Live 8 ... A Flash in the Pan?

Mr. Castagnera, a Philadelphia journalist and attorney, is the Associate Provost at Rider University and author of the weekly newspaper column “Attorney at Large.”

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How many of you watched the “Live 8” concerts on TV last Saturday? I watched for awhile. Yes, I said “watched.” Even though I’m a half-hour bus and subway ride to the Franklin Parkway in downtown Philly, I watched from the comfort of my family room in suburban Havertown. Showing up seemed to me to be a waste of time, if ending African poverty was the purpose. If Live 8’s meaning was just the music, I saw more by staying home.

Thirty-five years ago I would have been there. As a matter of fact, 35 years ago I was there. “There” then was downtown Manhattan. And “then” was the autumn of 1969. A U.S. Coast Guardsman, fresh out of boot camp in Cape May and stationed on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor, I took the Coast Guard ferry to the tip of Manhattan and joined the half-million-strong Moratorium against the Viet Nam War. We carried candles, sang songs, and marched to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to hear speakers and folkies protest the slaughter in Southeast Asia. It was all pretty low-tech compared to last Saturday’s global, star-studded extravaganza. Much of the technology that made Live 8 possible --- such as the Internet --- hadn’t even been invented yet… although some of the Live 8 stars, like Pink Floyd, were in their prime back then.

But the big difference that distinguished Live 8 from the 1969 Moratorium marches is not to be found in its use of the latest communication technology, nor in its global sweep, nor in the super-star status of many of its performers. The real distinction is that Live 8 was emblematic of the immediate gratification we’ve all come to expect in our age of instant messaging, email, cell phones, fast foods, and 14-day diets. By Mayor John Street’s count, some 600,000 to 800,000 people crowded the Parkway in front of the Art Museum. Similar masses thronged to the venues in the seven other cities, such as Rome and Berlin. Reportedly, it was all organized in around 30 days. At the end of the long, hot day, what did it all mean?

If the folks quoted in last Sunday’s Inquirer were representative of the majority view, most came for the free music. One attendee, asked by a reporter what he thought of the espoused purpose of Live 8 --- to raise awareness of African poverty and hunger --- replied, “It’s always a good cause.” The most anyone seems to have sacrificed for this “good cause” was a two-hour wait for Septa trains to take them back to their suburban cribs, where they were able to read about the big event in their Sunday morning newspapers, while sipping their French-press coffee and nibbling a croissant. What effect will the concerts have on the so-called G-8 nations (the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia). Not much, I suspect.

By contrast, nothing about the 1969 Moratorium marches in Washington (DC), New York City and elsewhere around the nation was instantaneous. The anti-war movement of the 1960s started with “teach-ins” on college campuses --- such as Franklin & Marshall College, where I was then a freshman --- in the fall of 1965. Protesters with sufficient commitment to picket draft boards in those early days were few in number and were regularly accosted, and occasionally beaten-up, by bikers, construction workers, and other blue-collar conservatives. They were spied on by the FBI and arrested on the smallest pretext.

Only over the years, as the body-count grew bigger and the pictures entering our living rooms each evening on the TV news grow uglier, did Norman Mailer step up with other celebrities to lead the “Armies of the Night.” Following the Vietcong’s Tet offensive, which began on January 31, 1968 (which Vietnamese marked as the start of the new lunar year), even Walter Cronkite turned against the war. Suspecting that, if he’d lost Cronkite he’d lost the American middle, LBJ’s fears were confirmed when he out-polled upstart, anti-war Senator Gene McCarthy by only 7.2 percent in the New Hampshire primary. On March 31 st, Johnson announced he wouldn’t run again, but rather would devote his final days in office to seeking a way out of the war.

It took almost exactly another seven years for all fighting to cease in South Vietnam. The 1969 Moratorium marches were succeeded by the bloody events at Kent State University in May 1970, and countless more marches, rallies, and other --- sadly, sometimes violent --- forms of protest. Richard Nixon in his turn was driven from office. The causes of his downfall--- which we call collectively “Watergate” --- were symptomatic of the paranoia and repression that characterized the government response to the anti-war movement.

Who among the millions who attended one of the Live 8 concerts or watched, like me, on their TVs and PCs, has signed on for the long haul?

In the 1960s two substantial social movements --- the anti-war movement and the sexual revolution --- converged, at first on college campuses and then more broadly across the country. What started as two small streams converged and grew into a social tsunami.

Most Americans remain mildly supportive, or at least ambivalent, about the war in Iraq. The body count, though troubling, hasn’t as yet come close to the daily carnage that characterized Vietnam 35 years ago. As for Live 8, while one African attendee declared “We are citizens of the global village,” the hard fact is that Africa is remote from our daily lives. By contrast, the hippies were calling for changes to American society. They were the natural allies of the anti-war protesters. Their complimentary messages mattered personally to millions of Americans… whose attention span --- dare I say it? --- extended beyond the 30-second sound-bite.

Live 8 was a great idea and an exciting event… even as seen from the comfort of my couch. But, unless many of the millions who participated in or witnessed it are prepared to follow up with sustained social action, it will disappear into history’s footnotes. I for one don’t detect the sense of commitment required for such a sustained effort. Having basked in the day’s glamour and good feelings, most Live-8ers will move on to the next reality show, the next sports championship and the next big rock concert.

Live 8 was a flash in the pan.

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More Comments:

John F Rice - 7/11/2005

If they really want to reduce poverty, they should look at the root causes: war, overpopulation and corruption. A bunch of egoistic rock star arseholes ain't gonna be much help.

Says Economist James Shikwati: "For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid!” See more here:

Oscar Chamberlain - 7/6/2005

"will be a big PR event"

Oh my gosh! People have mixed motives! Unlike corporations, whose leaders never think of publicity when donating to charities, and unlike the blogosphere where all comments are made solely for the saintly purpose of exchanging knowledge, with no pride of intellect and no hope of making a splash sullying the discourse, some of these rockers hope to gain some visibility along with raising some money for something good.

Well, if personal gain is a motive, that obviously means that the whole thing is a cynical charade with absolutely no decent motives and no decent impact. Right?

More seriously. One can rightly question the long term impact. The money won't go very far. The publicity? That's always hard to say. The odds are, sadly, that apart from awakening a few people here and there to the problems, it won't have much impact either.

But in a world in which most people with money, including dedicated capitalists, have invested no time or money in Africa, these folks have done something. And I think we owe them a nod for that before we go on and declaim what should be done.

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/5/2005

I think it is both unfair and inaccurate to pick out Bono for criticism here. FGFor many of the musicicans, sure, but Bono's commitment to this issue has been pretty clear, and the respect with which he is held in much of the international commuinity is pretty strong. paul O'Neill made it clear that when it came to the issues ont he ground, Bono knew more than he did when they visited Africa together. It is cynical, but also I think demonstrably wrong, to pillory Bono of all of the folks who participated in Live 8.


William J. Stepp - 7/5/2005

Here's a prediction: Just like LA I, the main effect of LA II will be a big PR event for the likes of Bjork, U2, et al. U2 will sell another 130 M records the next twenty years.
Capitalism is the antidote to poverty for the downtrodden masses, not rock music, which is the antidote to poverty for Bono.

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