U2 Atomic: Bono

09-27-2007: Liberty Bell Awards - Bono's speech

Bono's Liberty Medal Acceptance Speech Transcript

September 27, 2007

Won’t take long. I’m the Fidel Castro of speechifying. We’ve got a few hours, don’t we?

Right. Thank you. Thank you Mr. President. (George H.W. Bush) Thanks Joe. (Joseph Torsella, President and CEO, National Constitution Center) and everyone here at the National Constitution Center. It's an inspiring place. In the words of Robert Zimmerman - Bob Dylan – "ring those bells…ring those bells."

I want to thank my wife, Ali. And I also want to thank the members of U2 for not firing me when they hear I'm in Philadelphia this evening because they're in the studio expecting me, and I know they won't fire me because it is Philadelphia and we've played everywhere here. From 70 people to 70,000 people here. An important city for the U2ers, as well as these both Live 8 concerts which really turned my life upside down.

I've got 5 minutes to talk and I can spend that doing the shout-outs, but I want to thank Ngozi. (Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Finance Minister of Nigeria and current member of DATA's Policy Advisory Board) Really for what she said, for what she is and for what she does. This is the kind of leader we all want to work for. This is the reason we in DATA do what we do. We love you dear.

I must tell you it's a bit humbling for me to be here where it all got started. Where America got started. Because along with a mayor, a governor, a former president, and so many others that served the cause of freedom while I, it has to be said, have served the cause of my own ego. President Bush, you may remember that when you were in office in 1992 and U2 was touring America, I used to do this bit every night in the show where I would bring a phone out and I'd ring you up at the White House. You never took my calls, Sir. You had far too much sense. That's the truth. Now your son, he did not have your sense. He not only took my call, he had me over to lunch. And then I wouldn't leave. I think he’s been regretting it ever since because when I come over to the house, I'm not exactly what you call "house trained" - even White House trained. I'm not exactly what you call a good guest either. I can be rude and I ask for things before we even sit down for tea, like billions of dollars to fight AIDS in Africa. Things like that.

I’d like to think that I’ve always left the White House with more than I arrived. Not only budget commitments, cutlery, silverware, candelabras, one or two Bush family photos, -OK one Gilbert Stuart portrait…of George Washington; it was in the bathroom – nobody could see, I’ll give it back.

I have to say that people took risks in working with us. And want to say that current President Bush was not only gracious, he was passionate. Passionate about doing more for the poorest of the poor, and smart enough to know that he wasn’t just letting a rock star run amok with his staff. He knew that DATA, the organization being honored tonight, was bursting with energy. Filled to the brim with the best and the brightest people – policy people, campaigners, I salute you. Your servant. (bows)

Still, it is risky working with rock stars, children, animals. People we wouldn’t have expected had us in their offices again and again hammering out new initiatives, like the Millennium Challenge Account, which rewards poor countries that were tacking corruption. And, like Ngozi was talking about, was looking for investment, you know aid as investment. And we also worked with President Bush on a historic AIDS initiative where now I can tell you that it’s not just one million that you heard about, it’s now one-and-a-half million Africans who owe their lives to the two pills a day that they receive from the United States of America. It’s a great thing.

I might add that this can only happen because in Congress, heroic Democrats and Republicans put down their politics and put in their political capital to make things happen for people who don’t have a vote. And it couldn’t have happened without the leadership of president number 43, but number 42 as well. I just had the pleasure of telling William Jefferson Clinton, whom you travel with so much, that thanks to his and other G8 leaders supporting debt cancellation, and as a result of inspired African leadership, there are now as you heard earlier, and I can confirm it, 20 million African children going to school that wouldn’t be otherwise. Twenty million African children – WOW! That’s worth shouting about. That’s the America I love.

