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"The word suggests his shape, his vibe. There was a hearing-aid shop, Bonovox of O'Connell Street. I thought he looked like the place." — Guggi, on the origins of Bono's name

Transcript: Bono in Oakland to discuss HIV/AIDS

The following is a transcript of the news conference conducted in Oakland on March 2, 2007, by U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Pastor J. Alfred Smith, and Bono. The news conference followed private meetings with local HIV/AIDS service providers and a discussion with local church leaders about the HIV/AIDS situation in the area.

Thanks to Roman Gokhman (of ANG Newspapers/Oakland Tribune) and Jennifer Gokhman for providing the transcript.

In attendance:

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) Pastor J. Alfred Smith of Allen Temple Church Mayor Ron Dellums Bono

Lee: Good morning. Let me thank you so much for being here to today because what we're doing, of course, is attempting to break the silence with regard to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. As Dr. King says, "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere," and today we have held a discussion with unbelievably committed eight service providers and listened to people who are living with HIV and AIDS and learned what we need to do in terms of a comprehensive strategy. We also met with members of the clergy to discuss how clergy and our faith community could move forward with us to try to break the silence again, because many of you may or may not know that in our country, we have a population of 13 percent of the African-American population, yet the AIDS pandemic is about 50 percent of the AIDS population. It is a discussion that affects us all but disproportionately, of course, affects African-Americans and communities of color and disproportionately the continent of Africa and the Caribbean. We're here today at Allen Temple Baptist Church, and I'll introduce my pastor in a minute and the mayor who served as president of the AIDS advisory council to the president under President Clinton and President Bush for approximately 18 months. But we're also with a person who is not only a great entertainer but also a wonderful artist with a vision and a great humanitarian and one who continues to beat the drum against poverty worldwide for debt relief. He has worked diligently with us to help make sure that we have the resources to begin to address the AIDS pandemic on the continent of Africa, and he is someone who the world knows and owes a debt of gratitude. He is with us today here in Oakland to look at Alameda County and to listen again, which he has, to what has taken place here. We declared a state of emergency here in 1999 as it relates to the HIV and AIDS pandemic here in our own county, yet funding continues to be either cut or, as we call it, flat funded, with no increase in Washington, D.C. And so let me just ask Bono now to come forward. He will be recognized tonight with the presidential award from the NAACP at the Image Awards, and I want to congratulate you again for that honor because you deserve that, and we are deeply honored and grateful for your presence here today in Oakland, California.

Bono: Wow. What a woman, Barbara Lee. My goodness. And I walk in the path of she and others like her, the esteemed mayor, have cut out really. You know we're at the epicenter here in east Oakland of the new rise in the AIDS epidemic in the United States. But I'd also say we're at the epicenter of the resistance to that epidemic, and these are truly heroic people I've been meeting with this morning. I'm a spoiled rotten rock star, and I know it, but I'm a loudhailer, and I'm going to use it, but it's best that I know what I'm talking about, not essential, it's best. So I've come as a student really and indeed as a servant if I can be of any help. I just love the Bay Area and our group; it's always a favorite for us when we play here. But this is serious, what's happening in the United States. I work on global AIDS; I work on global extreme poverty. I march together with this woman for debt cancellation. We march together in step, and we got organized, and we got busy. As part of this millennium, we got 21 countries so far, got their debt cancelled, and that has put 20 million Africans in school over the last few years. It's an astonishing thing that she pulled off in Congress. There's a great man from the hip-hop community called Andre (could not transcribe; possibly Harrell), and he came up to a friend of mine once, and he said "Will you just tell Bono to just like do what the lions do in Africa and just chill out; go sit under a tree." He said, "You need some lioness energy in this." We're the women or there are the women (points at Lee), and she is a lioness and just recently over Christmas we almost lost a billion dollars for people fighting for their lives against AIDS and malaria and in some of the worst hit places in the world. And she fought back, and we got that money. She stuck it out, and I'm here to thank her, but she told me, "You've got to come to my district. You've got to understand what the people over here are going through." And they are fighting for their lives too, and their dignity. They've seen the indignity of the situation being HIV-positive and HIV full-blown in communities that are not fully equipped to do that, so I'm here to learn.

