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"[I]t says somewhere in the scriptures that the Spirit moves like a wind. ... The Spirit is described in the Holy Scriptures as much more anarchic than any established religion credits." — Bono

Bono Speaks at the 2008 Women's Conference

Asks America to "put humanity back on earth."

"And there's a man here, too, tonight -- a cute one, a smart one, and since my husband's not here, a hot one."

That was California first lady Maria Shriver, wife of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, talking about an upcoming speaker -- Bono -- at the annual Women's Conference hosted by the couple yesterday (Oct. 22) at the Long Beach Convention Center near Los Angeles.

The goal of the conference is to "empower, inspire and educate women." More than 14,000 attendees listened to over 60 speakers and journalists participate in forums, talks and workshops throughout the day, including Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Christiane Amanpour, Willow Bay, Cherie Blair, Warren Buffett, Marian Wright Edelman, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sister Joan Chittister, Michael J. Fox, Heidi Klum, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Matthews, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Timothy Shriver, Gloria Steinem and Rita Wilson.

The day ended with the presentation of the Minerva Awards. Created by Shriver in 2004, the awards honor woman who embody the spirit of the Roman goddess Minerva, who represents courage, wisdom and strength.

Bono spoke for about 40 minutes after the five Minerva winners spoke and were featured in short videos. The five honorees were: self-help pioneer Louise Hay; advocate for the homeless Betty Chinn; women's rights activist Gloria Steinem; advocate for foster children Ivelise Markovitz; and tennis champion Billie Jean King.

Folks who couldn't attend the conference could witness the Minerva Awards, Bono's speech and a concert by Bonnie Raitt during a live broadcast at www.CaliforniaWomen.org.

In addition to his speech, Bono's presence was felt in the large exhibit hall as well, where a huge poster of him shared a wall section with some of the other speakers: Indra Nooyi (chairwoman and CEO of PepsiCo), Steinem, Chittister and Jack Kornfield.

Also in the exhibit hall were booths from the Product (RED)™ and ONE campaigns (across from the Mattel booth, where attendees could buy an Elmo or Barbie™ doll). The (RED) section displayed merchandise from The Gap, Converse and Hallmark. The ONE Campaign side had black T-shirts on sale for $10, white "ONE" wristbands and information galore about both organizations.

Bono received an introduction in the opening morning session, too, even though he wasn't there. Host Deborah Norville, when mentioning some of the day's speakers, when she got to Bono, said "We've got Bono -- wow." She went on to add, "He will show you how -- even if you are not a rock star -- how you can make a difference on this planet."

When Bono spoke during the Minerva Awards, Shriver introduced him as "a man using his voice to change the world." The audience then watched a short video that included U2 concert video footage and images of Bono in Africa. Bono then came out wearing jeans and a casual black shirt, to the tune of "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and a standing ovation. He immediately started to sing part of a well-known tune -- not from U2's repertoire, but from West Side Story -- in honor of Shriver: "Maria, Maria, I just kissed a girl called Maria."

And then he began to speak. Here's what he said:

I'm not here to sing. Please, please, please don't tell the band that I'm actually here because they could get cross. They actually formed the band so they could play in front of 14,000 women. And I am here to raise my voice for Maria Shriver. What a mother, what a babe, what a warrior, what a lioness. When you walk into the nation's capital like I have with a Shriver on your left and a Schwarzenegger on your right, believe me, no one is going to mess with you.

But really I want to raise my voice to all the whole family, the entire family. About Bobby, no one has helped me more than my brother Bobby. He's been my partner, my mentor and dementor for nearly 10 years now. Without Bobby Shriver there'd be no RED campaign, there'd be no ONE campaign.

You have to say something in a moment like this about Eunice Kennedy Shriver. This woman, in her mid-40s, formed the Special Olympics. Sargent Shriver, who in his spare time founded the Peace Corps while he was running the war on poverty. Who are these people, freaks? (laughs) Overachievers.

And you can imagine how humbling it was for a not-so-humble rock star when I campaigned through this country for debt cancellation, to have Sgt. Shriver help me with my speech. The same man that looked over JFK's shoulder was now peering through my mullet. For Irish people, this is not just an American family, they're really an American mythology, and like all good mythologies, there's something real at the heart of these people and their fantastic story. I think for Americans, they were just men and women, as a lot of people do in this room, who believe that the world is more malleable than we were told when we first arrived here. It can be kicked, kissed, cajoled, caressed and argued into better shape if we're ready to give it all.

I've been thinking as a lot of people have about JFK and his promise to put a man on the moon. And you know, he wasn't polling what was uppermost in the mind of the American electorate. He led and the world followed.

