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Make Poverty History

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Bob Geldof shows just how serious he is.

Make Poverty History was a 2005 campaign launched by Bob "God" Geldof, its aim being to make poverty history. The campaign was unique in that it encouraged ordinary people to do something to make a difference to poverty by wearing a white band on their wrist where everyone could see it, so everyone knew they were committed.

Mission statement

In December 2004 Geldof made a speech to launch Make Poverty History year. He was meant to wait until January, but he was way too excited to keep quiet about it.

I know it won't be easy to Make Poverty History. It's not a trivial task – it takes all of us to stand up and say: "I want to do this!" But if enough of us do, then governments will listen. Maybe even the Guinness Book of Records will listen!

He went on to explain the concept of Make Poverty History:

The history of poverty is filled with some really big events. Famines in Ethiopia. Floods in Bangladesh. Del Boy and Rodney from Only Fools and Horses. It's very difficult to measure precisely which of these is the most epic example of suffering. But one thing's for sure – we will come up with something that beats them all. Poverty History will be made!

He then left the podium to sell a selection of his CDs at the door.

Ex Bee Gees frontman Blair, during his glory days

The G8 meeting

With his grand ideas already taking shape, Geldof sought out his old rock-star buddy Tony Blair (former guitar player for the Bee Gees), who also happened to be Prime Minister of Great Britain. "I tried to reassure him," recalls Blair. "I told him I was already doing my best to find some sort of sneaky new tax that could make everybody twenty times poorer, and if he'd just wait a few years he wouldn't need to bother with a campaign. But, typical Geldof: he wanted it now."

Through a chance meeting with Nelson Mandela, Geldof learnt that this year the British government were in charge of the G8, or Secret World Government. Originally, Blair had been intending to keep this a secret to avoid any of those annoying protests outside their AGM in Edinburgh, but Geldof persuaded him to announce the summit as a focal point of the Make Poverty History campaign.

“At the G8 meeting I plan to do everything I can to make Poverty History, and I'm sure all the other leaders in attendance feel exactly the same.”

Make Poverty History Year (formerly known as 2005)

The innocuous white band, complete with microchip in the back

The white band

Geldof's campaign started small. He realised that if everyone in the whole country could be persuaded to part with just one pound of their money, then average quality of life would dip dramatically, particularly in the poorer areas of the country which he aimed to have granted full shanty town status by the end of the year.

Rebranding 2005 "MPH Year", he began an intensive marketing campaign to sell white wristbands to the public. Though not strictly compulsory to wear, the white band carried biometric information, and was soon essential for getting a passport, travelling by train, or using public lavatories.

Advertisements featuring celebrities turned the white band into a fashion statement, which increased prices. Soon, children without bands were mocked by their peers, and whole families were ostracised until they remortgaged their homes to buy bands. By April, it was not uncommon to see families living in cardboard boxes by the roadside, clutching their dirty off-white bands to their chests and snarling at anyone who came near.

Click. Geldof in an early Bobbie training video.


Meanwhile, Geldof continued to do his bit by harassing people on the street. "Give me your fucking money NOW!" he would frequently demand. "It's for a good fucking cause!" However, he soon realised that as just one man, he was never going to be able to extort enough money out of the population to really make a difference. It was this thinking that spawned Bob's army of "Bobbies", an elite group of ex-policemen whose menacing finger-clicking as they stalked the streets symbolised the fact that someone in the country was being robbed every three seconds.

Live 8

By summer, British poverty was at an all time high – the stock-market crash of White Wednesday occurred when the Bobbies raided the London Stock Exchange and tied all the traders' hands behind their backs so they couldn't signal to buy or sell any shares. Unemployment reached 50% in June, and even Blair had to volunteer to job-share with his deputy Gordon Brown in order to keep costs down.

Two Live 8 refugees. Note torn clothing, and pained expressions after hearing Geldof sing.

But still the country limped on, despite Geldof's encouragement. "I said to them: What's the matter with you?" the superstar recalls. "They'd completely stopped spending money on luxury holidays and my new albums. If we weren't careful the economy was going to recover, and then we'd never see scenes as horrific as those I witnessed in Africa."

So as an incentive, Bob created Live 8, a series of rock concerts for poverty rather reminiscent of his earlier record-breaking work handing out CDs infected with Live AIDS. The concerts would see millions of people crammed into Hyde Park and other locations across the globe, where they would spend a day without food or water and with only a picnic blanket to sleep on. All money and possessions were confiscated at the gates, and portaloos in the grounds were deliberately broken to give the concert that added air of squalor. "This is better than Ethiopia!" exclaimed Geldof during one of his sets on stage. "When I was there, at least they didn't have to pee on each other! We're Making Poverty History here people!" He went on to sing a song about how people didn't know it was Christmas.

The final firework display at Live 8

The response to the concerts was mixed. Though at first enthusiastic, the crowd soon buckled under an outbreak of dysentery and typhoid due to contaminated bottles of Evian, with symptoms of malnutrition following shortly afterwards. Viewers at home were distressed by pictures of the swollen-bellied child crying for the Big Mac that wasn't going to arrive, and they rushed to their phones to donate more money so this horrible sacrifice might somehow mean something, like an entry in the record books.

The final death toll of the Make Poverty History campaign

Unknown to them however, Geldof wasn't content with just creating a few starving orphans in Hyde Park. Whilst the world was distracted by a power ballad featuring Bono and Bon Jovi, he began hacking into the computer networks of all the major world powers with passwords stolen from Blair's desk. By the time the sun set over Hyde Park at least ten countries were officially at war, including the USA, Russia and Switzerland. The first missile launches were cleverly masked by a firework display behind the concert stage, which those not too weak to open their eyes described as "hauntingly beautiful".

After effects

Make Poverty History Year officially ended in August, with an address by acting Prime Minister Sir Bob Geldof declaring it a total success and that he'd like to see anyone else try to top it. Bob attended the G8 meeting in place of Blair, where he led a motion that the world should be declared a write-off for tax purposes and melted down for scrap by a process of global warming.

See also

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