with] each other because this is that big and it’s that serious. I was talking to a U.S. congressman recently. His name is Tom Lantos and he was a survivor of Auschwitz . And he was telling me about his memories as a child, being put on the train to the concentration camps and how the thing that haunted him the most later in his life was that the people who were watching them being put on the trains never asked where they were going. Religious people here tonight, are you ready to ask some hard questions? Atheists here tonight, are you ready to ask some hard questions? Mothers, students, workers, bosses… are you ready to stand in the way of that train, because we do know where this train is going. What we don’t know is how many people are prepared to lie across the track. I’m one. I’m here because I believe Paul Martin is another. And, more importantly, I’m here because I believe Canada is ready to lie down across the tracks. Thank you very much. God bless you. Good night.

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