Bono Crashes '08 Campaign

Rock star and activist mobilizes to pressure '08 candidates on Africa.

June 11, 2007 — -- When U2 singer and activist Bono speaks, politicians listen.

Last week, the singer was in Germany, reminding the G-8 leaders about their failed promises to Africa.

This week, Bono is exerting his political influence on new targets -- the '08 presidential candidates.

ONE in '08

The ONE grass-roots campaign that Bono co-founded to raise awareness about African poverty and disease announced Monday it has launched an initiative called ONE Vote '08.

The $30 million campaign urges Americans to pressure all of the 2008 presidential candidates to develop a policy to fight global poverty and disease.

"The number of people whose lives will be affected by the choice you make next November is much higher than the population of America," said Bono in a video released at the ONE Vote '08 launch. "Do we have the political will to end this?"

At the campaign's launch in an Episcopal church, supporters of the campaign joked about Bono's power.

"I don't think it's written in the Bible, but if enough people suffer in the world, rock stars will start crying out," joked evangelical Pastor Brian McLaren at the campaign launch Monday in Washington, D.C.

"We're going to make sure that every candidate gets asked again and again and again what they're going to do about poverty," said McLaren.

Much of the money for the political campaign comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bipartisan Face to Campaign

Former Senate Majority Leaders Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, and Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, have teamed to co-chair the ONE Vote '08 campaign -- hoping a bipartisan effort will pack more punch in putting Africa on the agenda.

"In a world today that is colored by poverty, poverty which leads to lack of hope, poverty that leads to desperation, poverty that leads to instability that becomes a breeding ground for terrorism," Frist declared.

"For the next 18-months, you're going to see us like this," Frist said of himself and Daschle, holding his fingers together.

Frist stood at a podium with the African Children's Choir sitting behind him. The children in the choir are between the ages of 7 and 11. Many have lost one or both of their parents to war, famine or disease.

Frist told a story about walking outside of a hospital in Africa, where he was volunteering, and meeting a 2-year-old African child, whose mother named him "America," because she believed U.S. aid had saved her son's life.

"People do not go to war with people who have saved their children's lives," said Frist.

Frist and Daschle will travel the country talking with voters, urging them to focus the White House wannabes on a plan to fight extreme poverty and global disease.

"One billion people live on less than $1 a day," said Daschle.

Speaking about Bono's power to influence the political agenda, Daschle said, "Much of this wouldn't have been possible without him."

For Bono, Pressuring Politicians Nothing New

For years, Bono has placed public pressure on the leaders of the world's most industrialized nations and on President George W. Bush, in particular.

Last week Bush met with Bono, music producer Bob Geldorf and Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour before the start of the G-8 summit of major industrialized nations, which was held in Germany.

With his low public approval ratings, Bush and other leaders rely on the public relations boost a meeting with Bono can provide.

"Hanging out with good company, aren't I?" Bush said as he walked inside the Kempinski Grand Hotel Heiligendamm.

Thanks in part to pressure from Bono, in 2003 Bush pledged about $15-million in AIDS relief for Africa.

African Activists Plead for Continued Funding

In Washington today, an African woman said that money came too late to save her brothers.

"I lost my brothers to AIDS," said Karen Sichinga, a nurse who works for a church-based health group in Zambia, wiping tears from her eyes.

However, Sichinga said the U.S. aid money, known as the President's Emergency Fund, has become a lifeline for a continent struggling with disease and poverty.

"My message is to say 'Thank you, America'," she said. "And to the next president, whoever it may be, please continue what has been started through the President's Emergency Fund."

Poverty Campaign Goes High-Tech

ONE Campaign president and CEO Susan McCue said the new political campaign would rely heavily on the Internet to connect with ONE's supporters. They estimate 2.4 million Americans signed a declaration against global poverty and disease on the Web site.

Supporters will be contacted through e-mail and through the campaign's 100,000-plus MySpace "friends" and the organization's Facebook page.

The campaign is heavily targeting supporters and the media in the early primary voting states -- including Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Each of these states will roll out its own mobilization efforts and campaign launch.

The campaign will urge candidates to sport a white plastic ONE band around their wrists.

ONE Vote '08 is even getting some star-power from Hollywood.

On Monday night, actor Ben Affleck will be on a ONE conference call to promote the new political campaign.

Hollywood actors including Affeck, Matt Damon and Ashley Judd have signed on to promote the campaign.

Bono Flexes Political Power

Bono, born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, has already flexed his power to influence the '08 campaign.

In July's Vanity Fair magazine, for which Bono served as guest editor, both Democratic and Republican candidates submitted their answer to the question: "As President, what would you do to fight AIDS and extreme poverty around the globe, particularly in Africa?"

Thirteen contenders answered the question.

"I would start by providing funds to put all of Africa's children in school," said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. "With universal education, Africans will soon work themselves out of poverty."

"I will work with drug companies to share AIDS drugs across Africa and double our investment in clean water to avoid preventable diseases," said former former North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards, who has centered his second presidential bid on an anti-poverty crusade.

Vanity Fair Details '08 Candidates' Africa Promises

"As president, by 2012 I will double to $50 billion annually our foreign investments, much of which will go to sustainable development and poverty reduction," said political newcomer Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

"We are all created by God, and when so many are suffering, we must help our neighbors in need," said former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney. "New partnerships with the international community, private sector and African leaders can mobilize the power of our health care, education and development efforts."

"I'd end the war in Iraq," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. "That would restore the freedom, flexibility and credibility we need to help meet Africa's challenges."

"Giving aid without conditions for reform perpetuates bad policies and poverty," said former New York Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "It's better to give people a hand up rather than a hand out."

"I will fund AIDS treatment and prevention at levels befitting a wealthy and great nation, and establish a goal of eradicating malaria, the No. 1 killer of African children under 5," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

ONE's political effort is drawing some criticism from AIDS organizations.

Global AIDS Group Demands Prevention

"We fully support the ONE effort," said David Bryden of the Global AIDS Alliance, a non-partisan advocacy organization.

"However, they list a number of things that should be first steps for the next president regarding HIV/AIDS ... changing the US approach to HIV prevention is not listed here as one of the first steps," he said.

Bryden argues the Institute of Medicine and other health authorities have indicated the US emphasis on abstinence is not working and not helping the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

"We believe changing this should be one of the first steps," said Bryden.

Bono "A Major Inspiration"

McCue said Bono has "been a major inspiration for ONE."

"The American election process is a unifying one," said McCue. "ONE Vote '08 is an opportunity to unite and fight hunger, poverty and disease.

"These are American values," she said.

The ONE Vote '08 campaign is consulting with Republican and Democratic political strategists and policy experts to try to build a bipartisan consensus around the issue.

" Unlike so many issues on the '08 agenda, this is not an issue that is on the right and left," said republican strategist Jack Oliver. "It's an issue that is about right and wrong."