By ERIKA MILVY, Special to The Times
At the height of the Reagan-Thatcher '80s, a slew of earnest pop stars discovered the power of music to raise relief funds. Band-Aid led to Live-Aid, and a sea of benevolent egos swayed in unison and sang out, "We Are the World," "Feed the World," "Do They Know It's Christmas Time at All?" and other treacly AM-radio sentiments like "That's What Friends Are For." The mega-concert met do-goodery.
As the century turns over, both pop music and do-goodery have become acquainted with a mighty new instrument to affect change: the Internet. Today, NetAid launches a trio of live concerts to be Webcast, aimed at sparking awareness of global poverty.
A new slew of earnest pop stars including Jewel, Bono, Sting, Sheryl Crow, Puff Daddy, Busta Rhymes and the guys from Counting Crows will perform at New Jersey's Giants Stadium. Two other mega-concerts will take place in the United Kingdom and Geneva featuring David Bowie, the Eurythmics and others. Meryl Streep will show up at Giants Stadium to hit home the message of activism.
While proceeds from the concerts will be distributed to help the refugees of Kosovo and the Sudan, this event is actually just the kickoff to the NetAid Web site, NetAid, which was launched last month with President Clinton and Nelson Mandela christening the site with its first hits. The site, http://www.netaid.org/, will serve as an ultimate resource to generate volunteerism and direct action (as well as cash) to end hunger, save the environment, secure human rights and relieve the debts of poor nations.
At a news conference last month, Bono of U2 described Net-Aid as "the Yellow Pages of aid in cyberspace."
And the site is, indeed, robust with links and information about how to help. "It's about a billion hits against poverty, and we want to punch that sucker out," said musician-producer Quincy Jones, a spokesman.
"This is a new Internet model for social change that will combine cutting-edge technology with the world's best artistic talent and poverty-fighting expertise," said Don Listwin, executive vice president of Cisco Systems, who, together with the United Nations Development Program, is sponsoring the Web site.
"With simultaneous broadcasts on international radio as well as VH1 and the BBC, this will be the largest fully integrated global multimedia event ever," Listwin said.
The NetAid Web site is built to handle up to 10 million viewers during the event and 125,000 simultaneous video streams--10 times the capacity for the 1998 Olympics and the 1998 men's World Cup soccer tournament. While the concerts can be seen on TV as well as the Net, the Web site alone offers a second channel that will feature live backstage interviews with every artist performing. The London concert starts at 9 a.m., the Geneva one at 1 p.m. The New Jersey event is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. (but will be seen on tape delay on VH1 beginning at 3 p.m.).
At the Web site, viewers can download songs and videos from the participating artists, whose own Web sites are linked there too. Bono and hip-hop artists Wyclef Jean (of Fugees fame) recorded a new song especially for this benefit called "New Day." A heck of a lot hipper than last decade's Michael Jackson-Lionel Ritchie "We Are the World" ditty, "New Day" premiered on the Net, and surfers who apply for the NetAid Visa card receive a free CD.
The Web site features a directory of organizations from Accion International (which provides small loans and training to poor people who start their own businesses) to ZOA Refugee Care, a humanitarian assistance program for refugees and other displaced persons.
The site also offers a wealth of ways to help out without ever getting off your heinie. From "What more can I do?," click on http://www.thehungersite.org and you can effortlessly donate food to needy nations--a bowl of rice per click (paid for by advertisers). You can also take the living planet pledge at the World Wildlife Fund, where, by pledging to speak up and take action, you'll receive a free screensaver.
Further, you can sign a petition to cancel the backlog of unpayable debts of the most impoverished nations at http://www.jubilee2000uk.org/petition/sign.html. This project is, in fact, Bono's chief concern.
"I'm involved with NetAid because NetAid supports the Jubilee 2000 campaign to cancel Third World debt," said Bono, contending that for every $1 sent in government aid to these countries, $9 is sent back in loan servicing.
Harking back to the '80s, Bono said: "We are not going to just hold hands and the poverty is going to go away. I'm suspicious of the warm and fuzzy feeling we have here. If we don't pull this off, it's just a bunch of technocrats playing Disney World on the Internet."