Despite an extremely long-shot campaign that aims to get on the November ballot in 2018, and despite an even longer shot at realizing their dream of secession from Donald Trump's United States, organizers of the #Calexit movement have been hitting the streets as part of a herculean signature-gathering drive.
Marcus Ruiz Evans, co-founder of #Calexit organizing group Yes California, says its 56 chapters are busy enlisting volunteer signature gatherers and using "meetups" to grab endorsements at political events and in grocery store parking lots. The state requires 585,407 valid signatures to get the question of "California nationhood" before voters. The deadline is July 25.
"We have boxes of thousands of petition sheets in Orange County, Long Beach, Oakland, San Diego," Evans said via email. "This week we printed and delivered around California enough signature-gathering sheets to collect a full 600,000 signatures."
The group is relying on 8,000 volunteers to get the job done, he said. Still, the odds are against it. The California Secretary of State's office has recorded no campaign contributions to Yes California. (Evans said previously that it has a few thousand dollars on hand.) Experts say it typically takes professional signature gathering at a cost of about $2 million to $3 million to qualify an initiative for the ballot.
Political consultant Steve Maviglio said the last time a grassroots initiative got before voters without professional signature-gathering help was in 1998, when the auto-insurance reform measure known as Proposition 103 achieved a dark-horse victory.
It's not clear whether #Calexit, which asks if "California should become a separate country," has that kind of grassroots support. But it's attracting international headlines. And Evans argues that Yes California's volunteer army is unprecedented. He sent L.A. Weekly dozens of photos of volunteer signature-gathering events in the Bay Area and in Southern California.
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Even if those valid signatures are turned in, there's at least some doubt secession is legally possible. David A. Carrillo, executive director of Berkeley Law's California Constitution Center, has argued that there is no constitutional authority to walk away from the union.
"We never had good odds," Evans said on the phone last night. "But people are motivated to do this."