Eight middle-aged gentlemen in suits from the eight richest nations in the world are sitting down at a golf course in Scotland this week, ostensibly to discuss solutions to the major problems of the world — AIDS and poverty-wreaking destruction in Africa, and the apocalyptic scenarios projected for the future of the planet caused by man-made climate change.
There is an unconscious irony in the choice of the location of the G8 meeting, at once a symbol of corporate pleasure and deal making, and a particularly obnoxious symbol of environmental abuse.
The prelude to the meeting occurred in each of the eight countries on Saturday last, an unusual musical prologue designed to draw worldwide attention to the hot topics to be deliberated in Scotland; eight huge sound stages equipped with the very latest in communications technology brought the music and the message to a potential audience of billions around the world.
The message was succinctly expressed in the theme line of the Live8 spectacle — “Make Poverty History.” The purpose was pure and simple — to create and put pressure worldwide upon the shoulders of the politicians meeting in solemn discourse in Scotland — a musical declaration that “We’ve Had Enough … And We Aren’t Taking It Any More…”
There was much talk amongst the chattering classes and the conventional media before the amps opened up at the Live8 concert stages erected for the occasion, and there was a good deal of umbrage taken by commentators representing the moneyed and political class, at the notion of two Irish rock musicians having the nerve to advise their betters on the course of action they should set for themselves and the nations they represent.
And there was much speculation on two counts: would Sir Bob Geldof and U2’s Bono be able to pull it off and attract the crowds they hoped for? And if they did, would the message be submerged in the music and the spectacle?
They were attempting, after all, to stage the largest concert event in history as a platform to send a message to the political leaders of the G8 nations. As such, this was more than a history-making musical event. Indeed, the musical event was merely the setting for what was in reality, a major political event.
The acerbic Globe and Mail columnist, John Doyle, was a dissenter, thinking it was right and proper that two Irishmen be the movers and shakers in an attempt to eradicate poverty around the world. He gave the back of his hand to those, who, in his words, “âe¦ from the vantage point of newspaper offices and comfortable dens in middle class homes have heaped scorn on Geldof and Bono, questioning their motives…” and, I might add, questioning the propriety of Sir Bob having the nerve to take the mickey out of our PM.
In fact, Sir Bob has been quite specific as to the point of the Live8 exercise: to pressure the rich nations of the world into doubling their aid to Africa by another $25 billion, and to commit to the eradication of poverty around the world with an additional 25 billion smackers.
It was when Paul Martin decried the setting of specific goals (because specific targets may be hard to keep or some such nonsense) that Sir Bob suggested he should stay home and out of the game if he wouldn’t ante up at the table.
In any case, Mr. Doyle makes the case that the Irish are particularly well suited to dealing with matters of poverty and hunger because the memory of such things are embedded in the genes of Irish history — call it the Irish experience.
That is what the Irish ballad The Fields Of Athenry is about. It tells of a time when Irish farm workers either died or emigrated because of a want for food; when the power brokers of that time made millions of pounds selling Irish-grown produce to the rich folk of England at great profit — refusing to distribute any to the needy at home.
In other words — there was food a-plenty, but the distribution system operated solely on profit values. That is called the free market.
Some things never change. Nowadays there is plenty of food produced in the world each year to feed the world’s hungry, but it never gets to the needy because of the distribution system in place.
But to Geldof and Bono, a different principle holds: the principle that it is the duty of the rich to share with the poor.
To Bob Geldof, that means the richest nations in the world should live up to a commitment that originated with Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, who set in motion the notion that Canada and other nations should provide 0.7 per cent of their annual Gross National Product to foreign aid.
Over 50 years, we have not made it past 0.2 or 0.3 per cent.
Geldof set out his version of the stakes for the G8 leaders in a letter to the British newspaper, The Independent. Wrote the rock and roll legend: “We will not applaud half measures, or politics as usual. This must be a historic breakthrough. On Friday, there will be a great silence as the world awaits your verdict. Do not disappoint us. Do not create a generation of cynics. Do not betray the desires of billions and the hopes of the poorest of our world.”
Onstage at the concert location in England, before a massive crowd estimated at more than 200,000 people, Geldof introduced a film with heart rending images of dying African children made 20 years ago before the first Live Aid concert he organized. The image froze on one young girl, obviously in the final stages of malnutrition.
And then, Geldof introduced the beautiful young woman that dying child has become, saved because of the outpouring of support two decades ago.
It was an incredibly affecting moment, and more. It focussed the problem of global poverty into one person, one intensely alive person, smiling and waving back as more than 200,000 voices roared their approval.
It was a moment of love, and a moment of hope.
For only in love, is there true charity. They are, in truth, one and the same.
In one objective at least, Geldof and Bono have succeeded. If the G8 leaders thought they could slip away to an obscure Scottish golf course, and there go through the motions of statesmanship, to be covered over by a meaningless communiquÃ©, Live8 has blown their cover.
The message of Live8 is clear. We shall see if the G8 leaders are listening — and heeding.
We shall see if there is hope, after all.
Danny, they have taken you away,
For you stole Trevelyn’s corn,
That your babes might see the morn.
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.
(…from the Irish song, The Fields Of Athenry)