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The Global Citizen Festival Was a Rallying Cry for Activism to Come

Pop met policy as the advocacy organization hits record number of actions, and is gearing up for challenges ahead with artists like Stevie Wonder, Green Day, and The Killers.

Emily Weitz

Image via Global Citizen Festival Facebook.

When the Global Citizen festival took over New York last weekend, with headliners Stevie Wonder, Green Day, The Lumineers, and The Killers, it was a celebration of work accomplished and a rallying cry for the work that needs to be done. This was no ordinary music festival, though if you stumbled upon the Great Lawn of Central Park on Saturday, you might have been fooled into thinking you were only there to dance. And that's part of the idea behind the Global Citizen Festival: music is at once a celebration and a call to action.

"Music is one of the best ways to communicate and mainstream these important issues," said Michael Sheldrick, Vice President of Global Policy and Government Affairs at Global Citizen.
The issues he's referring to are encapsulated in the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which he says cannot be achieved without citizen-led action.

"We need to know about these issues," he said, "and that's where pop culture comes in. We need to let people know that 20 million people are on the brink of starvation, and then give them concrete actions."

Leading up to the festival, Global Citizen helped to initiate 1.6 million actions, a record for their organization. These included things like petitioning businesses like Accenture, Citi, Ernst and Young, and Procter and Gamble to source more from women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.

"We need to let people know that 20 million people are on the brink of starvation, and then give them concrete actions."

Other actions included appealing to governments to support the UN's response to the looming famines in South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia. Through phone calls, tweets, and emails, citizens reached out to governments capable of helping.

"We were delighted to announce that the Netherlands and the US just made commitments [towards famine relief] last week," said Sheldrick.

Another issue front and center at the Global Citizen festival included working for justice for the Yazidi people, who were victims of a genocide committed by ISIS in 2014. Assistant Secretary General of the UN Andrew Gilmour came onstage at the festival to announce that the UN would be investigating crimes against humanity. This announcement comes after an 18-month campaign during which Global Citizens took over 100,000 actions.

"When I was a student activist, someone told me we can't blame the politicians," said Sheldrick. "We have to give them permission to spend our money. We have to demonstrate to our policy makers that we believe that what happens on one side of the world can affect me here."