Global Citizen has been bringing people together for over a decade to empower citizens and push policymakers to deliver on the issues that matter most to us all, from eliminating extreme poverty to demanding equity to quickly implementing climate action. 

I'm not writing this to state the obvious about our mission, as I hope you attended or watched the Global Citizen Festival on Sept. 23 (and that you read the impact report here).

But what I am here to call attention to is how Global Citizen has become more holistic in our advocacy in recent years and why it’s more important than ever that we pay attention to this change.

Eliminating poverty in a sustainable way is not just a matter of money — if it were that simple, most poverty would have vanished by now. It is not about transferring funds from countries in the so-called “Global North” to those in the “Global South.” Eliminating poverty, boosting decisive climate action, and achieving equity cannot be done without political ownership, empowering citizens, and taking it all into account through a human rights perspective. 

I am sure some of you may be wondering, “What on Earth does this guy mean by a ‘human rights perspective’?”

Most of what we do as humans and what we need to thrive in our lives can be seen from either a development or a human rights perspective.

Take the example of digging a well or building a school. From the development perspective, this is top-down — the state does it either because it wants to and it can and, as a citizen, you are on the recipient end, accessing water and education. But if you look at this from a human rights perspective, you will find that if the state builds a school and a well, it is fulfilling an obligation — as water and education are human rights — and you, as a citizen, become a central subject, the reason why the state exists, not merely a recipient. From this perspective, the state must therefore consult with you — you can complain and you can make demands. It’s no wonder, therefore, that most governments are happy framing most things as “development,” as it's more convenient and less cumbersome for them.

But, you see, eliminating poverty, achieving equity, and saving our planet are not just development issues — they are human rights issues, which is why Global Citizen has been incorporating this perspective into our advocacy and our events more than ever this year.

This perspective has allowed us to enter a new and exciting stage (pun intended) in which we are more vocal in supporting civic space and fighting alongside human rights and environmental defenders. Why? Because they are what allow us to defend and empower citizens to take their role as subjects, and not mere objects of state (and corporate) decisions. I hope in watching our latest shows in Paris in June and New York in September, you were able to see that shift.

As I like to repeat on every occasion I can, the existence of Global Citizen itself is a result of civic space and human rights. Yes, the vision of its founders was pivotal, but as good seeds need good soil to take root, the civic space openness that was available — first, in Australia and later, in New York — has been essential for the growth of our movement. The same seeds would not have been allowed to flourish in other “soils,” where activists bringing people together to spur action and hold governments and companies accountable would have been met with harassment, prison, disappearances, or even death.

“Where you live should not determine if you live” is one of our recent campaign mottos. As such, we as a movement owe it to ourselves and the world to expand the space that has allowed us to grow. When you take action with us, when you come to our events, when you join our campaigns, you are actively exercising your freedom of expression, association, peaceful protest, and so much more — and that ability is the air that allows for change. That is why defending activism and activists, human rights and civic space, is an essential and increasingly more evident part of our work.

Now that you have read this (if you are still reading, fingers crossed), I hope that if you watch or even rewatch our festival from September, some of our choices will appear more intentional: from the number of activists who were front and center to the powerful moment of solidarity for protesters in Iran; to the calls to action for support for human rights defenders (HRDs) to the celebration of hip hop as a form of expression and protest… From five companies signing up to our pledge to never engage in strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) to the governments of Lithuania and Kosovo committing to support HRDs… and finally, to the messages from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Ford Foundation, and the Be Seen Be Heard campaign.

All of these calls to expand civic space, to protect activists, and to approach our world from a human rights perspective are not just worthy goals in themselves. They are the oxygen we need as campaigners and advocates to bring about real and lasting change, with people at the center.

So, please keep joining our campaigns, keep engaging and taking action with us. Be an activist, and be a human rights and an environmental defender with us.


Demand Equity

Global Citizen Campaigns to Protect and Expand Civic Space. Here’s Why That Matters.

By Ruben Escalante-Hasbun