“You know how many people are here today?” Bono asked, looking out over the hundreds of people gathered on a sunny Sunday afternoon (May 16) on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. “Well, I counted it. I’m a rock star who can count. Three million people are here because that’s what these people represent in their various organizations all over America and all over the map.”
Bono, basketball star Dikembe Mutombo, singer Michael W. Smith, activist Agnes Nyamayarwo, and others gathered to address a crowd assembled for a rally launching The ONE Campaign.
U2log’s Ruth Barohn reports from Philadelphia. To read the report and see photos from the event, click the link below.
The ONE Campaign to fight AIDS and extreme poverty seeks to show the power of one by asking one individual at a time to write one letter, send one email, or make one phone call to his or her representatives. ONE is about building a grass-roots effort of individuals who will have one loud, collective voice calling out for full funding promised for global AIDS initiatives and, eventually, lead to America committing one more percent of its federal budget toward fighting AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa.
DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), the organization co-founded by Bono in 2001, has joined with several other groups, including the Better Safer World Coalition, Bread for the World, and the Global Health Council among others, to launch and promote The ONE Campaign.
“I’m excited about an idea today,” Bono continued. “I’m excited about the idea that we can be the generation that rids the world of extreme poverty. We, literally, can be that generation. That’s extraordinary.”
The crowd at Independence Mall grew throughout the morning, in the shadow of the liberty bell, anticipating the start of the rally, when music from U2’s “The Joshua Tree” and “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” albums gave way to the beat of the African drummers, seated at the rear of the stage, as the rally began. Dancers took to the stage and invigorated the crowd with their traditional, authentic African performance at the conclusion of which, chairs were arranged around a podium placed center stage.
The first man to step to the podium was Reverend Herbert Lusk II, who introduced the speakers to the crowd. During these introductions, Bono listened attentively, smiled, applauded, and occasionally entertaining himself with a little water-spray fan and a ONE t-shirt that had been placed beneath his chair before he arrived.
Reverend Lusk delivered the first of many prayers of the afternoon: “We pray that this country is set aflame, that indeed there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, one father who is above all, in all, and through us all. And we want one percent. On the continent of Africa right now, there is projected that by year 2010, there will be approximately 40 million orphans in Africa. Forty million children! That’s more people than there are in New York State, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and South Carolina.”
After pausing momentarily, Lusk continued, “And they say we don’t care. Many people will say that this country does not care. That is a lie. We do care. We do care. Turn to your neighbor and say ‘WE DO CARE!'”
The crowd, moved by Lusk’s words, shouted out in agreement.
“Turn to your neighbor and say ‘ONE!'” Lusk repeated. (Once again, his call was answered by the crowd.) “But we missed one thing, say ‘ONE PERCENT!'”
Next, Rabbi Marjorie Berman spoke passionately about the need for all to unite. “We stand together in this place, right next to the liberty bell, where it says — quoting Leviticus 25.10 — ‘Proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants’ and we stand together in this moment, all of us here, hoping that that liberty — an ideal which we don’t even always live up to at home, we all know that, that that liberty can spread and become a place of love and safety and openness for the whole world no matter how many races, no matter how many religions, no matter what our sexual identity, no matter what our gender — that we need to be one, together, to bring compassion into this world.”
Berman concluded, “God has no hands on earth but ours with which to do the work that is before us and we pray and we hope, wherever we come from — whether we are people of faith or people of no faith but good intention and good heart, whatever our color, race, creed — that we can remember that is our hands that can do the work of love and compassion in the world today.”
After enthusiastic applause, Rabbi Berman introduced Reverend David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and former World Bank economist, who addressed not only the importance of The ONE Campaign but of America’s upcoming elections.
“Now what we need is for tens of thousands of Americans to join together as one, to insist that our nation take those next steps,” Beckmann suggested. “President Bush needs first to just deliver the increases in assistance that he’s already promised and that are now in Congress. Three billion dollars is at stake in Congress right now. We need the Congress, on a bipartisan basis, to approve it, we need for President Bush to push it, and we need for both President Bush and Senator Kerry to speak out forcefully, what next steps do they propose to reduce poverty, hunger, and disease in the world?”
Beckmann encouraged, “So be the one. If you haven’t done it yet, sign the petition, learn more about these issues, write to your members of Congress — that is crucial — write to your members of Congress. If you belong to a church, get your church involved and decide today that you are going to vote in November and that you are going to vote your conscience.”
