70th Anniversary of the World Citizen Movement

By David Gallup

On May 25, 1948, Garry Davis stepped out of the US Embassy in Paris after taking the Oath of Renunciation of citizenship. No longer a citizen of one exclusive nation, Garry claimed his status as a citizen of the world.

Why would Garry Davis, a Broadway actor and comedian who just wanted to make people laugh, give up his US citizenship in favor of world citizenship? To answer that question, I will need to take you back to the early 1940s.

As a child and teenager, Garry loved acting. To Garry, the script of a play was like his prayer book and the theatre was like his temple, his mosque, his synagogue, his church, his place of worship.  The audience was like his parishioners. He wanted to make the audience happy, and in their laughter, he felt their love.

Garry’s dream of a life in theatre and movies came crashing down when he heard the news that his brother Bud had been killed in Salerno on his battleship. Garry’s sadness turned to anger and then to revenge. He became a bomber pilot set on destroying Hitler’s war factories.

But thousands of feet up in his B-17 airplane, as he was dropping bombs on villages, he knew he was killing women, men and children. His revenge turned to remorse. He would rather have been entertaining these people, making them laugh, rather than killing them.

When he came back from the war, he was disillusioned with the nation-state system that made him kill his fellow humans. He was shell-shocked. He suffered from post-traumatic stress from what he witnessed and from the acts of violence he committed.

He wanted out of the war game. He had heard of a young man who had gone to Europe to rebuild the churches that were destroyed during the war. And he read a book calledAnatomy of Peace, by Emery Reves, a book that explained how humans could transcend the problem of war by coming together at the world level. So he decided to go to Paris, legally renounce his US citizenship, and begin to rebuild the world he had helped to destroy.

In his memoir, My Country is the World, he explains why he would give up his citizenship, an act that at that time was considered highly controversial and unpatriotic. He writes, “Homo sapiens, man calls himself. Sapiens: knowing, the perception of truth. But one of the tragedies of our times is that modern man, as man of ages past, doesn’t know himself. He has lost confidence in his own innate capacity. He restricts himself. And only then does he yearn to be free.”

He continues, “Man’s deadliest, self-imposed, restrictive device is nationalism. You and I may be fellow humans, but we are not fellow nationalists. I am a fellow who willfully withdrew from the co-partnership of citizen and national state and declared himself a world citizen. I have for my trouble, hung my hat in 34 prisons and two ships’ brigs. If spending time in the jails of the world, however would further the understanding of one world and one humankind, I would gladly forfeit my freedom again this very day.”

Garry saw the world holistically.  He viewed the whole world as his home, as his house of worship.  He wanted us to see the world, itself, as holy, as a sanctuary for our imagination. He loved to quote Albert Einstein who said that imagination is more important than intelligence.

Garry wanted us to imagine and then create a world that would work for everyone. When he renounced his national citizenship, he became stateless, persona non grata, with no country and nowhere to go. He needed to create an identity and status for himself to ensure that his rights would be respected. This is when he decided to declare himself to be a world citizen, with universal rights that should be universally respected, no matter where he found himself on earth.

Garry Davis devoted his entire adult life to promoting an awareness of this view of the world. Of the world as one. Of the idea that we are all world citizens with rights and duties to each other and the earth.

To create a just, sustainable, equitable, and peaceful world, it’s no longer enough to consider ourselves exclusively as citizens of one nation or another. We must all claim our status as world citizens!

You may register officially, legally and politically as a world citizen through the World Service Authority at www.worldservice.org/reg.html. You do not give up any lower level allegiance by claiming a higher allegiance to humanity and the earth.

Craig Zelizer

Craig Zelizer

Dr. Craig Zelizer is the Founder of PCDN.global, which connects a global community of changemakers to the tools, community and opportunities to build careers of impact and scale change. He has strong experience in the development sector, academia and social entrepreneurship. From 2005 to 2016 he served as a professor in the Conflict Resolution program at Georgetown University (where he still teaches). He has led trainings, workshops and consultancies in over 20 countries organizations including with USIP, USAID, CRS, Rotary International and others. Craig is a recognized leader in the social sector field. He has received several awards including George Mason’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution’s alumni of the year award and an alumni career achievement award from Central European University. Dr. Zelizer spent two years in Hungary as Fulbright Scholar and was a Boren Fellow in Bosnia. He has published widely on peacebuilding, entrepreneurship, and innovation in higher education.
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