My Experience at the Global Citizen Festival

India Yeoh

October 13th, 2018

The Global Citizen Festival was going to be the best night of my life. Famous singers such as Shawn Mendes, Janet Jackson, and Cardi B were coming to The Great Lawn in Central Park and performing at this festival dedicated to ending extreme poverty. The deal was simple: you earn enough points by raising awareness about poverty on social media and you’re entered in a lottery to win free tickets to the festival. When I didn’t get tickets through the lottery, my mom somehow managed to get VIP tickets for my best friend and me through Citibank, the festival’s sponsor. I had never been more excited.

 

The day arrived, September 29th. We picked up the tickets and walked to the VIP entrance line, which stretched for three blocks down Central Park West. Even though it was an hour before anyone was allowed to enter, the line was filled with people, dressed in their cutest outfits, holding their tickets, and ready for the night of fun ahead.

 

Finally at 2:00 pm, the doors opened. We passed through a checkpoint where workers scanned our tickets and slipped small golden ribbon bracelets onto our wrists to signify that we were Citi VIPs. We then passed through metal detectors while security guards checked our bags to make sure we had no weapons, drugs, or anything else illegal. We were then escorted to our section of The Great Lawn, which was fenced off with metal bars so that no one could enter but the Citi VIPs. Ultimate VIPs were in front of us, Global VIPs were behind us, and General Admission was behind the Global VIPs but also extended out to our right and up to the stage for the lucky people who arrived eight hours early. We were right at the front of our section, up against the partition. We spread out the towel, put our bags down, and made ourselves comfortable. It would be a while before the concert started.

Finally, Janelle Monáe, the first artist, entered and began to sing. She was so energetic, and she and her backup dancers were all wearing matching outfits: red, black, and silver. My favorite song that she sang was called “Make Me Feel.” Then John Legend came on. He sang a song that hadn’t been released yet called “Preach,” which called out senators’ behavior towards victims of sexual assault. Of course, after that he sang “All of Me,” which had the whole crowd singing along with him. Then Shawn Mendes performed. He got the biggest cheers, and many people started crying out of joy when he entered. He sang all his hit songs, such as “In My Blood,” “Stitches,” and “Treat You Better,” and he even sang a duet with John Legend called “Youth,” which is originally performed by Shawn Mendes and Khalid. Their voices entwined together in the harmonies, and the applause at the end of that song was deafening. Next up was Cardi B, who rapped her famous songs such as “Finesse,” “I Like It,” and “Bodak Yellow.” The crowd was jumping and going wild. It was so much fun to sing along to the songs we knew!

 

In between each act, Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness, the hosts of the event, spoke about the different political issues of today, such as poverty, immigration, and even the Kavanaugh case. By the time Cardi B had finished her act (at around 7:30 pm) it was dark out and Hugh Jackman came back out to speak, along with a couple other TV personalities who were speaking about how important it is to vote. My friend and I were standing up and leaning against the barred metal partition. I turned to the side to tell her something, but she was gone.

 

I looked down immediately, my heart beginning to race. My bag was gone, as well as one of her bags. Our blanket and her second bag were still there. I whipped around, trying to peer through the crowd, but it was no use. My friend was not there. I decided that if she was trying to find me, my best option was to stay where I was, right?

 

And it was then that I noticed that there was a bit of a wave. The crowd was surging all together towards the west side of the park. I was beginning to panic. What was going on?

 

My friend suddenly emerged from the crowd. “India, what are you doing?? Run!!” My heart jumped. I leaned down, grabbed her second bag and the blanket, and bolted after her.

 

We weaved through the crowd as pandemonium ensued all around us. Then I saw the police cars and the fire trucks. My mind immediately jumped from one thought to another. There’s a fire. And then it hit me. No. There’s a shooter. Someone has a gun. The adrenaline started to really kick in now. We weren’t just running in the same direction as the crowd. Something was really wrong. We were running for our lives.

 

I pulled my phone out of my pocket while running and hit the button to call my mom. My hands were shaking. My friend was racing ahead of me, and it was taking all I had to keep up with her. My throat was beginning to close up, and my stomach was hurting. But my legs were still pumping.

 

My mom picked up the phone after the second ring. She had been watching the festival on TV. The first thing she did was ask if I was okay. My voice was shaky and I was running at top speed after my friend, but I was able to explain to her that we were together, had our belongings, and were running out of the park. “I--I don’t know what’s going on, I have no idea, but I’m scared there’s a shooter,” I said to her. “I’m gonna hang up now, I’m coming home.”

 

I ended the call and dashed after my friend, who was still sprinting but on the phone with her parents at the same time. There were people all around us running as fast as they could. We jumped a fence and ran in the same direction as those people, because we had no idea where we were going or where the exit to the park was. But what if the shooter was running after us? What if the shooter was one of these people?

 

Finally we exited the park on the Upper West Side, six blocks from my apartment. We ran for one block, and when we reached the corner, the chaos was gone. Hopefully, we had escaped the shooter. Our throats burning, we stopped at a concession stand to buy two bottles of water. Then, gulping down the cool water, we walked home, hand in hand, comforting each other in the dark of the evening. I had been hoping we wouldn’t have to duck into a café or apartment building to escape the shooter, and we didn’t. Instead, we had a new destination: the comfort and safety of home.

 

When we reached my house, my mom gave us ice cream and let us lie down for a little while my friend’s parents drove over to pick her up. She explained to us that it wasn’t a shooter at all, but rather a metal barrier in the General Admissions section that had fallen down and made a loud noise. People had automatically assumed the noise was a gunshot and started running, causing the rest of the crowd to descend into chaos. But wait. Let’s back up.

 

Why would the crowd automatically assume that something as simple as a barrier falling was actually a gunshot? We had been through security. Our bags had been checked thoroughly, and we had been through the metal detectors. Yet the crowd’s first instinct was to assume gunshots had been fired. Why? Because gun violence is a normal aspect of American society. We’re at a big event, a loud noise sounds, and we assume gunshots. Because for us, we know there is a high chance that someone actually does have a gun, even with the security surrounding us. Because gun violence has been ingrained in our minds. Because we know that we are never truly safe from guns, considering the laws of our country. We are scared.

 

So why is nothing changing? Why are we living in a country in which we feel unsafe and unprotected from gun violence? Because we hope to change our country’s policies on guns. And we have to pursue that, because it’s scary to live in constant fear.

 

What happened at The Global Citizen Festival was lucky for everyone there. My friend and me were lucky that we stayed together, had all our belongings, exited efficiently and conveniently, avoided getting trampled by the crowd, and made it home safely. But the luckiest aspect of that night was that there was no real shooter. We responded to the situation as if we could have lost our lives, but we were not in any real danger. But if there had been a real shooting, I might not be writing this piece. And even though the festival was a ton of fun, it was still the scariest night of my life.

 

Gun violence is something that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. We are living in fear of guns, knowing that next it could be us. This constant state of fear needs to end, and the only way that can happen is through our action.

©2017 by The Highly Indy Project

highlyindy@gmail.com, New York City

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