Garry Davis Had a Vision: World Passports for a Planet Without Borders
March 9, 2018
Donnal Walter / World Beyond War & Marc Eliot Stein / World Beyond War
Commentary: I recently watched the movie. "The World is My Country," which highlights the life and work of Garry Davis, the first "World Citizen." With his creation of a World Passport, he sparked a global citizenship movement, which envisions a peaceful world beyond the divisions of nation states. I've been inspired to join this movement by applying for, and traveling on, a world passport.
Passports and Borders
Donnal Walter / World Beyond War
(March 8, 2018) -- As luck would have it, my passport is due to expire between now and September, when the #NoWar2018 Conference is set to be held in Toronto (September 21-22, 2018). Crossing an international border, even into Canada and back, requires a current passport. If I want to attend, it's time to renew.
By another coincidence, however, I recently watched the movie The World is My Country (reviewed below), which highlights the life and work of Garry Davis, the first "World Citizen."
With his creation of a World Passport, he sparked a global citizenship movement, which envisions a peaceful world beyond the divisions of nation states. I've been inspired to join this movement by applying for, and traveling on, a world passport.
The first step is to register as a world citizen through World Service Authority.
"A World Citizen is a human being who lives intellectually, morally and physically in the present. A World Citizen accepts the dynamic fact that the planetary human community is interdependent and whole, that humankind is essentially one."
This describes me, or at least my intent. I identify with the description (CREDO) of a world citizen. I am a peaceful and peacemaking individual. Mutual trust is basic to my lifestyle. I want to establish and maintain a system of just and equitable world law.
I want to bring about better understanding and protection of different cultures, ethnic groups and language communities. I want to make this world a better place to live in harmoniously by studying and respecting the viewpoints of fellow citizens from anywhere in the world.
Most of us accept our interdependence and desire to live harmoniously with others, but giving up autonomy does not always come easy. We may see the need for a system of just and equitable world law, but we often find it harder to envision appropriate legislative, judiciary and enforcement bodies.
The idea of submitting to a world government is disturbing for many of us. Do I really want other countries telling MY country what we can and cannot do? We are a sovereign nation. But I submit that this is the wrong question. No, I do not want other countries dictating what is allowable to my country, but yes, I do want the people of the world, my fellow world citizens, to have a clear say in what we all do, especially where we're all involved. As a world citizen "I acknowledge the World Government as having the right and duty to represent me in all that concerns the General Good of humankind and the Good of All."
Local vs. Global. The primary objection for some is that decisions regarding any locality or region are best left up to local or regional government. But it is not the purpose of a world government to manage the affairs of every province or neighborhood. In fact, one of the purposes of world government is to facilitate self-government in every region of the world.
As a Citizen of World Government, I recognize and reaffirm citizenship loyalties and responsibilities within the communal state, and/or national groupings consistent with the principles of unity.
Two exceptions might be: (1) when a local government is repressive or fails to represent the interests of its own citizens, and (2) when the self-interests of a given locality are at odds with the "Good of All"? What if, for example, a locality chooses to increase the use of fossil fuels unimpeded without regard to the impact on climate change, a global issue? In such cases, it is the duty of all peoples to "encourage" compliance. This would not be imposed by force, however, but through the use of sanctions or incentives.
Freedoms and Rights. Another concern is that a world government might not protect the freedoms we hold dear. Granted, there can be a tension between the Good of All and individual rights in some situations, and finding the right balance may be difficult. But the World Government of World Citizens does not remove the personal rights afforded by any nation or state. If anything, our rights are protected more effectively.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is the basis for world citizenship and the world passport. Freedom of speech, for example, is well protected (Article 19). The right to keep and bear arms not so much, but neither is it infringed.
A World Parliament. The World Government of World Citizens provides a way to register citizenship and apply for a passport, as well as legal assistance. Beyond this, however, it does not prescribe specific details of governing, which yet remain to be worked out. That said, the World Beyond War monograph A Global Security System describes many essential features of such a system (pp 47-63).
