Bono: A Man With a Righteous Cause

The Dallas Morning News via The Easterner Online
Eastern Washington U

In a world where celebrities are known to embrace humanitarian causes when in need of some image rehab, it is easy to be cynical. Rock stars or movie stars peddling charity for some personal sympathy — who hasn’t heard that one before?

So last week, when Bono came to Dallas, I thought about skipping a reception at which he was expected to mingle with some locals before delivering a speech to a sold-out crowd.

It’s not that I don’t like Bono. I love him. Having grown up in a Baptist home where secular music was prohibited (unless it was in Spanish), I didn’t discover U2 until the summer after my sophomore year in college. In other words, too late.

Part of my trepidation was being crowded into a room packed with star-struck fans clamoring for a photograph and having to settle for a glimpse. And worse, a person’s public image hardly ever matches with reality, and I was afraid my admiration for this humanitarian rock star would take a hit.

Still, I attended. With only about 50 of us at the reception, I even got to ask the Nobel Peace Prize nominee about our current immigration debate, which one of my colleagues had asked me to do. I found him disarming and charming, but, more important, he seemed genuinely engaged.

Immigration, however, wasn’t what brought him to Dallas. On his mind, always it seems, is Africa and her poverty.

Considering that a recent National Geographic Society survey found that most young adults can’t even locate Iraq on a map, it would be easy to ignore what’s happening in Africa-so far away, not our problem.

But it is. And that’s a message Bono has been spreading for years. Why should blessed countries like ours be burdened?

Simple-national security. After all, it was former Secretary of State Colin Powell who said, “The war against terror is bound up in the war against poverty.”

“In turbulent times, isn’t it cheaper to make friends out of potential enemies than to defend yourself against them later?” Bono asked. “A better world happens to be a safer one, as well.”

And he’s not talking we-are-the-world bleeding-heart speak. He offers practical solutions that involve all of us that could eradicate poverty in our lifetime. And why shouldn’t it be true that “where you live in the world should not determine whether you live,” as Bono put it?

He has been able to win support from some unlikely allies, who might have said before that corruption in African governments makes it impossible to help. Bono urges accountability for both the recipient and the donor. It doesn’t hurt that Bono, who grew up with a Catholic mother and Protestant father, preaches about higher laws and quotes Scripture in reminding us of our social responsibility to the poor. In the end, he says, it’s not about charity but about justice.

A Bono mentor, Jeffrey D. Sachs, writes in “The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time” that the United States spent about $450 billion on the military last year, compared to about $15 billion-about 15 cents on every $100 of U.S. gross national product-fighting poverty.

Every month, some 150,000 Africans die, too often from treatable diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, in some cases because they lack access to medicines easily available here. Or because they lack anti-malarial bed nets or safe drinking water or because their starving bodies can’t fight off disease. In some villages, the only ones left are grandmothers and orphans of the AIDS epidemic; their parents died next to strangers in crowded facilities with no access to treatment.

Across the globe, poverty kills some 8 million people every year.

These stories hardly make the front page-human life reduced to harsh statistics.

As newspapers nationwide are losing circulation, celebrity tabloids like US Weekly keep reporting increased readership. Perhaps Bono is spreading his message better than any world leader could.