Conscience and common sense are intergral parts of The ONE Campaign’s petition/declaration. University of Pennsylvania graduating student Neil Halloran, who recently completed a documentary on heroes in Africa fighting against the AIDS epidemic, titled “5 Heroes of AIDS in Africa,” read the petition’s declaration to the crowd.
“We believe that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in an historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty.
“We recognize that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption, and targeting an additional one percent of the U.S. budget toward providing basic needs — education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans — would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries. We commit ourselves — ONE person, ONE voice, ONE vote at a time — to make a better, safer world for all.”
After Halloran’s flawless recitation, Philadelphia 76ers President and General Manager Billy King addressed the crowd: “I know you really didn’t want to come to see me talk. I know you’re waiting for the guy from Dublin back here.”
Whether that was true or not, each speaker was greeted and received enthusiastically, and Mr. King was no exception. He urged everyone to continue the wonderful, high-spirited energy of the day.
“We have great support out here today,” said King. “Everybody’s here and believing, but we can’t let it die when you leave. You’ve got to spread the message to your friends, to your families, because after this rally, we’ve got to make sure this message will continue to go on. Make sure that when you leave here, send people to the web site, make sure people sign the petition — but also make sure that people continue to fight because it’s not just going to go away with one rally. It’s something that’s got to continue everyday, every month, every year from here. Like we said though, it’s one voice, one person. Make sure that when you go to vote in November, send a message. Make sure the people you’re voting for understand the cause. Don’t just put somebody back in Washington who’s not going to support this cause because a lot of people down there don’t do that.”
King then introduced a player he both traded for and then traded away, former 76er and current New York Knick NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutombo. Mutombo, who is donating $8 million of his own money toward building a $25 million hospital in his native Congo and established the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, reminded everyone that the effort to defeat AIDS and poverty is a shared responsibility.
“Although I am a professional basketball player, my aspiration in life has always been focused on improving the living conditions of my people on the continent of Africa and in Congo,” said Mutombo. “You don’t have to build a hospital in Africa to make a difference. ONE means that one person can make a difference in whatever way possible, starting by signing the petition. All this individual effort can build a movement of Americans to beat AIDS and extreme poverty and make the world a safe world. Why am I talking to beat AIDS and poverty? Because crisis affects all of us — rock star, basketball player like myself, nurses, and you. Our world is shrinking and what’s affecting one, affects all of us. Judge not the poor for their poverty, but judge the community for indifference.”
Mutombo’s passion was clear when he encouraged each individual to participate in the campaign by contacting his or her congressman and President Bush. Mutombo’s final remarks were drowned out by applause and cheering. When the crowd settled, he introduced World Vision President Richard E. Stearns.
World Vision, founded in 1950, is the largest privately funded Christian relief and development organization in the world, serving more than 60 million people in nearly 100 countries, including the United States. It was a homecoming for Stearns, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania 29 years prior.
Stearns reminded the rally audience of some startling statistics and called on people to get angry enough to change them.
“Today I want you to get angry. I want you to get angry about the casualties of a war. Not the war in Iraq, but the war against HIV and AIDS. In the war in Iraq, we have seen the tragic loss of 800 men and women serving their country in the past year, but in the war against HIV and AIDS, we have seen the tragic loss of 8,000 men, women and children in the past 24 hours. And we’ll see another 8,000 today, and another 8,000 tomorrow, and another 8,000 everyday for the rest of this year if we don’t do something about it. I want you to get angry about that. I want you to get angry enough to do something about it,” said Stearns.
“In Washington DC there is a monument to another war on the Washington Mall and ascribed upon that monument are the names of the 58,000 men and women who died over the ten years of the Vietnam War. 58,000 men and women, but to memorialize the victims of AIDS, we would need to build a Vietnam memorial every single week, 52 weeks a year and we would soon run out of room in Washington to hold the monuments. The real weapon of mass destruction at work in our world today is AIDS, and we need to get angry about it and we need to do something about it. One voice, one goal to fight global AIDS and poverty. To reach out in our American spirit of generosity and compassion that the American people have been known for for so many years, to help the poor, to help the sick, to help the oppressed, and to do what we know is right.
“Now today we are calling on our government to do what is right — to increase funding by spending just one percent more of our federal budget on poverty alleviation and fighting AIDS. Currently, the United States ranks dead last out of the 21 most industrialized nations in the giving that we give as a percent of our GDP to fight global poverty and AIDS. Dead last out of 21 countries! That’s not the America I’m proud of. But we cannot expect the government to do it all. This is not the government’s problem; it’s the problem of everyone here and everyone in the world. We, too, have a responsibility, each of us has a responsibility to do what is right,” Stearns concluded.