Dual Citizenship. In applying for world citizenship, I have no intention of renouncing my US Citizenship. I am still proud to be an American (though not infrequently ashamed as well). World citizens from other countries need not renounce their national citizenship either. We affirm national loyalties consistent with the principles of unity. The difference between this situation and dual citizenship in two countries, is that the latter can result in conflicts of interest. I believe I can be a good US citizen and a world citizen without such conflict.
Though I understand the reservations of some of my friends about world citizenship, I embrace it wholeheartedly and have initiated the registration process. Having gone this far, it only makes sense for me to go ahead and apply for the world passport, which I have also done. You may be wondering if there is any advantage of doing this over simply renewing my US passport.
The cost is about the same, the time required is similar, photos are the same, and the overall hassle is little different. It is about the same either way for me, but for many people (especially refugees) a world passport is the only legal way to cross international borders. I am therefore taking this step to help those humiliated by the nation state system (and nations acting in their own self-interest) to reclaim their dignity. The World Service Authority provides free documents to needy refugees and stateless persons.
The legal mandate for the world passport is Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including one's own, and to return to one's country." According to World Service Authority:
If freedom of travel is one of the essential marks of the liberated human being, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then the very acceptance of a national passport is the mark of the slave, serf or subject. The World Passport is therefore a meaningful symbol and sometimes powerful tool for the implementation of the fundamental human right of freedom of travel.
In a perfect world, perhaps there would be no need for national borders, or at least they should not be barriers to travel. I am not prepared (today) to go this far, but I am prepared to defend the right of every person to leave one's country and return if they wish. Again from World Service Authority:
A passport gains credibility only by its acceptance by authorities other than the issuing agent. The World Passport in this respect has a track record of over 60 years acceptance since it was first issued. Today over 185 countries have visaed it on a case-by-case basis. In short, the World Passport represents the one world we all live in and on. No one has the right to tell you you can't move freely on your natural birthplace! So don't leave home without one!
Making a Statement or Hedging
I plan to use my world passport to travel to #NoWar2018 in Canada in September and return home afterward. If challenged, I intend to politely educate the border agent(s), and their supervisors if necessary, on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I am also prepared to encounter delays as a result. It is important to me to assert the right of every human being to travel as they wish. Continuing the track record is important.
If push comes to shove, however, I'll do neither (push or shove). If it means missing the conference (or failing to get home), I would simply take from my back pocket my renewed US passport, also initiated this week, and show it. Is that hedging? Yes, probably so. And I'm okay with that.
"The World Is My Country."
An Important New Film about Garry Davis's Fight for Global Citizenship
Marc Eliot Stein / World Beyond War
(February 8, 2018) -- Garry Davis was a young Broadway actor in 1941, an eager understudy for Danny Kaye in a Cole Porter musical called "Let's Face It" about US Army inductees, when America entered World War Two and he found himself heading for Europe in an actual soldier's uniform.
This war would change his life. Davis's older brother, also now fighting in Europe, was killed in a naval attack. Garry Davis was flying bombing missions over Brandenberg, Germany, but he could not bear the realization that he was helping to kill other people just as his beloved brother had just been killed. "I felt humiliated that I was part of it," he later said.
There was something different about this soulful young man, whose life story is told in a riveting, deeply inspiring new film called "The World Is My Country", directed by Arthur Kanegis and currently making the rounds of the film festival circuits in hope of a wider release.
The flashbacks that open the film show the transition that now overtook Garry Davis's life, as he continues to appear in cheerful Broadway shows with performers like Ray Bolger and Jack Haley (Davis physically resembled both, and might have pursued a career similar to theirs) but yearns to answer to a greater call.
Suddenly, as if on an impulse, he decides in 1948 to declare himself a citizen of the world, and to refuse to conform to the idea that he or any other person must maintain national citizenship at a time in a world when nationhood is inextricably linked to violence, suspicion, hatred and war.
Without much forethought or preparation, this young man actually gives up his US citizenship and turns in his passport in Paris, which means that he is no longer legally welcome in France nor anywhere else on planet Earth. He then sets up a personal living space in a tiny spot of land by the river Seine where the United Nations is meeting, and which France has temporarily declared open to the world.
