Idealism Intact

Live 8 organizer Bob Geldof takes a second crack at reducing poverty

“We don’t want your money—we want you!” You’ve seen the commercials—a quick montage of famous faces imploring viewers to help eliminate poverty forever. This marketing blitz is meant to grab our attention and focus us on a meeting that will take place in Edinburgh,

Scotland on July 7th, 2005. The leaders of the 8 richest countries in the world are gathering here to discuss trade practices, debt relief and how to halt the spread of AIDS, among other topics. Many people around the world hold out hope that at this meeting the “G8” countries will pledge serious financial resources for an unprecedented effort toward eradicating poverty throughout the world. It is exciting, indeed, but are we just setting ourselves up for severe disappointment? Jesus told us that the poor will always be with us—was he right? Should we even try to stop the spread of poverty, and if so, what can we realistically accomplish?

A large part of this socially conscious campaign is a series of concerts that will take place around the world on Saturday, July 2. Sir Bob Geldof, formerly of the Irish rock band, the Boomtown Rats, is the principal organizer of these concerts, known collectively as “Live 8.” Geldof’s music career was dwarfed by his role 20 years ago as the organizer of Live Aid. Live Aid gathered some of the most popular musicians in the world for concerts in Philadelphia and London with the hopes of raising millions of dollars for Africa, where thousands of people were dying of hunger and disease. In short, it didn’t work. Yes, Live Aid did raise millions of dollars, and the money was sent over to Africa with the intention of being used for food and medicine for the suffering masses of people. Unfortunately, the lack of infrastructure, poor roads and pervasive corruption detoured most of the Live Aid funds to a dead end. Naïve idealism ran up against the sad reality of the African continent and idealism went home deflated and spent.

In the interim twenty years since Live Aid, the world has witnessed the fall of the Berlin wall and, with it, Communism. We have also witnessed an unprecedented economic boom in the United States, and an equally unprecedented crash within the dot-com industry. More and more U.S. companies are moving to developing countries to take advantage of cheap labor, and some of the giants of the corporate world, such as Arthur Andersen and Tyco, are collapsing under the weight of their own greed. Developed countries are vying to corner the market in China, one of the world’s most populated countries, while they overlook China‘s poor human rights record. The world is much different than it was 20 years ago. The fiscal realities of our world have radically changed, and we need to take a long look at how the economic structures, within which we all live, impact the lives of the world’s poor. This is where Live 8 springs into action.

Now in 2005, Sir Geldof (pictured, right) is back, idealism intact, but informed by two decades of knowledge about the structural and societal causes of poverty and disease in the developing world. This time around, he wants to raise awareness more than funds. Geldof learned a lesson that Catholic Social Teaching has been preaching for decades—that the societal structures that our economic and political systems put in place are often the main causes of poverty. Whether it is a patriarchal monarchy in a developing country, or our own democratic capitalist system, there is no human structure that is bereft of sin. The late John Paul II was insistent that economic systems that ignored human rights, whether it is Soviet communism or the run-away capitalism in the West, are not following Gospel values. Geldof, along with his friend and fellow social activist, Bono of U2, have learned the hard lesson that throwing money at poverty will not stop it, but changing peoples’ hearts and minds may accomplish this goal.

This concert is going to be one of the musical highlights of 2005—there will be performances by the Pet Shop Boys, a re-formed Roxy Music, Coldplay, Madonna, and Paul McCartney, as well as a number of African artists. The estimate on the
Live8 website states that over 5 billion people may be watching or listening to the concert broadcasts from around the world. I invite you to join them—watch or listen to the concerts and enjoy your favorite musicians. But while you do, please consider those who will still go to bed hungry after the music has stopped playing and allow that awareness to move your heart to action.

The Live 8 concerts take place on Saturday July 2, 2005 at sites all over the world, including Philadelphia’s Museum of Art.
The Long Walk To Justice culminates on Wednesday 6th July – the eve of the all-important G8 Summit.