He then read a letter sent by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who was not able to attend but wanted to send his support.
“It is a pleasure to send my warmest greetings to everyone who has gathered in Philadelphia for this timely rally. It may sound like a dream to say that we can eradicate poverty, eliminate hunger, stop the spread of AIDS and other diseases, protect the environment, and provide education to all but these, and the other Millennium Development Goals are achievable with your help. What makes these goals different than other bold pledges that became broken promises over the last 50 years? First, they are measurable. We can see where we are making progress and where we are falling behind. Second, they have unprecedented political support. All of the world’s leaders have signed on to these Millennium Challenge goals. And third, they are achievable but we must work harder — much harder — if we are to succeed by the target date of 2015. With your voices and your votes, we can hold leaders to their promises and with your energies and ideals, with your commitment to each and every member of the human family, we can build a better world. So for now, enjoy the performances and speeches and then tomorrow, let’s get to work. Thank you for your involvement and for your support of the United Nations.”
Following the reading of Annan’s letter, Grammy and American Music Award winner Michael W. Smith, who represents the coalition of top names in the Christian music industry who have become DATA artists, was introduced to perform his song “Healing Rain.” As he began, he sang a few words from another artist’s song. “In the name of love…” he quietly sang, which drew cheers from the crowd and laughter from the song’s author. Smith then got serious and dedicated his performance to the orphans of Africa. “I believe that healing rain is coming their way soon,” Smith said.
A testament to healing and inspiration is Ugandan nurse and activist Agnes Nyamayarwo, who was the next speaker. She began, “I want to tell you the story of AIDS in my family so that you can get a picture of what happens when you have AIDS in your family.”
In 1991, Nyamayarwo’s husband, a graduate of the University of Georgia, contracted AIDS and died the following year because the family could not afford medication. Nyamayarwo soon discovered that she also was infected and had passed the disease on to her youngest son. He died of AIDS at the age of 6-1/2.
“For parents, you can imagine what it means to pass a death sentence to your young, innocent child. Instead of doing the best, giving the best to your child, you give it a death sentence,” said Nyamayarwo.
AIDS in Africa has several ways of claiming lives. Not only the disease itself claim lives, but the stigma it thrusts upon a family is equally devastating. Another of Nyamayarwo’s children fell victim to the effects of AIDS.
“My son who was age 17 suffered depression because he knew of the problem of AIDS in our family and my husband had already died of AIDS. When he was at school, he was bullied by his friends that he was not going to succeed, he was not going to graduate because his parents were all going to die of AIDS. And this boy disappeared from me, from my home, on the 5th of July 1993, and as of today, I have still not seen him again. I have been searching and searching for him, and I am still on the search. I don’t know if I will ever get him,” Nyamayarwo shared.
Listening with deep intensity, the crowd was completely still and silent for the first time during the rally.
Nyamayarwo continued with her heart-wrenching story. Even after one son’s death and another’s disappearance, she did not give up. She began to volunteer for TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) in Kampala, Uganda, educating people and families on AIDS prevention and providing support for the sick. Now on anti-retroviral drugs, Nyamayarwo is an important activist who is able to give a voice to the voiceless.
“Now today, I want to ask the people of Philadelphia, wherever you are, to sign this petition and send them to their senators, to their president so that we can get treatment, so we can get hospitals, schools, education — good education — and we also need fair trade so that we can be able to stand on our own and support ourselves. I want you to tell Congress that we really need more and I know you’ll do that,” said Nyamayarwo.
As Bono took to the podium following Nyamayarwo, he shook his head in awe.
“I’ve heard Agnes tell her story before. I still can’t quite believe it. I can’t quite imagine how she can tell it, how she can dare to remember what she’s been through. And she’s told it to senators, presidents, and I just feel sorry for them sitting in front of her, actually, because the hardest heart, her voice can thaw. She’s extraordinary,” said Bono.
He immediately addressed what inspired The ONE Campaign, reflecting on earlier successes: “The flood of activism [following DATA’s “Heart of America” tour] inundated the White House with calls, petitions, emails, and letters. And I know a lot of you picked up the phone, picked up a pen, and did a lot more than that. Well, we spoke as one. We are not the same. So within months, the United States stepped forward with an historic AIDS initiative and that’s no coincidence. When people like us actually can get together, raise our voice as one, WE CHANGE THE WORLD.”
How can one person change the world? According to Bono, “One person, one petition, one phone call to Congress, one letter to a president, one email to friends. It starts with one person, one action, and it starts growing, building momentum, multiplying its power one by one.”
