Against the backdrop of an extraordinarily divisive presidential election, the 12th and final meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative took place this week in New York City. During the three-day conference and awards ceremony, President Bill Clinton was joined by leaders from the worlds of business, government and entertainment, whose work proposes solutions to pressing global problems.
Among the musicians attending Monday's (Sept. 19) Global Citizens Awards was Jon Bon Jovi, who was honored by President Clinton for his philanthropic Soul Foundation, which combats hunger and homelessness. U2's Bono spoke on a panel that included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "This is an extraordinary moment in time in history," he said. "In the Bob Dylan song 'Brownsville Girl,' in the middle of the song he just turns and goes, 'If there was an original idea right now we'd choose it.' And this is one of those moments."
The meeting comes at a momentous time for the Clinton Global Initiative, which has been a source of controversy for presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, as her rival, Republican nominee Donald Trump, has alleged that the foundation traded access to then-Secretary of State Clinton in exchange for contributions.
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In an interview for Billboard's forthcoming Philanthropy issue, President Clinton was asked why so many questions had been raised about the decade-plus work of the CGI. "Because Hillary's running for president," he replied, before adding, "There was no controversy before. Her opponent [Donald Trump] gave me $100,000. He asked me what I did and I explained it to him. He said 'that's great' and he sent me $100,000. I learned last week that it came from somebody else, but it was an interesting gesture." President Clinton was referring to the recent revelation that Trump has not donated his own money to the Trump Foundation in many years.
Clinton went on to note that in 2008, Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain came to the CGI, "because he recognized that we were trying to do something beyond politics." In 2012, Clinton says, Governor Mitt Romney came: "He was a class act," says the President, before turning to the current election climate. "You're dealing with a different kettle of fish now," he said, "and a different media environment and a different psychology in the world because of the long hangover of the financial crisis. It's easier to peddle anger and resentment than answers and concerns."
Clinton amplified those sentiments in his final address to the CGI on Wednesday (Sept. 21). He referenced a line from a William Yeats poem: "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart."
"You see that everywhere in evidence," Clinton said. "The crash had a very long tail. People with money made theirs back before average people got a pay raise so inequality increased. The result of terror attacks in the United States and France and elsewhere is there is great disorientation in the face of rapid social changes, increasing immigration and diversity and the largest refugee crisis since World War II. So there's a temptation to say… 'life is a zero sum game and I'm losing. Our differences matter more than our common humanity. The hell with the findings of the human genome projects that we're all 99.5 percent the same. No. Choose resentment over reconciliation, choose anger over answers, choose denial over empowerment and yes, choose walls over bridges.' These are not the right choices. The choices you have made here for 11 years are the right choices. Don't be disheartened, don't be deterred or in the wonderful words of my tradition, do not grow weary of doing good." He implored the audience to keep the CGI's work alive and then said "CGI worked out better than I ever dreamed." He walked offstage as John Lennon's "Imagine" played.
Billboard's annual Philanthropy issue goes on sale Oct. 28.