Geldof: Action is needed now more than ever

Musician, activist, philanthropist speaks at O’Bannon Institute

Posted: Friday, May 1, 2015 12:00 am
By Michael Reschke 812-331-4370 | mreschke@heraldt.com

Sir Bob Geldof told the hundreds of people in the audience Thursday evening at the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center that what Ivy Tech Community College is doing is vitally important for the future. He said the problems of the 21st century will not be solved from the top down, but rather from the bottom up. And since the community is where those grass-roots efforts will grow from, a community college such as Ivy Tech plays a very important role.

“I feel we’re in a dangerous state,” he said. “Community action is needed now more than ever.”

Geldof, an activist and musician best known for his efforts in organizing the Live Aid concerts and the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” was the fundraising dinner speaker for the 12th annual O’Bannon Institute for Community Service.

The O’Bannon Institute is three days of activities aimed at giving the community an opportunity to come together and discuss topics related to nonprofit organizations, education and political and civic service. It’s named after the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon, in recognition of the role he played in the formation of Indiana’s community college system and in commemoration of his lifetime commitment to community service. The dinner is Ivy Tech Bloomington’s annual signature fundraiser.

In his speech, Geldof talked about the need to use the platforms of the day to disseminate ideas that will lead to change.

He said that when he grew up in Ireland, there was one station in Europe, Radio Luxembourg, that was playing rock ‘n’ roll. He said at that time, rock ‘n’ roll was the platform for change. Geldof said he listened to musicians including John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Pete Townsend and Bob Dylan. He said he wanted to know more about them, and with no television in his home, he went to the library, found out what those artists were reading and starting reading the same authors.

Dylan was reading James Baldwin, who explored the intricacies of race in his writing. Geldof said he was unable to get his head around the fact that someone could be dehumanized because of the color of their skin.

Geldof said he began to react against that. He was so impassioned that when the South African rugby team came to Ireland, he helped organize a march to protest apartheid in that country.

“I didn’t think it was right that a small group of people could hold total sovereignty over the vast majority,” he said. “So we organized a protest march and 60,000 people showed up. We stopped the game, and I was off.”

After spending his teenage years doing what he could to feed the poor in Dublin, and not doing much school work, Geldof said, he eventually dropped out and ended up in Canada working on an underground newspaper. That wasn’t going so well, and one day, utterly bored, he went to a pub and met some men who wanted to start a band.

Geldof’s musical career would eventually flourish. In the late 1970s, he recorded several hits in the United Kingdom with the Boomtown Rats, including the worldwide hit “I Don’t Like Mondays.”

As the 1980s came along, things began to slow down musically for Geldof, and with his daughter of 9 months sitting between him and his wife one evening, they watched a BBC newscast about the Ethiopian civil war and a famine of biblical proportions that it had created.

“People were dying of want in a world of surplus,” he said.

This newscast struck him and he got in touch with Scottish musician and songwriter Midge Ure to organize a supergroup of British and Irish musicians to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Geldof hoped it would raise a few hundred thousand pounds for charity. It ended up raising 8 million pounds within 12 months of the release. That’s when Geldof realized something.

“This is a political lobby,” he said. “Every dollar in the charity box is a vote.”

The song led to several charity events such as Live Aid, which was one of the largest-scale satellite linkups and television broadcasts of all time.

Geldof said where rock ‘n’ roll was once the platform of change, it became pop music — and now it’s something everyone in the room he was speaking to had.

“In all our pockets is the greatest invention … ever,” he said. “The Internet.”

He said the world is in a different age now that requires different thoughts, but we still need to take care of each other and be kinder.

“There will be wars and pandemics,” he said. “We should be better able to deal with those now than before.”

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