Why I have No IDs – No Passport, Driver’s License, Social Security Card or Birth Certificate

Robin Greenfield shredding his certificate.
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The moment is captured in this photo. 

This was the moment when I became a human who had no government form of identification. No legal form of identification at all. 

On August 24th, 2016, I cut up my driver’s license and decided I was likely never having a driver’s license again. I had already gotten rid of my car in 2012. 

I burned my social security card and vowed never to take social security. 

I canceled my bank account, cut up my debit card and burned my leftover checks in a moment of celebration. 

I had already canceled my last credit card two years earlier. 

Nearly eight years passed before the next step came to fruition. 

My passport was lost in the mail, likely in some nook and cranny of the United States Postal Service or misplaced somewhere between San Diego and Los Angeles, California. After a few weeks of trying to get it back, I opted to let it go. 

Then on June 15, 2022, upon returning home to Asheville, North Carolina, I took out my last form of identification – my birth certificate – and I gently placed it onto my compost pile to return to Earth, just as I intend to do with my body someday. 

I hadn’t realized it at the moment, and I’m only realizing it as I write this a year- and-a-half later, but Asheville was where I had cut two of my first forms of identification, even though it was a place I was just passing through for a few days. I held onto two forms of identification because, through extensive research, I found that as long as I maintained those two forms of ID, I could always get the others back if I wanted to. 

My life is an experiment with truth and integrity and I’m taking this experiment at my own pace. 

It wasn’t until nearly 11 years after I first started shedding my attachments to the materialist systems that I became a human with no form of ID. 

When I say I’m living an experiment, I really mean it. I know very few, if any, people who by choice or in a state of mental clarity have no ID. Even with substantial internet research, I did not find many people to follow as examples. One of the things I was most trying to understand was if I did get rid of all of my forms of identification, what would the process be to get them back if I wanted to. From what I can tell, it is a very difficult task. Generally to receive a copy of any form of ID or a new ID, requires showing an official ID. 

So here I am now, I’ve been living for one-and-a-half years with no ID – no driver’s license, passport, birth certificate or social security card – and no copies stored anywhere online or elsewhere. I’ve diligently made sure that there are none in existence that I can control.   

Will I Ever Own a Government Form of ID Again?

I do believe that to be of best service to our global humanity, it is quite likely it will be in my best strategy to be present in different nations, thus is it quite likely i will get a passport again. If I only spend a few years existing without a passport, it will still have served a meaningful purpose for me in this experiment with truth and integrity that I am living. This is not a permanent action and nor will I consider it to be going backwards if I decide to get a passport in the years ahead.

Will I ever own a government form of ID again? Perhaps, although I’m not sure how feasible it would be to get one even if I wanted to. I do yearn to visit India. I am invited there often and feel a very close bond to many of my Brothers and Sisters in India. I want to walk in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi, especially to walk the path they took on the Salt March. I also yearn to return to Africa and share in the beauty of life with many of my Brothers and Sisters who are living connected to Earth there. One day these desires may come true, or they may not. Only time will tell. 

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about becoming Indigenous to a place. I am far disconnected from the lands where my ancestors came from, but I have a very strong connection to the land where I was born and have explored for the last 37 years. It is my life purpose to deeply integrate with Earth and to become grounded as a human of the Earth. Although there is opportunity for incredible connection and expansion through traveling abroad, I believe that by focusing my life on one region of Earth, I may accomplish the deeper connection and expansion I am seeking. I also quite like the idea of never getting into an airplane again. (As of this writing, it’s been 3.5 years since my last flight and another three years for the flight before my last flight. See my flight transparency and guidelines for flying here.) 

Traveling Internationally

Yet, having no ID does not necessarily mean I will not travel internationally again. It is not illegal to leave my country without a passport. That part is easy. I could sail much of the world on international waters. But what is illegal is entering another country without declaring oneself and that requires an ID. I have great confidence that I could enter numerous countries by sailboat completely under the radar. I may do just that. 

I am a human who does not believe that just because something is a certain way, that it must stay that way. Or just because a concept is socially accepted as the standard practice – even if it is written into law – that the law is just, equitable or representative of the people. These approximately 200 nations that have been agreed upon and the borders that enclose them are just modern human-made concepts. We see this quite apparently as we have seen these nations’ borders expand, shrink or even cease to exist in our lifetime. Yet, the land, the plants and animals, and often the people are still there, living the same way. These borders have not existed for 99% of the human experience, nor has the construct of a passport. It’s possible that within our lifetime, many of these borders will cease to exist and perhaps there will even be massive change in the standard practice of defining a nation or its borders. 

All this is to say I would be quite happy to embark on my first travel internationally with no form of identification. I have done some research and have multiple countries that I feel safe and confident traveling to. India and the continent of Africa are not included in these countries. 

