We're All Global Citizens, Not Just the Elite

Are ‘global citizens’ just an isolated, wealthy tribe facing off against the pro-Brexit, pro-Trump nativist crowd? Not to the millions of millennials who welcome our interconnected future.

To Ross Douthat of The New York Times, the idea of global citizenship is illegitimate, and the so-called ‘cosmopolitan elite’ who pride themselves on transcending petty tribal, ethnic and religious differences are themselves just another tribe—an isolated and delusional one, at that.

The Brexit vote, the rise of Trump, the emerging ascendancy of left and right-wing populism in Europe and beyond are seen by Douthat as a rebuke to the tone-deaf pretensions of the Davos crowd. He berates them for failing to see how their embrace of multiculturalism, open borders and free trade comes across to the less privileged as “self-serving cant” masking what Douthat sees as “a powerful caste’s self-serving explanation for why it alone deserves to rule the world”. At this tumultuous juncture, Douthat’s is a powerful and well-crafted argument that can’t be dismissed or ignored.

But the millions of people from around the world who support Global Citizen’s campaigns on poverty and disease eradication, gender equality and climate change would not recognize themselves in Douthat’s characterization.

It is doubtful many of them have given much thought in the abstract to the notion of ‘cosmopolitanism’, and even less likely they have spent much time rubbing shoulders with CEOs and world leaders in the Swiss Alps.

Douthat also neglects to look outside the developed world and its current crop of elites. The BBC World Service released a survey in April that showed, for the first time since they began asking the question in 2001, a majority of citizens across 18 countries consider themselves global citizens, including 73 percent in Nigeria, and 67 percent in India—hardly indicative of a Nativist Resurgence. In the same survey, more than six in ten respondents welcome both immigrants and refugees.

Nor do young people recoil from a more open and collaborative world, even as they express dismay at social and economic injustice. Take the Brexit referendum, where voters between 18 and 25 backed remaining in the EU by a 40 percent margin. And if younger voters—aged between 16 and 17 years old—had been allowed to vote, as they were in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, data showed the result would have been a lot closer.

If, like Douthat, you make global citizenship synonymous with the existing global power elite, his thesis is hard to refute. There is no question that the Super-Yacht set face a backlash for failing to account for, or mitigate, the damage wrought by rapid economic and technological change. As they horde the bounty of a global economy tilted ever more their favor, this has given rise to legitimate resentments borne of unemployment and underemployment among generations of workers who have endured a decline in real wages, alongside a seemingly irreversible decline in job security.

Meanwhile, for many, the Global Financial Crisis and its aftermath removed any doubt that the system is “rigged” against them—a phrase embraced as eagerly by Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton as Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen. In Europe, austerity policies enacted after 2008 have been a bitter pill, forcing already-squeezed households to pay the price for the folly and avarice of the super-rich.

But Douthat contends that the resurgence of nativism is not merely driven by socio-economic anxiety, but represents a return of cultural norms. He dismisses the ‘open borders’ mindset of a narrow band of elites––the “Londoners who love Afghan restaurants”—as a self-aggrandizing fallacy. But this doesn’t explain the increasingly internationalist outlook of many in the developing world, and millennials everywhere, for whom technology, global citizenship and the excesses of unconstrained globalization are not one and the same.

This distinction is well understood by the millions who rally to Global Citizen’s efforts to make meaningful change through advocacy and concrete action, very few of whom would adhere to Douthat’s caricature. Indeed, just last week, over 100,000 Global Citizens in the UK took actions in support of our #SheWill campaign to get the most marginalized girls in the world educated, and simultaneously thousands more showed up in support of our efforts to get the Global Food Security Act passed in the U.S. congress.

The past three decades of radical change has left many Baby Boomers justifiably uneasy. But, for young people everywhere, as well as for billions across the developing world, there is no yearning for a more insular past. Instead, we face an ever more interconnected future determined to make it work for more than the elite few who have so far been globalization’s champions and primary beneficiaries.


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At 14, Australian-born Hugh Evans spent the night in a Manila slum. The harsh realities of his hosts’ lives motivated Evans to challenge the status quo of extreme poverty. Following a trip to South Africa in 2002 as World Vision's inaugural Youth Ambassador, Evans built the Make Poverty History campaign and helped stage the Make Poverty History Concert (fronted by Pearl Jam and Bono). In 2012, Evans co-founded Global Citizen, and with it, the Global Citizen Festival—a free, ticketed event requiring fans to perform anti-poverty actions in exchange for entry, recruiting millions into the war against global poverty. Over the last four years, global citizens have taken nearly 3 million actions in the fight against extreme poverty.