Lee: Thank you again for your support and your spirit and your commitment and your hard work to end poverty in the world and to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic to stamp out the injustice on the face of the earth. That's a tall order, but you've certainly been leading in all those efforts. Mayor Ron Dellums, another great warrior who again was on the cutting edge, founding the clarion call way before anyone in the House of Representatives would begin to address the global, American and international HIV and AIDS pandemic. Thank you again, Mayor Ron Dellums.

Mayor: First I want to, in my official capacity as mayor of Oakland, is welcome Bono to Oakland and thank him for using his celebrity to speak out for the poor, the harmed, the oppressed and the victimized around the world, and I applaud him for that, and I deeply appreciate all his efforts. Secondly, I want to also thank Barbara Lee for her continuing leadership and her continuing desire to engage in a conversation in this community that challenges us all to address this significant pandemic. She's an example of thinking globally and acting locally by challenging our community to come to grips with the HIV and AIDS pandemic. In that regard, one of the issues that we talked about this morning is the fact that partly in the community of women of color, but specifically among African American Women, this rise in HIV and AIDS, I believe that can be traced back to the fact that we are sending men back from prisons in our community as bullets into our community because they don't know their status; they've not been treated, and they've not been tested. These are issues that have to be addressed. Sexual exploitation and abuse in prison is something that has become part of our culture, as tragic as that may sound. But this is not a laughing matter or a joke in a movie scene or a television role. What is now happening is men are coming back into our community HIV-infected, and they're infecting people in our community, so it is now an issue that has to be addressed that needs to be confronted in the public health conscious. Again, Bono, thank you. Thank you for standing up and using your celebrity, moving beyond your role as an entertainer to your role as a global citizen, and I would like to thank Barbara Lee for moving beyond her role simply as a member of Congress, but as a global citizen who is also acting locally, and I want you to know in this new capacity in this late stage in my life, that we will stand with you as equal partners as we take Oakland forward because every human being in Oakland should have the right to a healthy life.

Lee: Thank you very much, mayor. Thank you once again for raising a very controversial topic. Yet real instances we have to address as it relates to HIV and AIDS and the prison population. Ninety-five percent of inmates come back into our community, and so yes, they should come back into a community, first of all, which embraces them and helps them stay out by providing the types of skills and health care and support services they need, but also they need to know their HIV and AIDS status, and so having said that let me just say that at a federal level I've introduced legislation once again to require, one, the distribution of condoms in the prisons, and secondly, to require education, testing, counseling and treatment while in prison until people come out, and I think mayor said something that we talked to the clergy about and our providers. It's a tough issue, but we're going to have to deal with it head-on. And thank you again Bono for helping to shed some light on this. Finally, let me introduce my pastor, who I'm very proud of, Pastor Smith, who is Pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church who is in the vanguard of dealing with so many issues in our community, not only in Oakland, California and Alameda County but throughout the globe, as well as in Africa. This church has a very unique place in our community. It serves as a model for what the faith community can and what other communities can do both on the domestic front and on the international front as it relates to HIV and AIDS, and thanks again Pastor Smith for your vision and your leadership and your boldness in moving our faith community forward with this.

Pastor: Thank you for your very kind words. It is an honor to be the pastor of Congresswoman Barbara Lee and to serve a church that has endeavored to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. As I speak, Allen Temple Church now has 17 people in Zimbabwe working at the Mother of Peace orphanage with children whose parents have died of AIDS. We also have an ongoing AIDS education program, and we're endeavoring to give support to the policies that are being enacted as a result of Congresswoman Lee's leadership. Thirdly, I'd like to say not far from here is the Allen Temple Manor housing facility that houses people who are HIV-positive. A group of clergy met Mr. Bono today, and along with the commitment that they gave our mayor, and also Congresswoman Lee, new commitment that the churches must break the silence that they have had toward the AIDS issue, and so I'm glad that all of that can happen here today at the Allen Temple Church where I serve. Mr. Bono, keep on keeping on. Barbara Lee, keep on being the conscience in the United States Congress. Mayor Ron Dellums, keep on calling us to stand on higher ground.

Lee: Thank you so much, Pastor Smith, for that very uplifting moment that you have presented to us and that challenge you have presented to us. We will now be open to questions. One question for the mayor before he leaves. Any questions for the mayor?

