In the summer of 2005 hundreds of thousands of people gathered in ten spots around the globe for a series of free concerts meant to persuade world leaders to give more money to fight poverty in Africa. The idea for the concerts was conceived in May and hastily organized by Bob Geldof. Within two months the former Boomtown Rat was able to convince dozens of actors, musicians, and politicians to join in forming LIVE8, “the largest mandate for action in history.”
Unlike most benefit concerts, though, Live8 didn’t raise a dime to actually end poverty. As the web site noted at the time, “LIVE 8 is calling for people across the world to unite in one call—in 2005 it is your voice we are after, not your money.” Geldolf said the event was intended to raise consciousness and exert political pressure on the G8 summiteers.
The concerts included more than 200 musical acts scheduled to play more than 69 hours of music. Organizers said 5.5 billion people(!) would be able to watch or listen on the Internet and more than 182 television stations and 2,000 radio networks and stations. Coldplay’s Chris Martin called the concerts “the greatest thing that’s ever been organized, probably, in the history of the world.”
So what did the greatest thing that’s ever been organized (probably) in the history of the world accomplish?
Not much. On the “Latest News” section of Live8’s website (last updated in 2006), it records the history of nothing happening. Soon after the concert it notes, “In 2005 G8 leaders promised to ‘make trade work for Africa’, but this year, just weeks after instructing their negotiators to reach an agreement within one month, talks have again collapsed with no progress for Africa.”
Eight years later, we still have silly consciousness-raising pseudo events—though they are much more modest. The latest example is the Global Poverty Project’s “Live Below the Poverty Line” campaign. Several celebrities, most notably Ben Affleck, are vowing to feed themselves on $1.50 a day for one day. Yes, they will make the great dietary sacrifice for an entire 24-hour period. Affleck will do for one day what I did every Sunday during my freshman year in college—survive on Ramen noodles, iced tea, and Snickers.
Like a lot of people, Abby W. Schachter wonders what’s the point of the stunt:
[W]ill his fake sacrifice really result in more people giving money to help people in Eastern Congo, which is where Affleck says he wants his efforts to go? Why would it? I fail to see the connection between Affleck’s crash diet and caring for the troubles of millions of poor souls living on another continent thousands of miles away.
We could cut Affleck and his fellow actors who are doing the same thing a bit of slack since they can’t sing and dance to raise money. So maybe Affleck and Hugh Jackman are ill-informed enough to think that the very suggestion of sacrifice coming from their lips is going to motivate others to change their behavior and become more charitable. Such a belief might be mistaken but at least they could be respectful of their fans by making a meaningful suggestion, rather than doing something so obviously shallow and publicity-focused.
Schachter thinks Affleck should tithe 10 percent of his earnings to relief and development efforts in Africa. That would be more useful, but I think an even better solution would be for Affleck to ask Africans what they need to help themselves. He could learn from efforts like PovertyCure how to “encourage solutions that foster opportunity and unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that already fills the developing world.”
Affleck’s heart is the right place. But so was Geldolf’s eight years ago. Neither one-day diets nor one-day rock concerts are going to change the course of impoverished countries. What is needed is less awareness raising among Americans (is anyone still unaware that Africa is a poor continent?) and more effective compassion that equips Africans to raise themselves out of poverty.