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More than 60,000 people turned out for Saturday’s Global Citizen Festival, where entertainers, politicians, CEOs and other pioneers for change performed, slighted each other and, most important, pushed for increased activism among millennials and Gen-Zers.
Curated by Coldplay’s Chris Martin and hosted by Hugh Jackman and Deborra-lee Furness, the festival was held on the Great Lawn of Central Park in New York City. Though the event’s purpose — ending extreme poverty by 2030 — has remained the same since its 2012 inception, one of the most discussed issues this year was combating sexual assault. From Dakota Johnson giving out her phone number so survivors can call her and share their stories to Janelle Monae and John Legend pledging their solidarity with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, numerous celebrity attendees used their time onstage to address the issue.
“I want to help you — women and girls around the world — tell your story,” Johnson told the crowd before pulling out her iPhone and revealing her phone number. “I want you to call me and tell me your story in a voicemail. Or I want you to send me a message at email@example.com and tell me what you’ve gone through as a woman or girl in the world that’s been suffering.”
Johnson said she plans to compile the stories and “get them heard.”
Monae dedicated her performance to both Ford and Anita Hill, who accused now-Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991. “This past week was a brutal, brutal week for a lot of us women,” Monae said in between songs, adding that it was especially hard for “survivors of sexual violence.”
“So today, I’m standing here with my sisters on this stage, and with you,” Monae told the crowd. “And, we want to send a message loud and clear to survivors here and all over the world; let’s make sure that they know that these 60,000 global citizens right here in this audience have got your back.”
Monae also had the crowd repeat, “I hear you, I see you, and I believe you.”
While debuting a new song, “Preach,” Legend specifically called out the Senate’s treatment of Ford during last week’s hearing on her accusations against Kavanaugh. “In the song we talk about how frustrating it can be to look at your phone, read the news, see what’s happening,” he said. “See how senators treat women who come forward with sexual abuse claims. See how people ridicule young people who march for the right to go to school without getting shot up. See how people would denigrate those who make the very simple claim that black lives matter. We can get frustrated when we see all of that, but we can’t give up. It’s not enough for us to talk about it or tweet about it, we’ve got to do something.”
Legend made sure to emphasize the importance of actually “doing,” rather than just “preaching.” The comments came right after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a speech about the need to end the criminalization of poverty and the cash bail system (Ava DuVernay and Cynthia Erivo made separate, similar pleas).
“We have a lot of work to do. And we can’t just talk the talk. We have politicians here talking the talk. But we gonna follow up with them, right? We need legislation passed,” Legend said to the crowd. “We’re going to follow up with you, Gov. Cuomo. All of our governors throughout the country, we’re paying attention and we’re voting. Are we voting everybody?”
Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake was another politician in attendance whose presence rubbed some the wrong way. On Friday, it took being confronted in an elevator by sexual assault survivors for Flake to supplement his support for Kavanaugh’s nomination with a demand for a background check of the allegations against him. Until then, Flake had planned to vote for Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination regardless of the accusations made by Ford and other women.
While on stage at the festival with Democratic Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, Flake praised young people involved in politics. “So feel free to join me in an elevator anytime,” Flake said.
He was immediately booed by the audience.
Amber Heard and Bridget Moynahan took the stage immediately after Coons and Flake. Heard, an outspoken activist — who also tweeted about the protesters confronting Flake on Friday — quipped, “Wow, someone’s got a sense of humor with this lineup.”
Janet Jackson — who was the first performer to take the stage after a police barrier fell, releasing a sound that sent a large portion of the crowd running for fear of gunshots — spoke about abuse against women in general. “Like millions of other women out there, I know about bullying. I know about verbal abuse. I know about physical abuse. I know about abuse of authority,” she said after delivering an emotional performance of “What About,” which addresses the abuse she’s faced. “I’m sick, I’m repulsed, I’m infuriated by the double standards that continue to treat women as second-class citizens. Enough, you guys! Enough injustice. Enough bigotry. Mistreatment and mindless prejudice have to stop — and stop now. Equality is our demand. Action is our answer.”
Another popular subject throughout the festival? Voting. Robert De Niro, Cardi B and others encouraged the audience to register and vote in this November’s midterm elections. “You’re at this amazing concert because you took your responsibility as global citizens seriously…. Now, we are asking you to take your responsibility as U.S. citizens seriously by voting,” De Niro said.
He continued, “Voting is how we hire and how we fire our leaders.… Guess what? They’re not our bosses, we’re their bosses.”
Also in attendance were Mark Ruffalo, Rami Malek, Katie Holmes, Rachel Brosnahan, Kal Penn, Elizabeth Chambers, Forest Whitaker and Gus Kenworthy. In addition to Cardi B, Jackson, Legend and Monae, the Weeknd and Shawn Mendes performed.
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