And that’s why I’m so honored to be here to receive this award – a punk rocker from the north side of Dublin. An organization that until very recently had its data in haversacks and had its office in Kinkos around the corner. No, I want to thank the organization and people like our instigator and part-time flame thrower, Bobby Shriver and Jamie Drummond who’s sitting there who are something special. Jamie, if you’ve noticed, Jamie and I have accents. Subtle. We come from “over there” across the water. But we’re over here because we’re fans of America. And, in that sense, we’re no different than the two-and-a-half million Americans who have now joined the ONE Campaign which began its life in this great city of Philadelphia in 2004 right in front of Independence Hall. We’re fans of America.

I’m also a fan of Benjamin Franklin. Which I noticed earlier – Franklin who wore John Lennon glasses before anybody, before they were cool. Franklin who went electric before Dylan. Franklin who said, as you heard earlier, God grant that not only the love of liberty, but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man may pervade all the nations of the Earth so that a philosopher may set his foot anywhere on its surface and say “this is my country.” Well, in case you hadn’t heard, I am not a philosopher, I am a rock star, though after a few pints, this rock star starts thinking he’s a philosopher.

So, not a philosopher, but let me set my foot here and say to you tonight this is my country. With humility and pride in my own country, let me say America is my country in the sense that anyone who has a stake in liberty has a stake in the United States of America. For all you’ve been through, good and bad, this is my country too. For every time I wince, or gasp or punch the wall, when I read something that galls, there’s another time I’m reminded of your generosity, your resilience, your innovation, your work ethic, your compassion. Although today, today I read in The Economist an article reporting that over 38 percent of Americans support some kind of torture in exceptional circumstances. My country – NO! Your country – tell me no. (Crowd answers back “no”) Thank you.

Today as you pin this great honor on me, I ask you – I implore you as an Irish man who has seen some of these things close up, I ask you to remember you do not have to become a monster to defeat a monster. Your America is better than that. Your America is the one where Neil Armstrong takes a walk on the Moon because he can. Your America is the one where so many Irish people discovered their value. Your America is the one where a brave military fought and died for freedom in places like Omaha Beach, and in the Pacific, where president number 41 here – a true World War II war hero served. Your America gave Europe the Marshall Plan. Your America gave the world the Peace Corps, JFK, RFK, MLK, the Special Olympics, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen – the bard and the boss – Steve Jobs, local hero Will Smith, the meditations of Mark Rothko, the poetics of Allen Ginsberg, Edward R. Murrow, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Mary J. Blige, Frank Gehry, of thee I sing, all of thee.

Hey, these are the reasons I’m a fan of America – and one more. America is not just a country. It’s an idea, isn’t it? It’s a great and powerful idea. The idea that all men are created equal. That “we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are great lyrics, Mr. Jefferson. Great opening riff. The Declaration of Independence has a great closing line too – “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Well the men who made that, the men who signed that pledge, had a lot to lose by signing - like their lives. So what then about you and me? What are we ready to pledge? What are we ready to pledge ourselves to? Anything? Anything at all?

What about this idea of liberty? Not liberty for its own sake, but liberty for some larger end – not just freedom from oppression, but freedom of expression and worship. Freedom from want, and freedom from fear because when you are trapped by poverty, you are not free. When trade laws prevent you from selling the food you grow, you are not free. When you are dying of a mosquito bite for lack of a bed net, you are not free. When you are hungry in a world of plenty, you are not free. And when you are a monk in Burma this very week, barred from entering a temple because of your gospel of peace, it is an affront to the thug regime, well then none of us are truly free.

My other country, America, I know you’ll not stand for that. So, look I’m not going to stand here, a rock star who just stepped off a private plane, and tell you to put your lives on the line for people you’ve never met or your fortunes – I haven’t. But our sacred honor might just be at stake here. That and a whole lot else. So what, then, are we willing to pledge? How about our science, your technology, your creativity…America has so many great answers to offer. We can’t fix all the world’s problems. But the ones we can, we must.

Enough of my voice. Listen to the voice of young Africa. Good night.


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