Though it may have been all but drowned-out in the endless coverage of President Donald Trump’s border wall and Brexit, the 21st century has seen the rise of a small-but-growing movement that advocates the elimination of national boundaries altogether.
The careful, non-threatening language of politics calls this “open borders”—and the details of how it might possibly work could fill a book.
Musicians can be far more blunt. In the famously public-school-suppressed fifth verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” he fired a shot across the bow of the very concept of private property. John Lennon asked the world to “Imagine there’s no countries,” because “it isn’t hard to do.” And in the Dead Kennedys’ song “Stars and Stripes of Corruption,” Jello Biafra sang, “Look around, we’re all people / Who needs countries anyway?”
The title track of Santa Cruz singer-songwriter Keith Greeninger’s new record, Human Citizen, continues that tradition of thinking outside the invisible lines drawn by centuries of politicians and despots, instead championing “A one-world community / Of tolerance and dignity / Everybody’s got a right to be free / Everybody, everywhere.”
It might seem like a utopian vision for the future, especially with the constant news coverage about the tightening of borders. But that’s not how Greeninger sees it. To him, the recent resurgence of nationalism is actually a response to the huge strides already made toward that one-world community, with the internet allowing social movements to spread internationally, and not allowing oppressive regimes to do their dirty work in secret. He calls this nationalist pushback a “last gasp” from those used to getting their way without resistance.
“They’re like, ‘We can’t let this happen,'” says Greeninger. “So ‘Human Citizen’ for me became, ‘Wait a minute. It’s already happening. It’s here.'”
Obviously, this kind of unbridled positivism doesn’t reflect the general mood on any part of the political, social or cultural spectrum right now. Which is why it’s more important than ever.
“Negativity is a killer—it’s self-defeating,” says Greeninger. “At a certain point, if we lose our sense of humanity and our sense of positivity, we’re fucked. And I think that’s a lot of what’s going on with the powers that be: ‘We gotta break ’em down. We gotta make them think there’s no hope.’ Well, everywhere you look in your neighborhood, there’s hope springing up like grass through the concrete every day.”
One longtime collaborator who knows Greeninger’s musical mind is Dayan Kai, who will join him live in concert on Feb. 7 in Sonoma.
“I think people would be surprised to know all the things he does and that he’s involved in,” Kai says. “I don’t know if they really understand the scope of it.”
Kai says that, as musicians, they have always been in tune.
“Keith and I had a really good telepathy from the beginning,” he says. “We have a lot of similar influences, I think, including a big soul influence.”
“I love writing the best songs that I can, being the best singer I can,” Greeninger says. “I love getting out in front of people and bringing things that hopefully mean something to their life.”