Thank you U2

I was 12 years old in 1984 and in an effort to show me that the world was bigger then Olympia, Washington my dad brought me with him on a trip to New York City.

Times Square was a much different place than it is now. I vividly remember walking around with my dad and being in an electronic store that sold Sony Walkmans and various cassette tapes.

On that day, I bought U2’s “Under a Blood Red Sky” it is not an exaggeration to say that it changed me forever.

Larry Mullen’s drums jolted me out of my teenage angst and Bono’s lyrics began what has been a life long effort to engage in the issues of the world.

I can’t believe the news today
 Oh, I can’t close my eyes
 And make it go away
 How long
 How long must we sing this song
 How long, how long
 ’Cause tonight, we can be as one
 Tonight

I listened to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” over and over and eventually went to the the local library in an effort to understand what I was hearing.

As a 12 year-old in Washington state the Irish troubles and murder of unarmed civil rights protesters by the British army may have been a world away, but I wanted to be a part of stopping things like it. My dad had always told me to question authority and for the first time I started to understand what that might mean.

In September of that year “Pride (In the Name of Love)” was released. The Edge’s opening guitar was like nothing I had heard before and then I heard this:

Early morning, April four
A shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride.

This time I went to my school library and after some time with the encyclopedia I was able to feel the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. for the very first time.

Sure I had heard of MLK before — but it was U2’s music that made me feel like I could be a part of what he stood for.

Many years later while working for Bill Gates I was called by my friend Bobby Shriver and urged to organize the first meeting between Bill and Bono.

A multi-decade collaboration on behalf of the world’s poorest people began with that first meeting and just like in the other phases of my life there was a U2 song — “Crumbs From Your Table” — that perfectly captured our efforts to urge the US government to stop the horror of AIDS:

You speak of signs and wonders
 But I need something other
 I would believe if I was able
 But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table
 
 Where you live should not decide
 Whether you live or whether you die
 Three to a bed
 Sister Ann, she said
 Dignity passes by.

The work of Bono, Bill Gates, Bobby Shriver and many others led to the creation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief which has saved more than 12 million lives and is widely considered to be one of the most important foreign-policy actions the United States Government has ever taken.

On Sunday, 33 years after I first heard U2, I stood with 60,000 fans in Seattle and watched their Joshua Tree Tour. The power of the show is hard to describe, and in between riveting performances and videos Bono said something that perfectly framed America in May, 2017;

The government should fear its citizens, not the other way around.

The crowd went wild — roaring their approval and perhaps re-committing themselves at a time when all of us need to re-commit.

Thank you U2.

Thank you for helping a kid in a small town see himself as a part of something bigger.

Thank you for believing in the promise of America, and being disappointed when we break that promise.

Thank you for helping us become what we are capable of being.

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