Citizen of the World: Garry Davis Dies at 91

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: If Garry Davis could have gotten his way there'd be no need for visas or immigration papers, because there'd be no borders anywhere in the world. Davis was born an American but renounced his citizenship in 1948 to become a citizen of the world. His organization, the World Service Authority, has since issued almost 750,000 passports and travel documents to other world citizens, including many refugees and people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.
Garry Davis passed away last week, age 91. David Gallup was a friend who worked with Davis for more than 20 years.

David Gallup: He had been a bomber pilot in World War II, and as any soldier is required to do, he had to drop bombs and kill. And he decided after the war, he had, one of his bomber planes had been shot down and he escaped an internment camp, and his brother was also killed in Salerno, in Italy in a Naval battle. And he was very disillusioned with the whole war system. And he said I'm fed up with the war system, I was in World War II, I know want to be a part of world peace I.
So he decided to take the bold move of flying to Paris, going to the U.S. Embassy, handing in his U.S. passport, and asking to be given the oath of renunciation. Because he knew that when we separate ourselves into tribes, or nations as we call them now, we can fight and kill for those reasons. And he says that we should, instead of fighting and dying for a country, we should love and live for humanity.

Hills: What sort of response did he get when he renounced his citizenship in 1948? He did it in a pretty spectacular fashion.

Gallup: Yes, he became world famous almost overnight. He camped out across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on the steps where the U.N. was having its meetings. And he stepped into a session of the U.N. and called for world government, and if they could not do that, if the U.N. could not do that to step aside and that the people would. And so he became friends with Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, Richard Wright, a lot of the expatriate Americans. And war wary Europeans were supporting him and he gave a speech for example at the Velaudrand D'hiver, a large venue, sporting venue, where there were about 20,000 people listening to his words and supporting the ideology of world citizenship.

Hills: So he spent much of his life traveling, interestingly, and sort of testing international boundaries. How did he get around without a regular passport?

Gallup: Well that was difficult at first. For the first five or six years after renouncing his U.S. citizenship he had nothing, and he was always being stopped by border officials or government officials who wanted, who knew him because he was world famous, but they wanted to paper him. That is to document him, and he said no, I don't want to be within your framework, your framework would make me kill. I want to be outside of it and I want everyone to join me in that space, that vacuum you could say, outside of the nation state.
Well, he decided after a time and going to India and having with a guru in southern India, that he needed to take further action. Not just renouncing his citizenship, but creating a government of, by, and for the people of the world, which is what happened in 1953 after about 750,000 people had registered as world citizens. We decided with this mandate we will create this government. And then in 1954 created the World Service Authority as its administrative branch, which is where I've been working for the past 22 years. And we have continued Garry's pledge to bring education about world citizenship to humanity, and identification for everyone. And that was when he created, in 1954, the world passport.

Hills: In listening to you it sounds like he was a fascinating guy, but it sounds like world citizenship is really sort of a state of mind more than something practical. I mean, the, you know, countries exist in part because people in different parts of the world want to live a certain way and not everybody around the world wants to live the same way or have the same laws. So is it more sort of a state of mind than a practical idea?

Gallup: Well, certainly it is a state of mind, in a sense you could say it's symbolic, but it's also practical and legal. When people I.D. themselves as a world citizen they're saying to others, and sometimes even government officials, I am a human being, and if their rights are rejected out of order, or if someone's refused to I.D. themselves first and foremost as a world citizen, they can contact our legal department. We'll expose those violations and demand redress.
And I'm not saying that it's easy. I'm not saying that they accept the idea of world citizenship.

Hills: But have you ever succeeded at that? Has that ever, what you just stated that it would give them certain rights and recognition, has it held up in court?

Gallup: Oh, yeah, well for example there was a case of an Algerian man living in the United Kingdom who beseeched us to assist. So we wrote this long brief about the suffering and persecution he had faced in Algeria. We sent it to the queen, to the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then they decided to reopen his case. What this does is allows the people to change their status or assist them when maybe they have, are finding no other assistance anywhere in the world.

Hills: David Gallup is President of the World Service Authority. It was founded by Garry Davis to help bring about world peace. Garry Davis passed away last week at the age of 91. Thank you so much David.

Gallup: Thank you.