In perhaps his most well-known song, “Imagine,” John Lennon asks us to “imagine there’s no countries.”
That was in 1971. But decades before, in 1948, Garry Davis did more than imagine there were no counties. He renounced his US citizenship and founded “The World Government of World Citizens.” Yes, it does sound like some wacky hippie idea from the 60’s brought on by too many drugs. However, it wasn’t drugs but an abhorrence of war that sparked the idea of world citizenship.
Because I’ve been doing so much traveling lately, I have become very conscious of my passport and where it does and does not allow me to go. I’ve been told not to try to enter Israel because of my Egypt visit which is recorded in the pages of my passport. Because I travel on a US passport, I’m not allowed to visit Cuba. Those are just two examples. I’m sure there are plenty more cases of passport interdiction; I just haven’t stumbled upon them yet.
Garry Davis may have been a bit crazy but if he’d been successful, just imagine what might have been.
Steve Chawkins, writing for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a lovely article which I have excerpted below –
“The World Government of World Citizens, is/was an organization that issued its own “world passports,” visas, birth certificates and other documents in an effort to rise above national borders and the conflicts they breed.
Davis, a provocateur for peace drew followers as respected as Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer while roaming the world with papers of his own making. I had never heard of him until I read on July 24th that he had died. He was 91 years old. He’d lived long enough to see more than his fair share to wars and conflicts over the arbitrary parcels into which world powers divided the earth.
“Born July 27, 1921 in Bar Harbor, Maine, Sol Gareth Davis was the son of pianist Hilda Emery and orchestra leader Meyer Davis, whose many dance bands were a fixture at cotillions and other society functions for decades.
With a booming voice and theatrical manner, Davis headed for Broadway after studying drama at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. In 1942, he subbed for an ailing Danny Kaye in a musical called “Let’s Face It!”
However, he lost interest in show business when his older brother Bud was killed in action on a U.S. destroyer off Italy during World War II.
“I prayed for a chance to exact revenge,” he recalled in his 1961 autobiography, “My Country is the World: The Adventures of a World Citizen.”
But after a stint as an Army aviator, he came to regret the bombing runs he made over Germany.
“Ever since my first mission over Brandenburg, I had felt pangs of conscience,” he wrote. “How many men, women and children had I murdered?”
The question so tormented him that he showed up at the American Embassy in Paris on May 25, 1948, to give up his U.S. citizenship and establish himself as a citizen of the world.
“If I could show that it was possible for me to survive in the world without papers, cross frontiers without a passport and conduct myself as a free human being without benefit of any national credentials, I would be striking a blow at the very heart of nationalism itself,” he wrote.
Davis was hardly the first to rail against nationalism, but he was one of the most masterful at getting publicity. In Paris, he camped out for days on the steps of the Palais Chaillot, home of the fledgling United Nations. His message resounded in a Europe still weary from war and beset with refugees. Eleanor Roosevelt lauded him in her newspaper column. He spoke at a rally and drew cheers from 20,000 Parisians.
For years, publicity surged as he engaged in global street theater.
While trying to enter Germany from France, German guards on a bridge wouldn’t let him into the country without papers and French guards wouldn’t let him back in. Aided by enthusiastic supporters, he camped out in place for weeks.
“Mr. Davis has stowed away on ships, sneaked across borders, shuttled back and forth on trains between one country and another, and has been forced to fly countless air hours in different directions because no country would let him off a plane,” wrote columnist Art Buchwald in 1957.
Before he died, Davis saw to it that a “world passport” was sent to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency fugitive who is being held at the Moscow airport. Whether he received it is unknown, said David M. Gallup, president of the World Service Authority, the administrative arm of World Government of World Citizens. A three-year world passport costs $45 but fees may be waived for refugees.
While officially stateless, Davis lived for years in France and, since the early 1990s, in Burlington, Vt.
“Contrary to most people in the world who want to make world peace and who say that love is the answer, he realized the answer is political,” said his son Troy, a university lecturer in Strasbourg, France. “It’s not just love your neighbor. You have to change the system.”