That's what this conference is about, women who have taken the lead -- correct and appropriate in these strange times, and even when they weren't strange.

Minerva I believe was an actual goddess.

And I said to Tim Shriver earlier, we were talking abut faith. I said, "Tim, I believe in God, but God knows I have an eye for the goddesses." And I say that in the presence of my wife Ali and my daughter Eve; they're here this evening. (looks for them in the audience) I get the goddess thing.
Vanity Fair calls my Mrs. "The Green Goddess."

Anyway, I'd also like to say, in the afterglow of the women who walk away with those Minerva Awards this evening, we are with you, we are across from you, we're behind you, we're wherever you want us to be because we are in awe of you.

In a city that lays out the red carpet for lots of people, the problem with celebrities, and I am one, sort of -- I'm an activist -- the problem with celebrities is that...we're not worthy of the amount we receive. We're not firemen, we're not soldiers, we're not teachers, we're not community workers or doctors or nurses. We play heroes; those are actual heroes.

That's why I'm happy to be here and I'd better introduce myself seeing as that I'm running out of time. Brevity, as you might have noticed, is not an actual characteristic of the Irish. I went to the Fidel Castro school of speech-making.

My name is Bono. And I am a traveling salesperson. Truly, I am. I come from a long line of traveling salespeople on my mother's side actually. Sometimes I come to your door as a rock star selling melodies. Sometimes I come to your door as an activist selling ideas like debt forgiveness or how we can use technology to transform the lives of the poor.

My Uncle Jack told me, "A good salesman sells people what they need, but a great salesman awakens the need inside them of something they didn't know they wanted but now have to have."

Well, let me open my suitcase, let me lay out my wares. Let me declare my intentions, our intentions, the ONE campaign's intentions, which are to get you to sign up with us to change the world for the poorest of the poor.

We figure if you're here, it's probably not because you want to be a spectator; it's likely you want to change the world. That's why we're here, speaking to you, as well as our love and respect for Maria and what she's doing. The ONE campaign has a plan for how to do this, to put an end to the most extreme forms of poverty. It's not a "let's hold hands and wish really hard" kind of a plan. It's a serious plan supported by some of the strongest minds in this country and around the world.

Now I know you spoke to Warren Buffett. Now there's a rock star!

Warren came to one of our early rallies and we asked his advice, and he said two things which we can't ever forget: (In Warren Buffett voice) "Bono, don't appeal to the conscious of America. Appeal to the greatness of America and I think you'll get the job done. Second, don't make it too easy for people, make it difficult for people, they prefer that." The sage of Omaha. But you know he's not bull****ing.

The ONE campaign is 2.5 million people signed up making noise, turning up at town halls, haranguing and hassling, and thinking big about what America has to offer the more than a billion people who live on less than a dollar a day.

I'm also here to sell you on RED. RED is the consumer wing of our group. We don't ask people to buy stuff they don't need, but we do say if you're going to buy iPods and laptops, T-shirts, jeans, greeting cards, then please think about buying RED ones, because they buy lifesaving drugs for people who will die without them.

Now, on the subject of jeans and T-shirts, please do not forget my Mrs. and her extraordinary fashion line. So give it up for Edun. She's doing an incredible job in terrible circumstances. The trade piece of the puzzle is very important one for Africans. Ali always tells me, consumers are more powerful than consumers realize. You can support the corporations that do the right thing, and urge others to do the same when they see the success of those corporations.

So that's my sales pitch, and the speech is going to start now. Anyone buying?

This is fun, and it should be. You see, rock stars, we have two urges -- really, just two. We want to change the world, and we want to have fun. And I believe we can't do one without the other. It's like music. No one trusts music that lacks joy. It's the life force in rock and roll that we love. Especially in serious traumatic times, we need to dig deep to find joy.

We're here to find joy changing the world in a tiny way -- in our 'hoods, our communities -- or in a grand way, in the global community. We can't change the world without first changing the way we look at the world. The way you behave in the world depends entirely on the way you view the world.

Californians call it "your attitude, dude." Your world view.My world view was shaped by rock and roll. Growing up in depressed Dublin of the 1970s, music was like an alarm clock for me, woke me up out of surburban slumber, made me believe my live could have some purpose. It was a time of punk rock -- no more flowers in our hair. No more flowers, period. The Clash's music was like a public-service announcement with guitars.

Three teenage boys and me -- we made some music on our own. That was the plan. But in the mid-'80s, my life, much as my hairdo, changed in unexpected ways.U2 became part of the phenomenon that was Live Aid, "We Are the World." (Sings) "We are the world; we are the children."