Davis calls the United Nations' bluff, and declares that as a citizen of the world this spot of land must be his home. This creates an international incident and suddenly the young man is catapulted to an odd sort of world fame.
Living on the street or in makeshift tents, first at the United Nations conference in Paris and then by a river separating France from Germany, he succeeds in calling attention to his cause and gathering support from great public figures like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Andre Breton and Andre Gide.
At the height of this dizzying period of his life, he is cheered by a crowd of 20,000 young protestors and cited for his work by Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt.
"The World Is My Country" narrates the life journey of Garry Davis, who died in 2013 at the age of 91. Not surprisingly, it was a rough journey. At his greatest moments of public acclaim, this modest self-trained philosopher often felt deeply critical of himself, and describes the despondency that overwhelmed him at the very moments when his "followers" (he never intended to have any, and did not consider himself a leader) expected him to know what to do next.
"I began to lose myself," he says in a very touching onstage narration decades later, which provides much of the story's structure as this unusual movie proceeds. He ended up working in a New Jersey factory for a short period, then attempting (without much success) to return to the Broadway stage, and ultimately founding an organization devoted to world citizenship, the World Government of World Citizens, which continues to issue passports and advocate for peace around the world today.
"The World Is My Country" is an important movie today. It reminds us of the vital, hopeful ideals that gripped the world for a few years after the disaster of World War Two ended in 1945 and before the disaster of the Korean War began in 1950. The United Nations was once founded upon these ideals.
Garry Davis seized this moment, prodding and provoking the UN by insisting that it live up to the power of its lofty words about global peacemaking, and ultimately using its Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the foundation for his enduring organization.
Watching this emotionally powerful film today, in a world still festering with injustice, needless poverty and vicious war, I found myself pondering whether or not there is any power at all left in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which once meant so much to Garry Davis and his many activist partners. The notion of global citizenship is obviously potent, but remains both controversial and largely unknown.
Several notable public figures and celebrities appear in support of the legacy of Garry Davis and the notion of global citizenship in "The World Is My Country", including Martin Sheen and the rapper Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def).
The movie shows how easily people begin to understand the notion of global citizenship once it is explained to them – and yet the notion remains sadly alien to our everyday lives, and is thought of rarely if at all.
One thought occurred to me that isn't even mentioned in this film, though the film does raise the question of what a global society would use for monetary currency.
Today, economists and others are grappling with the emergence of blockchain currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, which use the power of Internet technology to provide the secure underpinnings of a working currency that is not backed by any nation or government.
Blockchain currencies have financial experts around the world perplexed, and many of us are both excited by and concerned about the possibilities of an economic system that does not rely on national identity. Will this be used for good and evil? The potential is there for both . . . and the fact that blockchain currencies suddenly now exist as an extranational economic system points to one of many ways "The World is My Country" carries a message that feels relevant in 2018.
The message is this: we are citizens of the world, whether we recognize it or not, and it is up to us to help our muddled and paranoid societies choose a future of community and prosperity over a future of hatred and violence.
Here is where we feel the import of the existential courage that moved a young man named Garry Davis to take an incredible personal risk by giving up his own national citizenship in Paris in 1948, without even a clear idea of what he would do next.
In Davis's wonderful onstage appearances later in his life, when he speaks of the 34 prisons he has survived and celebrates the family he raised with the woman he met on the borderline between Germany and France, along with all the great activities he engaged in since then, we see how this courage turned an aimless song-and-dance man and ex-GI into a hero and an example for others.
But other scenes that also end this powerful movie, showing refugees around the world who yearn for anything like the relief and the justice that global citizenship could bring, show us how real the struggle remains. Like Garry Davis in 1948, and even far worse, these human beings have no country in the truest and most tragic sense.
These are human beings for whom a notion of global citizenship might represent the difference between life and death. It is for them that Garry Davis lived his exemplary life, and it is for them that we must continue to take his ideas seriously and carry on his fight.
For more about this film, or to see the trailer, and for information about how to show this film in a festival in your area, visit: TheWorldIsMyCountry.com.
Marc Eliot Stein writes for Literary Kicks and Pacifism21.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.