Bono will be the first to tell you that putting aside differences to join as one can be difficult but is necessary.
“We just have to work together and that’s not easy. I’m in a band, I’m married. I mean working together, it’s tricky. I think it’s important to just remind ourselves of why we’re here. 6,300 Africans dying everyday from AIDS. 9,500 Africans getting infections everyday from AIDS. This is not a cause. We all have our causes. This is an emergency. Let’s treat it as such,” said Bono.
Toward the end of his remarks, the African drummers seated behind Bono started playing softly. Then the beat of the congos began building with his voice, mirroring it. In an extraordinary crescendo, Bono delivered a moving conclusion that would make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proud — with every sentence he called out being punctuated by an answering cheer from the crowd, like some sort of beautiful dance between the man and the masses.
“Right now is a pivital moment. It’s an election year in America. We’re not trying to get any particular person elected, we’re trying to get our issues elected. Will the Congress fully fund these vital programs? Will President Bush and Senator Kerry offer sufficiently ambitious plans to beat AIDS and extreme poverty? Will American voters demand that they do? History hangs on their answer, on our answer,” said Bono.
“This, of course, is where American history got started: Philadelphia. That’s why we’re here, right here. This is where the Declaration of Independence was read out loud. This is where the liberty bell rang out. And I don’t know about you — I was born across the Atlantic almost a couple hundred years later — but my ears are still ringing from the sound of the liberty bell,” said Bono.
“You read the Declaration and you realize America’s not just a country, it’s an idea. Ring the liberty bell. The idea of America — that anything is possible,” he continued. “America is an idea, not just a country, it’s an idea. I come from Ireland. It’s a very, very nice country. I recommend you all take a visit but guess what? It’s not an idea. America is an idea. It’s about the idea that anything is possible, but it’s also about the idea that with great power comes great responsibility. It’s about the idea that equality is the highest calling, but the hardest to reach. It’s about the idea that one person can change the course of history. These ideas are alive in America. I’ve heard them in truckstops, high schools, churches. There lies the liberty bell. I want to ring the liberty bell again. We’re taking another step in the journey of equality for a better, safer world. For our brothers and sisters whom we don’t know but love. To the rhythm of African drummers playing here in Philadelphia sunshine. We’re gonna ring it for the generation that says NO to unfair trade laws. Ring the liberty bell for a generation that says YES, take our lifesaving drugs at a discount. We’re gonna ring if the generation that says NO to people starving in a time of plenty. We’re gonna ring it for the generation that says YES, Africans are equal to us. We’re gonna ring it or the generation that says, ‘Where you live in the world does not depend on whether you will live.’ We’re gonna ring it for the generation that says, ‘Because we can, we must. We will.’ Ring the liberty bell, Philadelphia, once more.”
To conclude the rally, it was time for a ring of another sort.
“Let’s give Senator Specter a call, shall we?” Bono smirked. Returning to his ZooTV Tour form, when Bono would often call politicians during U2 concerts, he decided to ring up Pennsylvania’s four-term senior senator, Arlen Specter. As Bono asked for a cell phone and dialed Specter’s phone number off the back of a DATA business card, the crowd laughed and cheered.
“I mean, he’s the guy. Talk about the power of one. Here’s a man with a vote in the United States Congress that, literally, can decide whether people like Agnes in Africa right now are gonna live or die. And I know he’s interested in these issues, but lest he think this is a fringe event, let’s just give him a call, shall we? Let’s send some smoke signals, Philadelphia,” encouraged Bono.
There was a pause, everyone seeming to hold one collective breath. “It’s an answering machine,” Bono explained. The crowd exhaled with disappointment. But Bono was undeterred, joking, “This has happened to me before.”
Bono, and those gathered on Independence Mall, left a voicemail. “Senator Specter, this is Bono and a few friends,” he began and the crowd roared. “More than a few friends. Senator, we know you take very seriously the American tax dollars and that you control very carefully the budgetary process in Washington. And we would like to say that it is very, very, very, very important to us the lives of hundreds and thousands and, indeed, millions of Africans who depend on your support in Congress this week and we would like to say…” Bono, who was just getting on a roll, trailed off, having used up all the time allotted by the voicemail system. “I can call him back, but I think he got the message,” said Bono.
Everyone at The ONE Campaign to fight global AIDS and poverty inaugural rally certainly got the message too.
All photos by Ruth Barohn for U2log. Please do not use the photos that appear here on your website or forum without explicit permission.
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