Anyway, my wife and I went to Ethiopia to see for ourselves what was going on. We lived there for a month in an orphanage and a feeding station. We just wanted to see what was going on. We went under the wire -- no cameras. The children in the orphanage had a name for me. They called me "the girl with the beard." Don't laugh.

Anyway, Ali and I found Africa to be a magical place, a place of big skies, big hearts, beautiful people, royal people. Ethiopia didn't just blow our minds -- it opened our minds, and it challenged our world view.

A man begged us to take his son back with us to Ireland. because in Ireland his son would live, and in Ethiopia at that time, there was every chance his son would die.

One tiny fragment of a memory. Ali and I have our own children now, four; it could have been five. Our daughters and sons mean more to us than any other thing. They are the beauty that can take any pain away. In my travels I've met kids the mirror image of my own, and I've looked into their faces as they let go of life. Their eyes are always free of accusation. It humbles me beyond belief that they don't hold it against the world that couldn't spare the 20-cent immunization that would have them back in the bosom of their family. Even their mothers and fathers -- their grief is pure. It's ennobling. Just acquiescence. And that's heroic, because I know my rage as a parent, without no end. In fact it does not. And I do hold it against the world that can accept such things as inevitable. They are not inevitable; they are not acceptable. In fact, they are absurd.

History has a way of making ideas that were once acceptable look ridiculous. Let's not forget no blacks or Irish; let's not forget the back of the bus, apartheid and Jim Crow, that women couldn't vote, let alone run corporations or run for president. Ridiculous -- all of it totally absurd. We know that now, but most people didn't back then. Well, our trip to Ethiopia told me what I needed to do -- not exactly what to do, just something, anything, to end the absurdity of what I had seen. It changed my world view. That's how I became the least attractive thing in the world: a rock star with a cause.

Except it isn't a cause, is it? Eight thousand Africans dying every day of AIDS, TB and malaria, preventable treatable diseases, for lack of drugs you can buy in any drugstore around the corner here. Twelve million AIDS orphans in Africa; 18 million by the end of the decade. A whole generation of active adults wiped out. Children bringing up children. That is not a cause. That is an emergency.

If someone on our street was dying because they could not get medicine, we'd get them the medicine. If a family was starving on your block, you'd get them some food. You know you'd just do it, because it was right. You'd also do it because you can. We can't fix every problem, but the ones we can we must. And we can. We've got the know-how, the technologies, the pharmacologies to transform public health in the developing world, With small investments, we can dig wells and make the land fertile and productive. Turning the desert into fertile land? Sound familiar? This is California! This is who you are!

I don't have to convince you of the power of technology. California is the frontier of what's impossible, the outer boundary of imagination and innovation. More people live off their imagination in this city than in any city in Earth.

And further up the road -- Silicon Valley. I mean, I don't have to tell you how connected we are. We're connected in ways we never could have imagined, our lives and our fates. Because in a globalized world, Africa is our neighbor. It's right down the lane -- right down the lane, OK?

We see what's happening. We know exactly what's happening. A continent burns and we smell the smoke. It stings our eyes; it sears our consciousness. But maybe not as much as it should, because we live with it, don't we? On a certain level we've come to accept it. Men especially. A lot of men have developed an ability to live with this absurdity. Most women haven't. Actually, women haven't.

Now (gives an exaggerated cough) -- I can see your expressions. "Oh Bono, I bet you say that to all the girls."

Is that right? Well, no. Really, you're the first. I'm not saying this just to flatter you. Because not even, not even this rather indiscreet rock star would have the audacity to use gender stereotypes in the presence of the great Gloria Steinem. I say it because it's true. Because the emergency hits women where they live more than most men. As hard as it is to ask fans at a rock show to think about the value of a child's life far, far away, or to ask Boardroom U.S.A., or political American for that matter. You do not have to explain to the women of America, the mothers of America, the value of a child's life far away.

Why would that be? Why would women be more concerned? Biology? Does it have something to do with that second X chromosome? Do men on the other hand have some gene that makes them look the other way, that narrows their vision, that gives them a penis, but no conscience or no balls?

I told you not to tell the band I was here.

I know, scientists, there is some anecdotal evidence here, but it is in fact crap. Biology is not destiny, and I know that.

But it does seem that women are more akin to suffering. And the reasons may be obvious. I think women care more because women bear more of the burdens of life.

