By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Secessionism is cowardly. Demographically and culturally, Los Angeles today is nearly a re-founded city, and like the experience of recently re-founded a31 nations, Los Angeles can acquiesce to its useless stories about itself or benefit from a shared process of ”truth and reconciliation.“ Angelenos have something profound to learn from one another and a lot to forgive. Something genuine could come from remaking the city‘s moral order -- a re-figured narrative, still flawed but hopeful and even utopian in its working-class solidarity. Secessionism doesn’t have the stomach for the hard, heart-wrenching work of explanation, remembrance and forgiveness. It hasn‘t the courage.
Secessionism makes cowards, too. Secessionism persisted in the San Fernando Valley because no serious candidate could, it was said, become mayor without secession-minded voters and no one could be elected to the City Council, the state Legislature or Congress from the Valley without secessionist support. That threat was never tested, least of all in the recent mayoral election, where every candidate glided over the implications of breaking up the city. The current success of secessionism required silence and their complicity.
Secessionism is vulgar. It corrupts speech to make decomposition of the city palatable. Breaking up Los Angeles is called ”reorganization,“ as if the disruption of 150 years of civic life were a matter for bureaucrats and not the intimate concern of citizens. Breaking up the city is presented as a ”divorce“ that will be made equitable by the paying of ”alimony,“ as if our communal relationships were as easy and faultless to rescript into a property relationship as we imagine our private lives are.
Secessionism shrinks the boundaries of the moral imagination more than it shrinks municipal borders. It reduces ”citizenship“ to cocooning and turns ”city“ into enclave. Secessionism is ignorant of the moral purpose of great cities, which is the creation of a maximal number and diversity of public settings in which citizens might acquire the ability to sympathize with the condition of others and act on redressing those conditions. In place of the sympathy from which justice comes, secessionism proffers resentment.
Secessionism isn’t immoral, however. Perversely, former Mayor Richard Riordan‘s argument that secession should be condemned because of its disdain for the condition of the city’s poorest residents is a confirmation of the most seductive inducement for secession in the Valley: that the rational self-interest of the Valley‘s ”good people“ requires them to put down the burden of the city’s poor. Secessionism may be contemptuous of poverty, but, as a council of the city‘s religious elders determined in April, it’s morally neutral. Secessionism must meet a higher standard than that, of course. To justify breaking up the city, secessionists must show that the result will materially benefit those who have least benefited from current political conditions -- and not just in the new cities but in the remnant of Los Angeles as well. The conclusion of the members of the Council of Religious Leaders of Greater Los Angeles is that secession fails to meet this most basic test of fairness.
Secessionism promises some form of a newer New Jerusalem -- even if that is only a shorter drive to a city hall -- when, in fact, secessionism is more of the familiar L.A. sales pitch about endless self-invention in the sunshine. It‘s nothing new-made -- no new or better form of political organization, no new answers for shaping our lives together, and no solutions for the social and economic conditions that drive us apart. Secessionism repackages the same commodified dissatisfaction that underlies the marketing of all of Los Angeles. Secession falsely answers Angelenos’ doubts about their ability to make use of their shared history by substituting the same old sales pitch.
As a result, secessionism has no end. It makes large claims to justification by the principles of democracy and self-determination, but it does not offer to balance the principle of democratic discontent with other, moderating values. The smallest self-governed unit in Los Angeles County is Hawaiian Gardens, a city of 15,000 mostly Latino residents packed into less than a square mile, where city government is sustained by periodic handouts from a casino operator. By secession‘s standard of righteous self-determination, future voters -- for whatever disaffection -- should expect to carve more than 225 municipalities like this from the body of their new Valley city.
Secessionism is insufficiently cynical. L.A. Times columnist John Balzar makes the argument that all cities are corrupt, and with more cities you’ll have more corruption. Secessionism, in this view, is too trusting of human nature.
But secessionism is cynical enough. It takes 50 percent of those voting (plus one vote) in the Valley and 50 percent of those voting (plus one vote) in the city as a whole, including the Valley and other secession areas, to break Los Angeles up. A vote for secession anywhere in the city on November 5 increases the odds of getting the necessary citywide majority that a new Valley city requires. Cynically boosting secession in the harbor and Hollywood, where it‘s unclear how broadly secessionist feelings really extend, is a necessary part of the Valley VOTE strategy.
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