Q: (could not understand)

Mayor: I think the answer to that is yes. I think that the last election, American people spoke loudly and clearly and profoundly. It not only was a conversation but a statement about our involvement in the war in Iraq, but it was also about the domestic priorities and with the new Congress, a new majority in the House of Representatives and a new majority in the Senate, I believe that the priorities will be turned around on this issue, and I think that the resources will come into this community. Now here's the interesting thing. We've had many battles with the present occupant of the White House, but interestingly enough on the issue of AIDS, he did step forward rather aggressively in that regard. So I would think that with the Democratic Congress and with a president, that at least on the issue of global AIDS it leaned in, that in my opinion is a recipe for greater resources coming into this community and around the world to combat the global AIDS pandemic.

Lee: Thank you. Any questions for myself or for Pastor Smith or for Bono?

All reporters: Bono! Bono! Bono!, etc.

Q: Bono, you have seen many locations around the globe struggling with AIDS. What do you see in Oakland...that is similar or different?

Bono: This is the beginning of a conversation, really, and it just started today. I want to better understand what the domestic AIDS problem is here in the United States. I'm seeing the same thing though, that poverty and the emasculation of poverty creates some responses which lead into the AIDS pandemic emasculation and over-sexualization of men and in response to that feeling of not having a place in society, they exaggerate the sexuality and become dangerous as a result, and the escape routes of drug abuse and needle using of people and to kill the pain of their situations -- these are very human responses. I met with the church. The church is going to be very important, it is very important in getting on the ground in Africa, not just in teaching people about abstinence but then, and this is harder for the church, but embracing people and welcoming them in the sanctuary of the church when they do declare they are HIV-positive or fully blown, and that's very difficult. In African churches are very conservative, very noble people, very proper, and they speak of stigmatization as a real issue, but you know, it's still a little bit here. And that's why I'm with Congresswoman Lee about breaking the silence, and I've met extraordinary pastors and theologians who want to write more about this issue of sexuality. It's hard for the church to talk about sexuality, but it's critical. You know, Freud said that sex was at the center of people's lives. Now, Freud wasn't right on everything, and I'm not sure he's right about that, but even if it's close to the center, why is it that we relegate it to discussion to the dullest of minds? We need some smart people talking about this because it's important.

Q: (paraphrased) As a celebrity, do you find it easier bringing the AIDS epidemic to the attention of government?

Bono: You know, I have to say that here in the United States, it is an extraordinary thing to see a conservative administration step out with a historic AIDS initiative and fight global AIDS. But the reason the president can do it is because people like Congresswoman Lee have created the momentum on this, and because the church had also created a cover, if you like. It was a very brave and bold move by this administration, and we have to give it up to them on this. On other things we might not. So there is momentum on that. Now, we have to check into the domestic AIDS situation, make sure that that is properly funded. That's what I've come here today to learn about.

Lee: We created the minority AIDS initiative in 1999, and that began with about $157 million. Since then, we have gotten it up to about $450 million. It's been what they call flat-funded. I serve now on the Appropriations Committee; the foreign appropriations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. And the labor, health and human services subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. In fact, we have been trying to get this up to a measly, which I have to say it is, $650 million. We still haven't gotten there, so part of our fight this year will be trying to increase the dollar amount of the minority AIDS initiative to begin to have some real resources to respond in a real way. One more question, and then I believe time is up.

Q: (paraphrased) Where do you take what you've learned here? What are your goals?

Bono: I'm not clear because I've just come to listen and learn here. One of the things I'm taking away is the recent statistics that 70 percent of new infections are teenagers. That's really extraordinary. A few years ago it was women; black women. Now it's black teenagers. I know a lot of great musicians, African American musicians, and sports stars. I'd like to take them back here and get them involved. There's real excitement about the One Campaign. You see, the congresswoman is wearing a (RED) T-shirt. This is the (RED) campaign -- you can buy T-shirts which get drugs for people that can't afford the AIDS drugs. That's our gateway drug to activism. The One Campaign, where people can sign up, get on their marching boots, and we can really change the game here. Two-and-a-half million Americans have signed up to the One Campaign. We want to get it to four million by the presidential election in 2008. That will get us the same size as the National Rifle Association. That's where we want to be. We want to be the NRA for the world's vulnerable and the world's poor. That's what I would urge to the One Campaign. It is in a way a follow-up to the Civil Rights Movement. Tonight at the NAACP awards we're going to announce the NAACP as a partner of the One Campaign. That's pretty historic, so I'm feeling pretty good about that. Thanks very much.

Lee: Thank you very much for coming tonight and helping us break the silence here.