AIDS is rampant; women are the hardest hit. In South Africa last, year, it was young women ages 15 to 24 that accounted for 19 percent of new HIV infections. Over two-thirds of people with AIDS in Africa are women. Marriage is a death sentence in some places. When children are orphaned by AIDS, it's women who care for them. Where schools are few or education is poor, girls are more likely to go without. Or women are shut out of politics. When health systems collapse, it's women and children who suffer the most. In Africa, the likelihood of a woman dying during,childbirth is one in 20.

And the right to inherit and own land. Actually, this is mad. Women can't own the land in a lot of the developing world, but 80 percent of the people who farm the land are women. Women are 80 percent of the farmers of the developing world. They work the land, they till the land, they carry water across the land -- but they can't own the land. It's going to take women to stand up for other women to do something about that.

Now this is a strange time to come to America and talk about border wells in Africa. I get that. The most reasonable response might be to tell the Irish rock star to go back to his posh house in Ireland and come back when the Dow is up or U2's next album is out.

To ask this country to look outward when it's so tempting to turn inward. It's so tempting to double up the doors, focus on your own problems for awhile. I get that. Clearly, these are momentous times in America, times of crisis, times of chaos, capitalism on trial. Americans are struggling -- losing homes, losing jobs, losing savings. Not just the U.S. -- the world is changing shape in unsettling ways. You can feel it. Tectonic plates are starting to shift. Can I say that in California?

This is exactly the right time to think about the world, and even to change it.

Nothing is set in stone; everything is up for grabs. It's times like these -- times of challenge, strain, disruption -- when America often discovers its true legs. Right when everyone's full of fear, it's when Americans rediscover who they are, what they believe, what their values are, what they're really about. And these are the questions all of us, not just Americans, ought to be asking tonight: who we are, what we're about, and by the way, what we're not about.

For example, we are not about having our scientist come up with miracle drugs and them failing to get them to the people who need them. We are not about mosquitos or dirty water as a death sentence. We are not about politicians making promises and failing to keep them, which is what they're doing right now. Because one more thing we're not about -- we're not about charity. We're about justice and equality. That's what we're about.

Amen? Powerful, that word, amen.

Do we actually believe that a child's life in Africa has the same value as a child's life in American or Ireland? That's what it says in that beautiful poetic tract of yours, the Declaration of Independence, the inalienable rights. Isn't it "all men created equal"? That's what is says in the holy scriptures, doesn't it? And isn't "love thy neighbor" a command, not a suggestion?

When Dr. King said, "I have a dream," he wasn't just talking about a American dream, because I thought it was an Irish dream. People in Mexico thought it was a Latin American dream. People in Africa, they think it was an African dream. Because guess what? It was. Dr. King's dream was a dream big enough to include all of us, of you.

And if you really believe that -- if we're really ready to say, yes, we are equal, Africans are our brothers and sisters -- then we're going to have to make some changes. We're going to need some new ideas, or maybe just revisit some old ideas, like the two-centuries-old idea of America. You see, America is not just a country; it's an idea. Think about that. Your country is not just a geographical location; your country is an idea, and it's a great idea. The idea that all men and women are created equal, that the poorest matter as much as the richest, and in a world of plenty, no one should die for lack of food in their belly, that where you live should not determine whether you live, or whether you die. The idea that our dreams are one and our fates are one. The idea that anything is possible, anything is possible -- that is the America the world needs right now, that's the America I've always loved. Amen?

When I was kid, watching you all on television, black-and-white television, we watched you put a f***ing man on the moon. It's 40 years ago, I'm 9 years old. I'm thinking, "Americans are crazy. Hey Mommy, is that the moon up there? Let's take a walk on it." We love that America.And the funny thing about the astronauts on the Apollo, when they came home, the thing they talked about the most was not the moon -- it was the Earth. They marveled at the Earth. We've all seen that first picture -- Christmas Eve, 1968, Americans at war, cities in flames. But the Earth from above, so serene, so beautiful, so very fragile. The astronaut who took that photograph, when he returned, he said that we came all this way to explore the moon, but the most important thing that we discovered was the Earth. A trip to the moon changed their world view. It changed America's world view. It changed everyone's world view. America -- by its vision, its determination, its sheer ingenuity -- changed the way we all saw ourselves. We saw that our planet was so small, that it's adrift, alone, a light in the darkness, that it needs our protection, and that on it, we're one whether we want to be or not.

America enabled the world to step outside of itself and look back to see ourselves as we truly are. When America looks outside of itself, it's strange, but its view of itself is never clearer, its faith in itself never firmer, its purpose is never stronger.

Today, at a time when America is again tempted to look inward from the world and its troubles, it's more essential than ever that you look out of it. America, we are not asking you to put another man or woman on the moon. America, we are asking you to put humanity back on this Earth.

© @U2/Lindell, 2008.