Bono: The 21st century started in 2011

November 18, 2012

Occasionally, we publish blog posts, speech transcripts and other commentaries of interest to the Washington business community. Here are excerpts from an address last week by U2 musician and activist Bono at an event hosted by the global social enterprise initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

Welcome to Pop Cultural Studies 101.

You will receive no credits for taking this class. Not even street cred. It’s too late for that.

The first existential question of this class might be, “What am I doing in Healy Hall? I could be down having my third pint down at the Tombs?”

Pop culture references? Rock star does research!

I hear election night was quite messy on the pint front. Isn’t it amazing how three can make everything seem like a victory ... but four or five, well, you just know you’re about to taste defeat.

Anyway, congratulations are in order. Not just for turning out in record numbers, and forgetting politics for a minute, for electing an extraordinary man as president, I think you have to say that, whatever your political tradition. But also, you are finally free from the tyranny of negative advertising from both sides.

The attack ads ... could you bear any more of it by the end?

I’d like to hear attack ads on things worth attacking.

If there was an attack ad on malaria, I’d get that, because 3,000 people die every day, mostly kids, from malaria.

There hasn’t been an attack ad on malaria.

There hasn’t been an attack ad on mother-to-child transmission of HIV, I’d get that.

Choose your enemies carefully ... because they define you.

So let’s pick a worthwhile enemy. Abolitionists and suffragettes ... civil rights workers and human rights activists ... social movements have always been powerful, but the subject of my speechifying tonight is going to point out what is the transformative element about this moment, this generation and the chance you have to rid the world of the obscenity of extreme poverty.

Wouldn’t that be one hell of a way to start the 21st century?

Now the history department might disagree with me, and I’ll admit, I only lasted a few weeks at college — but I don’t believe the 21st century started in the year 2000, on January 1; for large parts of the world I think it just started … in 2011, with the upheaval of the Arab Spring.

What happened in Egypt was that the pyramid — the traditional model of power — got inverted. The people at the top got upended … and the base had its say.

It’s one of those moments that in a hundred years, the real historians, like those at Georgetown will write about this phenomenon in the history books.

The base of the pyramid, the 99 percent, is taking more control. The institutions that have always governed our lives, church, state, the mainstream media, the music industry are being bypassed and weakened and seriously tested. People are holding them to account, us to account, demanding that they become more open, more responsive, more effective. Or else.

Here in the U.S. you’ve had the Tea Party hammering big government. You had Occupy do the same to the jolly bankers of Wall Street. Social movements are competing, and we have to hope the more enlightened ones will win the day.

But first let me hit the brakes — before some of you do.

Let’s just acknowledge that it’s brutal out there. And by “there” I mean “here,” right here in America. The economy is still in rough shape. And that slashing sound you hear is a big pair of scissors — bearing down on the federal budget. Defense cuts, safety net cuts, foreign aid cuts, all these cuts coming if we drive over this fiscal cliff, so called.

And cuts … they hurt. Somebody bleeds. The aid cuts alone mean that nearly 275,000 people won’t get the AIDS treatment they need … resulting in over 63,000 deaths … a quarter million more children becoming AIDS orphans. Real people. Real bleeding.

That’s why you’ll hear us in the [grass-roots advocacy] One Campaign making the case that the cuts shouldn’t cost the lives.

I put it to you, we must not let this economic recession become a moral recession. That would be a double cruelty. You know, it doesn’t just take away your chances at home, this recession, but it might take away your generation’s shot at greatness in the wider world.

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