May I say without guile, I am as sick of messianic rock stars as the next man, woman and child. I am also tired of average work being given extra weight because it's attached to something with real gravitas, like the Aids emergency. So I truly try to tread carefully as I walk over the dreams of dignity under my feet in our work for the terrible beauty that is the continent of Africa. I'm used to the custard pies. I've even learnt to like the taste of them. But before you are tempted to let fly with your understandable invective, allow me to contextualise. Not for the sake of my vanity, but for the sake of people who are depending on you - the reader - to respond to the precariousness of their lives.
Picture this: a village where the disappearance of a whole generation has left children to bring up children (the Lord of the Flies syndrome).
I'm a witness to this. What can I do?
Or this: my new friend Prudence, who even if she had access to anti-retroviral therapies would not have shared them with her now dead sister or best friend Janny, because her fellow activists were more important to keep alive.
Why? Because picture this: most activists and trained nurses cannot afford the drugs available to us in any corner chemist.
I am a witness to this. I have watched these brave and beautiful souls who are fighting a forest fire of a pandemic with watering cans, knowing they will not see the light of a day when their work will be honoured. I have been a witness to their conversations around canteen tables, deciding who will live or die, because they do not have enough pills to go round. I've seen Zackie Achmat refuse his medications until he won his action against the South African government, forcing their hand on universal access. What a witness he was. And so I testify.
These firefighters deserve fire engines with sirens and low-flying aircraft with bellies full of of rain. At the very least, they deserve their situation to merit the classification of an emergency. Code Red, like Hurricane Katrina or the tsunami in south Asia, which swept away a hundred and fifty thousand lives. These were natural catastrophes. Africa loses a hundred and fifty thousand men, women, and children every month to Aids, a wholly avoidable disaster, a preventable, treatable disease.
Colin Powell describes the tiny little virus HIV as the most lethal weapon of mass destruction on the planet. So forgive us if we expand our strategy to reach the high street, where so many of you live and work.
We need to meet you where you are as you shop, as you phone, as you lead your busy, businessy lives. Those of us who campaign on these issues feel we have made a dent on the pop consciousness with Live Aid and 8, Red Nose Day, Comic Relief and Make Poverty History. But we are still losing the battle: 9,000 new infections every day across the developing world.
There will be those that think that RED is the worst idea they've ever heard.
On the far right, we will hear the usual carping about it being Africa's own fault (the same warped logic that would pass by a drunk driver's car accident). This despite the fact that the largest increasing group of HIV-positive people are monogamous married women. We'll hear the "Africans can't take pills because they don't have watches to tell the time" line. Even though Africans have the best record of us all at sticking to their drug regimens.
On the far left, we will meet "better dead than RED", a reaction to big business that is not wholly unjustified. But given the emergency that is Aids, I don't see this as selling out. I see this as ganging up on the problem. This emergency demands a radical centre, as well as a radical edge. Creeping up on the everyday. Making the difficult easy.
Product RED cannot replace activism. For anyone who thinks this means I'm going to retire to the boardroom and stop banging my fist on the door of No. 10, I'm sorry to disappoint you. We have to keep our marching boots on and hold our leaders to account for the promises they have made to Africa - and get them to promise more. The incredible movement we saw gathering around last year's G8 is what will, in the end, win the day. But for too many people, that day will be too late. Right now, people you will never meet, who will never be able to thank you, are depending on you for the life-saving drugs which buying this paper will buy. For those people, my motivation or our (RED) motivation is irrelevant.