As I shared, it is my central purpose to live out an experiment with truth and integrity. The way our society is currently functioning with nations that are trying to control the world and leaders who are trying to control their people is not what I consider truth or integrity. I am an advocate for dismantling the system of borders as we know it to create equity and justice for our global humanity. My belief is that we are all neighbors on this little home we call Earth. My belief is that it is not just for a nation such as the United States to cause instability elsewhere and then not allow those migrants to cross our own borders simply looking for the stability that we and other dominating, oppressive and exploitive nations have taken away from them in their homelands.

Liberation from Oppressive, Exploitative Systems

Existing without an ID is far from my highest priority. In reality, it is more of a byproduct of the work I have done to step outside of systems of oppression and exploitation. I have been able to shed these elements of my life with relative ease because I had already done extensive work to render them obsolete in my life.   

The more I have simplified my life 

The more I have focused on living in harmony 

The more I have removed money from my life… 

In 2015, I made lifetime vows to donate 100% of my media income to the grassroots movement for Earth, to earning less than the federal poverty threshold yearly and to never paying federal income taxes for life. 

The more skills I have developed… 

The more whole and complete I have become.. 

The more I have deepened my connection with Earth… 

The more I have deepened my relationship with the plants and animals I share this home with 

The more that I have broken free from the delusion of independence 

The more I have focused first and foremost on truth and integrity… 

The more I have embraced community 

The less I ever need an ID. 

I’m living this experiment and right now the experiment is running very smoothly. I’ve designed my life where the concept of an ID is rarely a complication or even a thought in my life. Through living closely to Earth, being a part of the community of humanity and truly loving myself, it just is no longer relevant. 

Central to my purpose of living in truth and integrity is to encourage others to think critically about our societal structures and to self-reflect on their own lives. Have I got you thinking? 

Interested in hearing more of the story? Read Why I Cut Up My Drivers License, Social Security Card and Debit Card (written in January 2018) 

Composting my birth certificate in Asheville, North Carolina June 15th, 2022. Moments after this photo was taken the pieces were pushed into the compost pile to return to Earth.
My Dear Friend Sierra Ford Jones, who has been photographing my activism since 2016, was coming to town so I waited for her to arrive to rip up and compost my last ID so that she could capture the moment.

A Few Frequently Asked Questions

Don’t you need an ID to travel within the United States? 

This has not been an issue for me yet. I have been able to ride the train and buses without an ID. No ID is required to be the passenger in a car. 

Don’t you need to show an ID to a police officer if they ask you? 

As far as I know, it is not against the law to exist without an ID. The last time the police approached me and requested ID, I gave them my social security number and they looked me up that way and trusted that I was who I said I was. 

You can only do this because you are a privileged white man. 

I acknowledge my privilege. I write extensively on this here: On Understanding and Acknowledging My Privilege 

What about becoming a “Sovereign Citizen”? 

I first learned about this concept in around 2014 and this is a rabbit hole that I have chosen not to go down yet. 

What about health insurance and old age?
I have written about this extensively here: On Health Insurance, Age and Death 

Am I independently wealthy?
No, I grew up very low income and none of my close family is independently wealthy. My mom made under $20,000/year to support me and my three siblings. My dad did not provide much support at all. I have never had a trust fund or anything of that sort. I had support from the government via grants to go to university and worked 80 hours per week on my summer breaks from University. 

I have made lifetime vows to live with very little money. My net worth has remained at under $15,000 since I made these vows in 2015. 

What about housing? 

I have no issue of housing myself without an ID. 

Since 2015, I have lived in three places long term and each time I did a work exchange. 

There are many opportunities in the alternative living movement for work exchange in exchange for lodging, or to pay rent in cash. 

I also have a large network of people who support my service to Earth and are happy to host me long term or short term. 

How do you pay for a team of people to work with you, this website, etc.? 

I run a nonprofit, called Regeneration, Equity and Justice. Although I am a substantial part of the nonprofit, it is not in my name, nor is the bank account. No ID is required for me to play a role in using this nonprofit as a tool for positive change. As I shared above, I don’t personally have a bank account or any financial accounts at all. This drastically reduces my involvement in the monetary system and helps to keep my actions local, sustainable and in integrity. That said, as much as it is a dream, I am not fully removed from being involved with money, but to a very large degree have designed my life so that the vast majority of my involvement with money is in service to Earth, humanity and our plant and animal relatives. 

Through the nonprofit, I am able to accomplish much of my service that is not de-monetized, which includes paying for basics such as this website and having a team of people who work with me. 

More Questions? 

Read the FAQ about my life which answers 100 questions. 

Read my life vision and mission statement. 

Note of transparency: 

In 2019 when my passport was up for renewal, I gave my mom my old passport as a gift. I wanted to destroy it, but knew that she would love to have it. Recently, I pulled out the identification pages so that it can only serve as a memento and not an ID. 

Cutting up my driver’s license on August 24th, 2016.

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