The recipients of the Clinton Global Initiative Global Citizen Awards are always top-tier, but this year brought an especially star-studded group to the stage, including five current and former leading politicians, one queen, and one Pakistani girl who survived a bullet. In a typical Clintonian mix of Hollywood and Washington, public and private leadership, the gala was packed with big names like Sean Penn and former Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Ben Affleck kicked off the festivities, calling himself as Bruce Wayne and saying he was honored to share the room with his fellow billionaires, before introducing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who offered herself up for a role in Argo II.
The darling of the evening (make that week, appeared on stage soon after, introduced by Jordan’s Queen Rania as “a giant among us all.” Malala Yousafzai accepted the first Global Citizen Award to what must be the longest standing ovation that ballroom has ever seen.
“Women are not even accepted as human beings, they are treated with injustice and inequality,” she said to the rapt audience, after ticking off the most substantial hurdles still facing women’s empowerment worldwide. “We are denied and neglected even in developed countries where they are not given opportunities to move forward.” She continued with a sly smile: “Even in America people are waiting for a woman president.” The camera, cutting instantly to Hillary Clinton, showed the possible 2016 contender laughing.
Announcing her recently-launched Malala Fund, which is beginning work in her home region of Swat Valley, Pakistan, with a education program for 40 female victims of child labor, she made a public plea: “We ask government and responsible people: if you want to see peace in Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, if you want to end the war, instead of sending guns send books. Instead of sending soldiers send teachers. Instead of sending guns send pens. Fight terrorism through education.”
Vice President Joe Biden introduced the next winner: a politician almost as feisty as Uncle Joe himself. (But first, “I miss our Tuesday morning breakfast,” he said to Hillary.) Calling New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg “a genius who always has his eye on the common ground,” Biden praised the outgoing politician for his moral compass in leading the charge on gun control. “I don’t know anybody in my career--and I’ve been hanging around for a long time--that does more than you, Mike,” Biden said.
In turn, Bloomberg offered Biden a spot in City Hall if the federal government doesn’t avert its impending shutdown. He still pinches himself, he said, for being on first-name basis with folks like the Clintons. “People call you President Clinton and I can call you Bill,” he said happily.
A number of Global Citizen Awards were handed out over the course of the evening, but none could match the rise-from-the-ashes story of South Sudan’s Bishop Elias Taban. In a melodic speech, he addressed the issues facing the world’s newest country. “South Sudan is not even a third world country,” he said. “We are praying to be a third world country.” Taban spent 40 years embroiled in armed conflict, but summed his transformation up thusly: “Bloom where you are planted.” Calling Bill Clinton “God’s chosen child,” he went on to praise the former secretary of state, saying, “If God accepts Hillary Clinton to become president of American, it’s not because we need a woman to be president, but because we need a person able to do so.”
At the end, The Roots returned for a second set, bringing with them Elvis Costello, to play songs of their new collaborative album. The dual saxophonists jamming out on stage surely pleased a certain former president in the front row.