SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
"I'm Bono," said the U2 front man by way of introduction. "I'm a spoiled-rotten, rich rock star who is putting his Catholic guilt to work."
Bono was in Seattle yesterday as a representative of a new organization called DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa). And he's open about the fact that yes, he is a celebrity with a cause, and that the jaded masses may well yawn him out of town.
Bono, the lead singer of U2, talks about the AIDS crisis and other problems in Africa with the editorial board at the P-I. He was in town Thursday to drum up support.
Rock star or not, we let the man stand on his soapbox because he has a point: Between the time that the music icon visited the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's editorial board yesterday to the time that you're reading this piece, about 7,000 people will have died of AIDS in Africa.
But in Seattle, three things make him have hope: The WTO protests, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and our total disregard for linear thought.
"The energy that you saw in Seattle, rage against inequality -- which was not focused, and wasn't perhaps articulate -- was a real energy to harness," said Bono.
"When you're dealing with the kind of emergency and crisis that is Africa, particularly AIDS ... you've got to get out of your usual posture. For me, as a rock star, it's been very difficult. This is very unhip work," he said.
So rather than smash windows, he encourages individuals to put pressure on every level of government, including President Bush, to tackle Africa's massive issues -- debt forgiveness, fair trade and AIDS treatment and prevention.
"There are more glamorous ways of protesting in terms of my own community -- like throwing rocks and petrol bombs," he said with laugh. "The actual ways to change things is to do deals ... and make your case and let the ideas be charged with a sort of moral electricity."
The rock star has no shame in knocking on doors, cap in hand, begging Republicans and Democrats alike for money.
He said that once you see three AIDS patients dying in the same bed, playing politics seems painfully foolish. He has infused his plea for aid with the same urgency fans hear in his band's music.
"People like Colin Powell are saying that the greatest weapon of mass destruction in the world right now is actually the AIDS virus," said the Irishman.
"We should pay attention when military people are talking like that."
Last year, the United States agreed to provide $2.5 billion to the Africa Action Plan created by wealthy member nations of the Group of Eight, and Bush has added a request for an additional $1.3 billion Millennium Challenge Account to reward poor but fairly governed countries -- in Africa and elsewhere -- in his 2004 budget.
Now Bono is making the rounds to make sure that budget gets approved. The money will not just go to AIDS-related causes, but various forms of much-needed economic relief.
Bono offers an anecdote from a recent visit to Ghana: While there, he noted that the International Monetary Fund and World Bank forced the country to open its market to cheaper imported rice from the United States and Vietnam as a condition of loans. So while foreign rice was being sold in Ghana's markets, its rice farmers were without work.
And he believes you care about those farmers and others in crisis.
Bono described ordinary Americans as people possessed of "a certain decency" who will dig into their pockets if they know a change will be made.
He's not above appealing to your sense of patriotism.
"Take the AIDS emergency. ... It is an opportunity to show off what we do best in the West -- our technologies, these pharmaceuticals. Call them Red, White and Blue. Wherever they go, they will transform lives and communities and they will run anti-American, anti-Western feeling out of town.
"And they're cheaper than bombs," said the singer, who only took off his signature light blue shades once or twice as he spoke to rub his eyes.
The DATA crew also paid a visit to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation earlier in the day and was full of praise for the charitable organization.
"Bill is as focused on these things as he is on Microsoft, it would appear to me. ... He has really helped around the world by saying the million he invested in DATA is the best million dollars he ever invested."
And DATA wants to build on that support, hence the visit to Seattle.
"I have such faith in Seattle," said Bono, that sweet talker.
"If you were to choose ... who would invent the 21st century, in terms of technology and where it was going, you might have looked to the English, because they were great inventors and engineers. And you might have looked to the Germans, who are so efficient and futurists. And you might've looked at the Japanese, because they are the gods of small things and printed circuitry. But none of those people provided the software and the IT revolution. It was sandal-wearing hippies from the West Coast listening to Jimi Hendrix."
He hopes our knack for, shall we say, creative logic, combined with our region's history of social activism, will help solve problems in developing countries.
"There's a generation that are recognizing that there's a crisis in capitalism, and that globalization isn't working for most of the lives it's touching."
ON THE WEB
For more information on the organization Bono was representing yesterday in Seattle, DATA, go to www.datadata.org.
To read about a revolution in international health launched by Microsoft founder Bill Gates with a pledge of billions of dollars to vaccinate the world’s children, see the P-I Special Report: Dispensing Hope