According to Theresa May, we are Citizens of Nowhere. We don’t belong. Like the tens of thousands who marched against Brexit in London on Saturday, we have dared to think that we might identify with people across the globe and feel like Citizens of the World, or integral members of the earth on which we all live. We reject the assumption, inherent in May’s speech, that worth and identity can be based wholly on a simple accident of birth.
As the great Erasmus of Rotterdam, a self-declared Citizen of the World, so aptly said: “If the virtue of firmness consists in staying as long as possible in the same place, first prize must go to stocks and stones, and after them to barnacles and sponges.”
To be open to the world does not mean, as May implied in her October 2016 speech, that you are a bad, rich boss who looks down on workers and tries to dodge tax. What an outdated cliché that is. It also ignores that fact that many Brexiters who would have joined with her in condemning internationally-minded citizens would fit better with the description above than we do – a freelance journalist and a human resources consultant who runs her business from her home in rural England. People connect not just with expensive business class flights but through reading, watching, encountering local people of different backgrounds and with their imagination. Being a citizen of the world is not part of a business package, it is a state of mind.
Two years ago, we were both devastated by the symbolism of the Brexit referendum. Shocked, surprised, and maybe even a little heartened to see that in the intervening years little progress towards Brexit has been made, we are now determined to do our bit in the fight against the forces of isolationism – against the whole concept of Brexit and its unsavoury implications for people like us.
We reject the idea that to be a citizen of the world is a matter of class of a mark of elitism, and we reject the idea that the Britain of the 21st century can be a place where it is a dirty word. If you feel the same, please follow our updates and please do get in touch and tell us your stories, and help us change the narrative from backward-looking and nativist to a grown-up discussion about how we can all live together without rancor.
Suna Erdem and Ines Respini Jones