June was an interesting crossover of community-based mission with global vision. As the adage goes, “Think Globally but Act Locally.” This sentiment was very much in flow from New York City to the Cote d’Azur in France.
At the very moment our special guests from Parkland, Florida, were on the island of Manhattan, I was on the Mediterranean coastline, all of us united and in tune, amplifying music as a channel for change.
The young student songwriters, who are gifting community after community, conference after conference, in lyric and song with aspirational and heart-tearing messaging, brought to the East River their love and call for peace, harmony and justice – as the ripples went out into the blue Atlantic. All-the-more fitting these spirits were aboard while the Peace Boat docked on the East Side, and motivated youth gathered at the Explorers Club, where Ocean Heroes gathered side-by-side with anti-gun violence voices, and calls for eco-justice resonated with community healing and peace-building.
Simultaneously, I was at the MIDEM Global Music Conference, moderating a panel discussion of world experts on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and how the music industry is uniquely poised to take positive steps to reach such ambitious markers by 2030. For those unfamiliar with the SDG Agenda, it is a slate of 17 areas with tangible targets to make our planet and lives healthy, just, peaceful and sustainable, not so much for lofty convenience, but by dire necessity. We are in trouble, the experts profess, and everyone must do something about it.
The SDGs cover areas such as Good Health and Well Being, Quality Education, Reducing Inequality, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Climate Action and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. If you have an interest in bettering the world, there is an avenue for everyone on the Agenda, with urgency. The smartest ones in the room tell us 2030 was not arbitrarily pinned as the year to meet the goals. Conditions – ecologically, environmentally, politically and socially – are begging for our attention and solution. The planet faces catastrophic consequences due to climate change, and the ripple will affect all animal and plant life, as well as impact human migration and habitation. Just a few of the recent findings indicate just how far we have gone in jeopardizing our collective well-being: in the next 50 years over one million forms of animal and plant species face extinction, posing very serious challenges to the human race and its capacity for survival. Today, the average human ingests over 50,000 particles of plastic a year, inhaling on average the same.
So where does music come onto this stage? The SDGs call for creative partnerships to raise awareness, educate and inspire action. Song has always been central to any movement’s momentum, and we must realize the industry has hardly been immune to contributing to waste and pollution, and artists are needed more than ever to take a lead, not only in content of song, but in content of character. Take a look at any beach or festival after thousands assemble for concerts and ask if ecology was on the minds of the participants. Additionally, mass violence has made its way to several music venues in recent years, calling to question how we can do better on the healthy-city/sustainable community front when the proliferation of automatic weapons meets the concert-goer. The SDGs, indeed, apply to us all.
Which brings me back to the shores of Manhattan, where students inspiring us were introduced to many other issues beyond which, to date, has defined their journey: a mass shooting in their community. By design and intention, they brought their experiences, but similarly they were introduced to others. It was important they march across the Brooklyn Bridge with Mothers Demand Action in pursuit of sane, common-sense community safety legislation. Additionally, it was good to know they could look down at the East River below and know they were properly informed by Peace Boat, Ocean Heroes and many others about the call for climate justice in this century.
As Einstein warned, “When the bees go, we go.” We are all in this together. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are not on the shelf in that large, guarded building on the East Side for the big-shots to tackle. They are within our hearts and minds to embrace together, and nothing like this united agenda makes the world more “one.” That is why this June the sands of Cannes, France felt so near to the pillars of the Brooklyn Bridge. We were addressing the same goals, limited by no single issue – and across the miles I could hear the Parkland youth sing, and march, and call … for change.
It rippled … I could feel it. May such waves take us all the way to 2030, and beyond.
Written by John McKenna, Executive Director, Operation Respect