Saturday, July 9th, 2005

Deconstructing Live 8

Last weekend’s Live 8 concerts–which provided images of people around the world gathering to support the cancellation of debt to some African nations–had a visceral effect on me.

In a world in which the primary trend is toward atomization and isolation, to absorb you into capital’s matrix and then reduce you to the sum of the niche markets you buy into, the sight of so many gathered for a worthy cause provided a kind of comfort: “you’re not the only one, there are millions who also believe”.

This is the power of the (capital C, capital M) Cultural Moment, something that marshalls contradictory currents into a something that feels like a surge from the depths.

So it’s important to separate the supposed leadership from those supposedly being led. Often times, the potential in any moment doesn’t lie in what was officially said and done, but in how the heart may have been moved.

To that end, here’s one powerful critique of Sir Bob Geldof and Bono Vox from the critical-minded folks at Rock Rap Confidential on the events of this past week…Your comments are most welcome:


A few days after the July 2 concerts, Live8 organizers Bob Geldof and Bono traveled to the G8 summit of the world’s leading capitalist nations in Edinburgh. They went at the express invitation of British prime minister Tony Blair to discuss the African “debt relief” package promoted by Live8. To the best of our knowledge, Bono and Geldof went into the meetings unaccompanied by a single African or a single poor person of any nation. None of the G8 nations is African. None of the leaders who gathered in Edinburgh is poor.

What could G8 leaders have discussed with this pair? Bono and Geldof can’t possibly believe that Blair, Bush and the rest don’t know the facts—that 35,000 children starved to death worldwide on July 2 and every day afterward. They know because these kids die as a direct result of the policies of the G8 nations, including the massive debts with which poor nations are saddled under the guise of “foreign aid.”

Bono and Geldof asked the G8 nations to cut in half the debt carried by poor African nations. But if you only have a quarter in your pocket and I say you owe me $50,000,000, what difference does it make if I decide you only owe me $25,000,000? They also asked the G8 countries to double the value of relief sent to Africa–even though they must know that aid comes with “austerity” requirements that further ruin the lives of the poor and that the nature of that aid makes it easy for corrupt rulers to siphon it off.

All of the G8 nations have large-scale domestic poverty problems of their own, although not as glaring as the catastrophic situation in Russia. The disintegration of living standards in the former Soviet Union has been accelerated by the guidance of Bono’s good friend, Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, to whom the U2 frontman dedicated a song at their recent Madison Square Garden concert. None of the G8 governments is even slightly inclined to end poverty among their own citizens: Bush recently signed a law that prevents heavily indebted Americans from seeking bankruptcy relief. Why do Bono and Geldof believe that these men will listen?

Because the Live8 leaders don’t say anything the G8 bosses don’t want to hear. Bono and Geldof’s “debt relief” schemes do nothing to restore any of what has been stolen from poor countries. The poor are not empowered. And, true to their allegiance to the likes of Sachs, the only proposal to end poverty put forward by Live8 leaders is that G8 staple, “free trade.”

Live8 also did the G8 leaders a huge favor. Gatherings of the powerful are haunted by the specter of the 1999 World Trade Organization summit in Seattle, where tens of thousands marched and rioted to protest “free trade” policies and their consequences. By diverting millions of people with fairytale “solutions,” Live8 helped keep the lid on in Edinburgh.

What’s in it for Geldof, Bono, and the other rock stars? For Geldof, a knighthood and now, a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. For Bono, further confirmation of his own righteousness. For the rest, not much.

The Live8 leaders seduce rockers and their audiences by making this claim: We must deal with the world as it is. In that world, only the powerful can make change and the only way to get the powerful to listen is to treat them kindly. The first assumption begs the question, since the nature of the world is very different for even a one-hit wonder than it is for a homeless person or a peasant farmer. The historical evidence for the second two assumptions is nonexistent.

Geldof compares the movement he hopes to create to those led by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. But none of those movements sent “representatives” on bended knee to ask the rulers to yield. All of them activated the energy and vision of the people affected by the policies of those rulers. All of them grew strong precisely to the degree that they allowed the disenfranchised to speak for themselves.

There is no evidence that Geldof, Bono or any of the Live8 leaders from the non-governmental aid organizations reached their conclusions about what Africa needs by consulting poor Africans. Geldof dismisses as “ineffective” all those who criticize him, claiming that they’ve done nothing because, after all, there’s nothing else to do. This is also Bono’s justification for working with Bush cabinet members, the most right-wing members of the American Congress (most notoriously, Jesse Helms), and even his little-noted support for anti-Semite evangelist Billy Graham.

Don’t believe the hype: There is something else to do. Rock stars and their audiences can align themselves with movements led by the poor themselves. There is no nation affected by the G8 policies that lacks such a movement. Some musicians–Steve Earle, rapper Immortal Technique, Tom Morello, and Bruce Springsteen in the U.S., Thomas Mapfumo in Zimbabwe–have lent effective aid to such movements. The results aren’t sent out by satellite TV, but the leaders of those movements regularly attest to them and are eager for more involvement by musicians.

Rock stars can do a lot to help organizations of the poor: gaining publicity, making connections across state and national borders, raising funds. Instead, we are confronted with the ridiculous spectacle in which RRC, a newsletter for God’s sake, is in touch with more poor people than all of the Live8 artists and organizations combined. These range from the MST, Brazil’s huge movement of the landless, to the hardy band of sick and disabled TennCare recipients who, at press time, were in the second week of a sit-in at the office of the governor of Tennessee.

We would love to correct this imbalance–we urge artists who want to be part of helping the poor end poverty to contact us at or 310-398-4477. Operators are standing by.

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