"Some people expect U2 to come on like a political band. . . . Other people see us as prophets. Some see us as pop stars. . . . And we're not any of those things. We're probably all of them. I don't know what we are."
Can't You See What Love Has Done: U2 Fans Give Back
April 11, 2007
Any U2 fan looking back can see a common thread running through the band's history. From waving a white flag at Red Rocks to the COEXIST banner at the Vertigo shows, U2 has used the stage as a way to encourage activism from the fans. It is one thing to sign a petition or wear a button at a show -- it is something else to commit time and resources to a cause in an effort to improve the lives of others. There are a number of examples of fans giving back -- here are a few of their stories.
African Well Fund
In 2002, an episode of MTV Diary aired in which Bono took then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill to a water well in Africa. In the episode, the rock star mentioned the cost of that particular well: $1,000. To the founders of the African Well Fund, this seemed like an area where average people could make a difference. They started out with a simple idea: gather together enough fans to donate a few dollars to raise $1,000 to build a well in Uganda as a birthday gift for Bono. They were surprised to find that by the end of the campaign, more than $10,000 had been raised. The group then began to wonder if there might be something more there, and the African Well Fund was born.
The African Well Fund launched a Web site and filed the paperwork necessary to become a tax-exempt, non-profit organization. The group has grown to encompass volunteers across the world. Since its inception, the organization has raised more than $300,000 for clean water projects in Africa. These funds have been used for projects serving thousands of people in Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Details on those projects can be found here.
The African Well Fund felt it was important to visit Africa to see the work that is being done and meet some of the people in the communities being served by the projects. In September, two board members took a trip to Uganda and spent time meeting people in the communities where wells have been built. They took a filmmaker with them to document the work for donors, and the resulting documentary should be completed soon.
On the blog from the trip Rob Trigalet wrote, "Everywhere we go, we find such joy and spirit in the people, and it fills me with so much emotion to see how much they are thankful for what they do have, which by our western standards is not much at all...I think the thing that strikes me the most is their sense of community with each other and how time and time again we have been told of a village which received a well from AWF / Africare and then suddenly they are sharing it with the next village or parish. There is a spirit in these people that I am coming to envy. There is a beauty in these people that I've not experienced before."
While the organization began by gathering U2 fans with a desire to contribute to Africa, it has now grown to include contributors from outside the U2 fan community. Active supporters of the African Well Fund include schools, business organizations, church groups and individuals around the world.
The African Well Fund is conducting its fifth annual Build a Well for Bono's Birthday campaign through May 10. You can get more information at their Web site.
The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree
Rachael Fields, a U2 fan living in France, had an idea born out of her postings on the "Into the Heart" poetry forums at U2.com's Zootopia. A writer by trade, she was drawn to the forum by her love of U2's music and her love of words. One day she had an idea: to publish a book of poetry and prose by U2 fans and donate the profits from that book to charity.
"It was like it was there, waiting to happen! And the idea wouldn't go away...I thought it would be too complicated, and I was busy juggling work and family commitments already, so just didn't think it would be feasible...but I couldn't shift the nagging feeling, so I decided to act on it, and try to put together a little poetry collection showing the creativity that happened in the Heart when U2 fans got together and let loose, really just aiming to capture a special moment in time."
Fields tracked down the authors she had met online in the poetry forums and asked them to submit works for possible inclusion in the book. She soon found herself inundated with work from people who were inspired by U2 to write and to share. After paring down the submissions to the strongest works, Fields did research on self-publishing books, and settled on Lulu.com as a means of putting the book together. The result is a professional looking, self-published book available in both hardcover and pocket editions, with the proceeds benefiting the African Well Fund.
Was U2 the catalyst for this work? According to Fields, the answer is yes. "I think the U2 inspiration was definitely the basis for the book in that it was U2's music that brought us all together in the first place, this unlikely motley crew of characters...I guess U2 was the original connection and meeting place. I've always been very aware of the 'social' and 'humanitarian' aspects of U2, and have always found that inspiring."
Contributor Kel Rios continues, "There's been this evolution and revolution of meaning for me, found within U2's music and Bono's activism, that's manifested into my daily life. Whether through writing, my own involvement with humanitarian organizations, relationships I have with fellow fans or those people who are not part of my life as a result of U2's encouragement to step out beyond ourselves -- it's a very amazing thing to recognize their heartbeat accompanying so much of what's important to me."
The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree is available for download at Lulu.com with profits of $4.37 for the pocket version and $4.89 for the hardback version going to the African Well Fund.
U2 Photo Auction
Ask any die-hard fan and they will tell you that one of the great things about U2 being on tour is that the band makes it possible for fans to get up close during the shows, and they allow fans to bring in cameras. The result is an impressive collection of live concert photography among the U2 faithful, including some excellent photographs from the edge of the stage.
This gave hobby photographer and @U2 staffer Phil Romans an idea: perhaps some of those shots could be used to raise money for a good cause. Last year during the African Well Fund's Build a Well for Bono's Birthday campaign, Romans had an idea. "I knew plenty of people who did U2 photography as fun, and it was a blooming hobby of mine as well. I had, what I thought, were good photos. So I asked AWF if I could do a photo auction to help raise some money."
Romans asked his photographer friends if they would be willing to submit original prints on photo-quality paper for the auction. The result was more than 100 photos ranging in size from 4x6 to poster size. The auction received a lot of publicity from within the fan community, including a story at U2.com. By the end of the auction Romans was pleasantly surprised to find that the photographers had raised more than $11,000.
These fans have agreed to repeat the auction during this year's fundraiser. The auction will kick off on April 14, and will run through April 22. You can see a preview of the items to be listed here.
The members of U2 have inspired activism in their fans from the beginning. From urging support for Greenpeace or Amnesty International, or establishing the ONE Campaign and Music Rising, many U2 fans have come on board. Regardless of the inspiration, it is the commitment of those fans to work for things they believe in that allows projects like these and many others like them to continue.
© @U2/Page, 2007.