Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield Upon Receiving the Wilson Center’s Global Public Service Award

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 27, 2021


You know, I served in the Foreign Service for over 35 years. And just so you don’t start trying to figure out how old I am, I was pretty young when I started. In all seriousness, I’ve found the longer you work in foreign policy – and the higher you go up – the easier it can be to forget why we do this work.

Some time ago, I was walking in the streets of Arlington, Virginia when someone stopped me on the sidewalk and said, “Are you Linda?” And, I do like to be referred to by that name, instead of Ambassador. And I wasn’t sure how this person knew me; maybe she worked with me in the State Department – I thought – or maybe she had seen me at a Congressional hearing. It wasn’t clear. But then she said to me, “I’m a Sudanese refugee and you processed me for resettlement here in America.” And it really brought home to me the importance of the work that we do and how it affects real people. And I always say that every single day, if you know that you are doing something that has a positive impact on people’s lives, then you know you’re doing something good.

I’m now – just now – coming off the heels of High-Level Week here in New York, the 76th United Nations General Assembly. And many of you know, they call it the “Superbowl of diplomacy”, and I felt like the quarterback, sprinting from one meeting to the next, and getting the ball across the finish line for all of our various visitors.

We set out to lead with our values and to address our top priorities: starting with the COVID-19 pandemic, combating the climate crisis, and defending human rights, democracy, and the international rules-based order. These are big issues that are often talked about from the 10,000-foot view. It’s called High-Level Week for a reason.

But we would do well to remind ourselves, constantly, of the connections between our work and the way it serves everyday people and the world’s most vulnerable people. The President announced last week that we would be donating 500 million more vaccine doses, for a total of 1.1 billion doses – more than any other country’s donations combined. We’re doing this because nobody is safe until everyone is safe. And because there’s a real person who benefits from every single one of those doses. The President referred to it as a “dose of hope”.

Similarly, last week we advanced vigorously tackling climate change. The President announced he would work with Congress to quadruple climate aid to poorer countries more vulnerable to the climate crisis. Special Envoy Kerry crisscrossed New York, just as he had been crisscrossing the world to raise climate ambitions of nations in advance of COP26. And Secretary Blinken told the Security Council to stop debating whether the climate crisis belongs on the agenda, and instead ask how the Council can leverage its unique powers to address it. These actions are abstract, but ultimately, they are about stopping the devastating hurricanes, the floods, such as what we experienced here in New York a few weeks ago, the wildfires that have destroyed the homes and lives of so many millions of our friends and neighbors.

And the same is true for our work defending democracy, human rights, and the international rules-based order. It’s why President Biden is convening a Summit on Democracy this December, bringing together a diverse set of democracies to demonstrate that a government by and for the people is still the best way to deliver for all of our people.

We’re running to be on the Human Rights Council based on a similar principle: that by having a seat at the table, we can push back against those who seek to corrupt the body, and help build a united front of allies and partners to hold human rights abusers accountable. Defending democracy, promoting human rights, holding human rights abusers accountable – these aren’t just nice ideas. The journalist who gets locked up for doing their job deserves their freedom. The protestors who face violence for demanding democracy deserve our protection. And when a humanitarian aid worker is killed for trying to save the lives of innocent citizens? That demands accountability.

And so, in everything we do, I try to remember who we are serving. And I am honored to be on the team of President Biden and Vice President Harris, and it really is the privilege of a lifetime. But above all, I am honored to serve the American people and the world’s most vulnerable. Every vote, every negotiation, every policy push is about them. It’s on their behalf. To me, that is what it means to be a public servant. And so, I can think of no greater honor than to be recognized for those efforts. To be recognized for the work that I love doing every day, having the American flag behind me and having it fly in front of me.

I am beyond humbled by this award. And I promise all of you, in the days and weeks to come, I will do everything in my power to live up to this honor.

Thank you very much.