On Saturday, September 26, over 60,000 individuals descended on Central Park's Great Lawn, all gathered together for one purpose: to celebrate the UN's unveiling of the new Global Goals (and of course to hear some amazing music).
The tradition of the Global Citizens Festival began in 2013, but the Global Citizen project itself began one year earlier in 2012. The Global Poverty Project, Ryan Gall and Riot House created it as a "hub for innovative campaigns that work towards a world where every child can survive and thrive. A world where every child has a chance to go to school, a world where women and girls are protected from violence, and where preventable diseases aren't holding people back." The purpose of the festival is to continue to raise awareness about the issues plaguing our society today: extreme poverty, gender violence, HIV/AIDS, women's rights, and many more.
But what makes this festival unique? It's free- somewhat. While no one has to pay for a general assembly ticket, you do have to earn admission. How? By completing action journeys on the Global Citizens website.
These action journeys are completed by tweeting, writing emails, making phone calls and signing petitions, all to urge world leaders and other individuals in positions of power to make the changes in their respective countries that our society so desperately needs.
So, before you even get to the festival, you are already pushing for change. Then, when you arrive, you receive the reward for your hard work: An afternoon and night of inspiring speeches, videos and incredible music performances.
This year's festival was slightly different from that of the previous two years. This time, the festival was timed to occur simultaneously with the United Nation's announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is the second installment of worldwide, transnational goals designed to create a better world for all citizens of all countries; the first were the Millenium Development Goals, ratified in 2000 with a target date of 2015. These goals provided incentives for all member nations to work together to achieve things like the eradication of extreme poverty and the end of gender inequality, but we still aren't there yet. To keep pushing for these necessary changes, the 193 member nations of the UN created a new set of goals (the SDGs), with a wider focus and more mechanisms of implementation.
For those of you who did not/were unable to attend the festival, here are some highlights of the evening (which were really difficult to choose, given that everything about the festival was amazing and inspiring):
1. Queen Rania of Jordan, Chime for Change Co-Founder Salma Hayek Pinault and First Vice President of the European Commission (EU) Frans Timmermans declaring support for the refugees.
2. David Cameron (Britain's Prime Minister) speaking from a refugee camp in Lebanon:
3. Ed Sheeran performing and having the crowd make hearts with their hands:
4. Joe Biden's speech rallying the crowd against extreme poverty and urging everyone to advocate for universal rights for all: “I look out and I see lots of global citizens, optimistic, determined, absolutely determined, rejecting the false premise that our challenges are mere fate, with no solutions, and that protecting universal rights is equally universal, because it is.”
5. Common performing his hit song Glory from the movie Selma, reminding the audience of the horrors of racial inequality
that so many still face.
6. Beyonce's mind-blowing, empowering performance that showcased the theme of female empowerment and gender equality (because girls run the world).
7. Michelle Obama's video and speech on her important campaign, Let Girls Learn. This movement seeks to get more girls in primary and secondary school, because "to educate a girl is to build a healthier family, a stronger community, and a brighter future." The first lady urged the use of the hashtag #62milliongirls to showcase what you have learned in school, and to drive home the fact that, in the world today, 62 million girls are not in school.
8. And last but not least, Malala Yousafzai's empowering, inspiring speech on the universal right of education, specifically for women. This young woman has become an icon for girls all over the world because of her bravery and willingness to stand up for what she believes in, but she is also humble, sharing the stage with four other young women activists from Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, telling the audience that their names will be known one day soon.
Global Citizens Festival 2015 was an evening of incredible musical performances, but it was so much more than that: It was a celebration of the progress we as a world have made, but also a reminder of how much further we have to go. The lofty global goals announced at the festival are ambitious- but not unattainable. It will take every single person's awareness and drive to achieve them. We as a world will do it, because failure isn't an option here.