I don’t know how or when I began to think of myself as a global citizen, but it was long before I had ever left North America. I was 27 when I hitched a ride on a C-130 carrying a Navy SEAL team to Italy. I was fresh out of law school and waiting for the results of the bar exam. I landed in Europe with one suitcase (no backpack) and a guitar. That was 46 years ago.
My parents were stay-at-home types whose idea of travel was a road trip to California or a day trip to Victoria on the Princess line. They were conservative and thrifty and when, at 18, I told them that I was planning a backpacking trip to Europe they threw cold water all over the idea. I needed an education and not a bohemian adventure. End of conversation. It took me 9 more years to get there – two years to finish college, 4 years for the Marine Corps, and 3 years of law school – but I finally got there and I haven’t stopped traveling since. I’ve never really used the education my parents were so concerned about but I honored their wishes. On the other hand, travel has shaped me more than anything except the Marine Corps. I think they have had equal weight in my development as an adult.
What does it mean to be a global citizen? I suppose there are as many definitions as there are people who identify with the label. I certainly don’t think that a strong national pride and identity prevents me from being a global citizen. In fact, participation in the politics and economy of my own country is one way to become a better global person. I’m not a flag waiver. I generally regard flag waivers as the opposite of true patriots. Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin don’t have the dimmest idea of how the world works. They’ve never been anywhere, although Sarah claims to be able to “see” Russia from her front porch or some such lunacy.
No, I think global citizens see the interconnectedness of things on a global scale. What happens in Athens or Berlin, Capetown or Mogadishu, Bogota or Rio, Ottawa or Vancouver has an affect on everyone else. If the stock market in the US tanks the markets tank worldwide. If the markets tank there is less money available to deal with natural and/or manmade disasters. For the last 30 years governments, state, national, and international have been abdicating their responsibilities to provide the planet with disaster relief and safety net solutions. These responsibilities are more and more being taken over by NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and non-profit groups. As a result we, as individuals, are becoming philanthropically exhausted. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan yielded significantly less donations to relief organizations than the tsunami that devastated Thailand and Indonesia in 2004. Donors are exhausted – donor fatigue is having an impact on our ability to respond to natural disaster. Africa is under enormous stress because of drought and political instability, but we are not responding or in some cases being prevented from responding.
I’m not a socialist, but I am willing to spend some of our national treasure to make the world a better place, and I’m also willing to spend a chunk of my own treasure, small as it is. As a global citizen I like to think that we can all be global humanists. I believe that the leaders of a country as fortunate and successful as ours should make a commitment to provide a safety net, a minimum level of care and support, for its citizens and by extension for the planet. We have the resources to provide universal health care for less than we currently spend. Beyond our own borders; if my government (and the governments of other developed countries) can commit billions and billions of dollars to topple the perceived threats of Salvador Allende, Ho Chi Minh or Saddam Hussein why is it so hard to commit to saving the lives of victims of drought or genocide in Darfur, Damascus, Somalia, Kosovo, Rwanda, or the Congo? It would be much less expensive than invading Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya and probably do more to create a “coalition of the willing” to support our effort and build a positive force for good.
I’m proud to be an American although, at the moment, I’m a little embarrassed by our President and his Congress’ inability to make decisions for the good of the country. Our system is on lockdown and held hostage by people who fail to understand that we live in a global world that is totally interconnected. We have squandered our leadership position in the global society and body politic. Yes, it is global – the body politic – in spite of the isolationist politics of the Tea Party and the gutless wonders who are pandering to them. It’s amazing to me that these candidates for the highest office in the world have such limited vision and courage.