Stevie Wonder. Alicia Keyes. Neil Diamond. Kings of Leon. Close to 60,000 people. Celebrities including Russell Simmons, Gerard Butler and Olivia Wilde. They're all coming together on Saturday in Central Park to end extreme poverty.
In Africa. In Asia. In places very far from Central Park. This is a far-sighted approach. We need to broach the reality of poverty at home, too.
Just beyond the reservoir and running paths there are 227,000 people waiting for public housing in New York. There are thousands of runaway and homeless youth fighting for only hundreds of beds in shelters to survive (probably living in the park in the meantime). And, Congress has assaulted food stamps.
The "Global Citizen Festival" is hosted by Global Poverty Project. In partnership with the Cotton On Foundation (whose work is focused in Uganda) and with support from HP, FedEx, Coca-Cola, CitiBank and Clear Channel Media, GPP is working to raise awareness and build a movement to end global poverty" -- characterized as "those living on less than $1.25 a day."
All signs point to the music and messaging being powerful. It seems there will be a big focus at the show on "eradicating extreme poverty in this generation." Why, though, is this conversation on global citizenship focused far from here?
Signs do not point to stars on stage mentioning homeless youth in New York, many of whom live on less than $1 a day. It does not seem awareness will be raised about increasing number of families living in New York City in poverty -- 30 percent of Bronx residents living on less than $15 a day. Or the over 46 million living in poverty, including 41 percent of women living in poverty or on the edge of it here in the United States.
While the consequences poverty has on the education, health or wellness of people half a world away will most likely be covered, the way it changes the lives, and fabric of our own city and country seems less likely to be discussed.
Instead, examples of what that might be said on stage come from a video starring supermodel Erin Heatherton explaining, "the real sexy is standing for something significant." She says the movement "isn't about charity, it's about justice. 1.4 billion of us are stuck in broken systems."
I cheerlead justice, sexiness and standing for something significant. I don't believe only 1.4 billion of us are stuck in a broken system, though. Over seven billion of us are. And it may not be sexy to do work that involves being wrong and messy. But, that is the point of global citizenship. And global citizenship starts where you lay your head.
Though some attendees may travel to the places discussed on stage and may even live in Southern Uganda -- who knows -- I bet the majority will not. Instead, they'll be pushed up against me on the L train as we ride back and forth through life here in New York City on subway cars full of people fighting poverty, homelessness, misinformation about birth control and sexual health. The issues GPP is fighting globally are alive here.
By attending the show and raising awareness and educating ourselves about the places -- near or far -- that we do not identify as being part of, a sense of a clear conscious is created that is really an inverted fog, creating space for a different kind of injustice and disrespect -- one that comes from thinking we can fix other people's problems when we shy from even stating our own.
Perhaps we are best served by being local citizens first -- by focusing on our values and being our best selves, by dedicating ourselves to things like an eradication of racism or police brutality or hunger in our own city.
New York is an international city, a city of great complexity, a city of resilience and passion. We can deal with the complexity of maintaining respect for each other while recognizing the suffering in our own zip codes. We can address issues in multifaceted ways, approach the challenges from many angles, not hope only for quick fixes and eradication, but empowerment and balance. We can also create value and support each other as neighbors in a way that does not solidify the power system that everyone was so excited to overthrow this summer when Peter Buffet challenged the paradigm of philanthropy.
Our international city is increasingly host to some of the most affluent in the world. Our international city is home to some of the most resilient and determined folks in the world. Our international city is home to real injustices. On a level we don't like to admit.
Here, in New York, I have watched teenagers who could not post bail wait on Riker's Island for up to three years to be tried... acquitted... and set free having lived from 16 to 19 in a jail. Yes. An innocent teenager in jail for three years due to trial delays. The injustice he faced may have been stark but it is not an anomaly.
The thing about being a community member is it's not about finding problems you are connected to only distantly. It's about noticing how you fit in the system and what you can do to make it better.
I am challenged by the lack of "solution" to local problems, by the fact that no politician I can vote for is perfect. We don't fix social problems; we adjust to address them as best we can. We listen and respond to each other and ourselves.
Hat tip to the impressive mobilization and organizing by GPP. I hope we can expand the vision and use the momentum to do good, to end poverty in our communities, too.
Let's acknowledge how much we don't know. Ask questions and explore how injustice exists where we have more power and responsibility - at home. Pick up some trash. Hold a door. Vote. Listen. Be wrong.Learn. Advocate. Get messy. Respect.
Follow Biz Ghormley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/onewitness