A masterpiece! Like God's rainbow, a hope-filled masterpiece. I turned off the TV after Bono's speech to the Liberal convention Nov. 14. No other response was possible. The crowd cheered him at many points and, with the crowd, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and pm-in-waiting Paul Martin applauded too, many times vigorously.
"It's not charity, but justice," Bono cried out. And he illustrated it. "We talk of free trade," he said, "but we keep the agricultural products of the poor nations off our shelves and we stuff their shelves with ours."
"We sent Mr. Martin one-and-one-half million signatures advocating debt relief in the jubilee year and, to make sure he read at least one, we mailed him one from his mother." The crowd cheered as Bono appealed to women to organize for justice, to exert "woman power."
"Forgive the debts of poor countries," he challenged Paul Martin. Again there were cheers. And this is where Bono came to the nitty-gritty, something that has stuck in the craw of NGOs for years: some years ago, Bono reminded Chretien and Martin that the rich nations pledged .7 of one per cent in foreign aid to help poor nations to develop. "And in the 90s, when we, the few, became fabulously rich, where did that goal end up? Canada now gives less than .3 of one per cent; but the US gives less than .1 of one per cent. That is, perhaps, a penny out of a thousand. If the train is headed for Auschwitz and you know where it's going, and you know who's on it and why, are you prepared to lie down on the track in front of it?"
This is challenging stuff, and yet the crowd applauded. The politicians too. But over and over during this remarkable performance (Bono is, after all, a rock star and a performer of first rank, but he meant every word he spoke), one had to wonder: They've heard this before. Church people, NGOs have been saying these things for years, perhaps not as eloquently as Bono, but certainly as forcefully. For 35 years Development and Peace has been lobbying for everything Bono said.
These were politicians, bureaucrats, professionals, business people applauding Bono's message. Were they merely being carried away by the euphoria of the moment? Will any of this enthusiasm for charity built on justice carry over to Parliament when it resumes in January? To executive decisions by Paul Martin once he becomes prime minister? By Chretien until that time? Bono bluntly told Martin that he was going to hold his feet to the fire if he didn't come through.
And, of course, now we have the tape, which captured all their nods of approval, their moments of deep emotion, their applause, their cheers. Or will "reality" again rear its ugly head? Down with taxes! They want water, let them pay for it! They want sex, let them bear the AIDS consequences! It is hoped that this kind of reality check will not descend once more on Canadian business, government and society. Not only Bono should be holding Paul Martin's feet to the fire if he does not follow through on the great promise. After all, it was Paul Martin who invited Bono to speak.
Many more of us will join Bono in reminding Martin of this stellar moment in our history. "Oh Canada!" Bono cried out to lusty cheering. Will we still stand and cheer Oh Canada a year from now? Maybe this is a real turning point.