A Gathering Voices Post by Greg Garrett
So U2 was playing the huge and still ever-so-slightly countercultural Glastonbury Festival here in the UK a week back. They're in the midst of their "360" tour, one of the most successful in pop music history, and Glastonbury was a detour of sorts, but, I would have thought, a pleasant one. Close to home, back in comfortable territory, so on, so forth.
Until I read in several of the London papers that a massive protest was planned during U2's set to draw attention to the band moving their publishing company to Holland and the subsequent tax losses to Ireland such a move by a lucrative corporation would presumably involve. During U2's performance of "Until the End of the World"--a song, I note with some discomfort, that can be heard as voiced by Judas Iscariot--members of an activist group called Art Uncut inflated and attempted to release a twenty-four foot tall balloon bearing the words "U Pay Your Tax 2" over the crowd of some 50,000 souls.
Glastonbury security rushed in, bodily prevented the protest, and a small scrum broke out that injured a few folks and engendered a larger hubbub about how, first, Glastonbury was no longer a place for protesters, and second, U2 and most especially Bono were hypocrites for speaking out against poverty and yet moving their money out of the country at a time when Ireland is in dire need. As The Times reported, protestors said that
U2's multi million-euro tax dodge is depriving the Irish people at a time when they desperately need income to offset the Irish government's savage austerity programme.
Tax nestling in the band's bank account should be helping to keep open the hospitals, schools and libraries that are closing all over Ireland. Bono is well-known for his anti-poverty campaigning but Art Uncut is accusing him of hypocrisy.
I am of two minds about this whole thing. Okay, more than two minds, but still. First, I love U2. I have loved their music for 30 years. I have, as some of you know, written a book about the spiritual and Christian elements of U2's music and philanthropy, We Get to Carry Each Other. I have played in and preached at U2charists, communion services employing U2's music as service and hymn selections--and for which, incidentally, the band has given blanket permission for the free use of their words and music, so long as any offering taken is contributed to the Millennium Development Goals.
When you look at the band's history, you see their commitment to peace and justice work, their performances at LiveAid and for Amnesty International, Bono's work on behalf of Africa which has resulted in unlikely but effective political coalitions, in debt relief, disease prevention, and international awareness of the continent's deep-seated problems. I have no questions about Bono's social justice bona fides.
Second, Ireland is truly in sorry shape financially. And while U2 are not breaking any laws, but are only being the smart businessmen they have always been, it does grate to see them taking advantage of available loopholes in this way. The band is, as Forbes just noted, the richest in the world, more successful than they have ever been. Should they be giving more?
And I note with some discomfort, I too take advantage of every tax loophole offered by my own tax codes although there are many in worse shape than me who could benefit from even the few dollars I save each year.
So what do you think? Does this change your mind about St. Bono? Are the tax codes to blame? Are we?