by Jane Shevtsov

My generation of people in their teens and twenties has grown up with an implicit internationalism.

Since preschool, we have been learning about the damage people are doing to the Earth. Many of us are concerned enough about sweatshops in developing countries to avoid buying clothes we know are made there. Members of the Chicano student group MEChA wear t-shirts saying, "We didn't cross the borders. The borders crossed us." My own fifth-grade class learned to sing "We Are the World" for the school's winter pageant.

In "The Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace," John Perry Barlow referred to the Internet as "a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth." Many of us came of age in that world.

The global environmental crisis facing humanity reveals our interconnectedness. Burning rainforest in Brazil causes ice at the North Pole to melt. Pollution from China's coal-burning power plants blows over to Southern California. U.S. chemical companies sell pesticides long banned in the United States to developing nations and the toxins return home on imported produce. On a more positive note, environmental groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund work all over the world, and thousands of smaller local organizations now network using the Internet.

Where are all these trends, positive and negative, leading us? What do we do about growing global corporate power and the nuclear weapons stockpiles that still threaten us all? How do we react to the rise of nearly instantaneous communication and to those stirring images of the Earth against the cold blackness of space?

One response is world federalism - an exciting idea with an enormously dull name. I prefer to think of it as an acknowledgement of global citizenship and loyalty to all of humanity. World federalists believe we need a system of democratic global governance on top of (not instead of) national governments. Such a system would provide enforceable legal mechanisms for resolving conflicts, protecting human rights and safeguarding the environment.

The current United Nations can provide a base for this kind of world state, but only with many changes. A crucial change would be switching from one-nation-one-vote to a voting system based on population, so that a country with a population of one million does not have the same voting power as one with a billion. Methods of global law enforcement will also have to be developed. To learn more about the changes that will have to be made, check out the web sites of the World Federalist Association and World Federalist Movement.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the world federalist vision is the prospect of eliminating war. Just as California does not need to defend itself from Nevada, the countries making up a world state would not need weapons and armies to protect themselves from each other. Right now, the world impoverishes itself, spending almost a trillion dollars each year on ways to kill people. Just think of what could be accomplished if that money was available for peaceful ends!

Can world federalism possibly succeed? According to Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson, authors of The Cultural Creatives, the social movements that succeed in the long run are those that challenge cultural assumptions and reframe issues in a larger context. Some, like environmentalism, question widely held beliefs; others, like the civil rights movement, challenge people to live up to their ideals. Either way, the political and cultural arms of such movements together accomplish what neither could alone.

What cultural assumptions do world federalists challenge? We're saying, "People outside your borders are no less morally important than those inside them. It's not acceptable that children's chances of surviving are dictated by arbitrary lines around their place of birth."

In April 2002, human rights groups and world federalists celebrated the creation of the International Criminal Court. This is a permanent body for trying individuals suspected of committing war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity, including murder, enslavement, deportation, torture, rape, genocide and apartheid. Unfortunately, the United States has withdrawn from the treaty creating the ICC, but this will not stop the court from going forward.

There is a powerful reframe in the very term "crimes against humanity." Certain acts are so heinous that, if committed against civilians during a war, they are considered crimes not just against their specific victims but against all of humanity.

"For total greed, rapacity, heartlessness and irresponsibility there is nothing to match a nation," wrote Lewis Thomas in The Lives of a Cell. Surely we can do better than this. Indeed, if humanity is to survive, we have to do better. Our loyalties, as Carl Sagan put it, must be to the species and the planet.

Jane Shevtsov,, is an Ecology, Behavior and Evolution major at UCLA and co-founder of World Beyond Borders.
This article originally appeared in the Daily Bruin, October 25, 2002.

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