Updated: Jan 11
By Omkaar Pattanayak
On May 25, 1948, Sol Gareth “Garry” Davis, a 26-year-old former United States Airforce Bomber entered the American Embassy in Paris; renounced his American citizenship, and declared himself a citizen of the world. Davis left the embassy building after surrendering his passport, stepping into French territory as a stateless person. On being ordered to leave the country, Garry sought refuge in the Palais de Chaillot, which was ceded by France to the United Nations for three months. Garry left the French republic on midnight of 11th September and entered the international territory. Hence, while he resided in the heart of the country, technically he was no more in France! He designed and issued the first World Citizen identity card, and received hundreds of letters from across the world, that expressed solidarity with him. Quite expectedly, the United Nations wasn't pleased and instructed the French Government to evict Garry from the building.
On 22nd November 1948, six months after renouncing his citizenship in Paris, he disrupted the first session of the United Nations General Assembly in Paris. The then Soviet Delegate to the UN, Andrei Vyshinsky had been opposing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for three years, and to counter this, Garry planned a symbolic act of interruption. He jumped over the exterior railings stopped at a position in the balcony, where he could be seen and
heard, and at the top of his voice, shouted “I interrupt, I interrupt in the name of people not represented here….”. His monumental words still reverberate, if not among the masses, then among the mushrooming world federalist communities that celebrate the day of the storming as an important event in the history of the movement.
“Mr.Chairman and Delegates: I interrupt you in the name of the people of the world not represented here. Though my words may be unheeded, our common need for world law and order can no longer be disregarded. We, the people, want peace which only a world government can give. The sovereign states you represent divide us and lead us to the abyss of total War. I call upon you no longer to deceive us by this illusion of political authority. I call upon you to convene forth with a World Constituent Assembly to raise the standard around which all men can gather, the standard of true peace, of One Government for One World. And if you fail us in this, stand aside for a People’s World Assembly which will arise from our own ranks to create such a government. We can be served by nothing less.” he proclaimed.
The French Resistance revolutionary, Colonel Robert Sarrazac delivered the same speech in French while Albert Crespey, son of a chief from Togo had his talk written out in his Togolese language. The disruption caused by the interruption continued for the next four hours. Davis, French Industrialist Pierre Bergé, and the French Author Albert Camus (who later won the Nobel Prize)-the three who spearheaded the hullabaloo spent the night in confinement, while the rest of Paris was trying to sink in the historical moment.
His act, reported worldwide, earned him the support of several intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Schweitzer, Lord Boyd-Orr, Claude Bourdet, Richard Wright, and Carlo Levi. Dr. Herbert Evatt, then president of the UN General Assembly, later received Davis and a world citizenship delegation promising to solicit the attention of the delegates, to the world citizen petitions. Garry instantly became a hero among the French public, which had been so recently scarred by the terror of fascism and war. Less than two weeks later, on 9th of December, speaking at the largest auditorium in Paris, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, he drew a crowd of 20,000. Dr. Evatt’s letter was read out in this meeting, alongside eloquent speeches by prominent personalities and of course Garry himself.
This address was featured in the international headlines. The subsequent weeks witnessed demonstrations across France and Germany. People from all social and financial statuses queued up in the World Citizenship registration Headquarters Office in Hanover, rallies were carried out in Berlin; while the Parisians sat on a demonstration outside the Chamber of Deputies. On the 10th of December, the UN unanimously passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the Soviet Bloc abstaining. The passage of the declaration was greeted with immense fanfare, and as Garry later remarked, it was one of those instances when the will of the people, won over narrow national interests.
On the 15th of December, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Wife of the US President and the Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of the UN wrote, “How much better it would be if Mr. Davis would set up his own governmental organization and start then and there a worldwide international government.” Garry took this sarcastic jibe in the literal sense, and five years later he did institute a “governmental organization and start a worldwide international government”.
Garry started a World Registry of Citizens in 1949, that registered “World Citizens” like him. Within the first two years, around 750,000 people had registered themselves as world citizens. . In 1981, with a quarter-million world citizens registering themselves in the Registry of World Citizens, Garry famously told The Boston Globe, “We’re bigger than Andorra”. He also facilitated the beginning of a newspaper “La Patrie mondiale”, whose Editor-in-Chief, Pierre Bergé went on to become a business tycoon in France, co-founding the fashion label Yves Saint Laurent.
On the 4th of September 1953, Garry declared the formation of a world government, at the City Hall of Elisworth and established its administrative agency, the World Services Authority in 1954. He issued the first world passport for himself, entered India with it at the invitation of his mentor, Nataraja Guru in 1956. Garry stayed in Bangalore along with him, for the next six months, during which Nataraja drafted the Memorandum on World Government. It addressed the Elisworth Declaration of World Government and enumerated it from the perspective of the canonical ancient texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, the Advaita Vedanta, the Bhagwad Gita, and the Bramha Sutras. The WSA (now rechristened as the World Citizen Government) still issues world citizen documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and political asylum cards; alongside striving for the rights of displaced individuals.
Garry also met Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister and the torchbearer of the Non-Alignment Movement; explaining his campaign, presenting Nehru with a world passport (which was gladly accepted), and seeking his blessing (which were provided after thorough consideration). It’s noteworthy that Nehru and his mentor Gandhi, both were strong proponents of pacifism and cosmocracy, and the Indian premier could perhaps envision Davis taking the baton forward.
His rationale was simple, his aim immense: if there were no nation-states, there would be no wars.
Garry Davis was once described as “one of the Western world’s biggest problem children.” Pravda, the Soviet Communist paper, wrote in 1949 that he was an “American debaucher and maniac” and a “prophet” of an idea “exported from the U.S. to Europe, along with powdered eggs and gangster novels.”
Over the years, Davis had been to 34 prisons, not for committing a crime but for traveling without any “recognized documents”. He stormed into one of the largest international gatherings of those times, remained by choice, a stateless man — entering, leaving, being regularly expelled from, and frequently arrested in a spate of countries, for carrying a passport of his devising, met heads of states, organized popular demonstrations, and ran for the office of the Mayor of Washington, DC and the Presidency of the US as the international news media chronicled his every move.
Davis was not the first person to declare himself as a world citizen, but he undoubtedly was the most vocal and persistent one. Luminaries and exponents from diverse fields- Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Emery Reeves, EB White, and others have historically extended their support to the idea of a global federation. However, most of the proponents were rather academic and passive in their approach, limiting themselves to articles, interviews, and speeches.
Garry, however, was no armchair theorist. His rationale was simple, his aim immense: if there were no nation-states, there would be no wars. His satyagraha, longer than the one fought by Gandhi, may perhaps not be discussed in history lessons, all the press releases and bulletins might be locked up in the dusty diaries of the neglected past, there may not be official holidays and state tributes on his birth anniversary. Regardless of the neglect, Garry will continue to be celebrated perpetually by the adherents of his path and ideas - he shall remain an inspiration to generations of gadflies in the future.
Omkaar Pattanayak is the Founder and President of the YWF Associate Chapter in the Indian subcontinent, the Global Federal League.