|Illustration by Mr. Fish|
Count me among those who woke up on November 3 and thought:
My turn toward the idea that California should secede from the
Union was based on some bedrock logic that my father used to admonish me with
as he suspiciously eyed my derelict teenage friends: You can tell a lot about
a person by the company he keeps. That Wednesday morning, I looked at the sea
of red in between the coasts and in the South, and I listened to the hypocritical
crowing by misogynists and homophobes about values and strength and “the
real America” and thought: If these were my friends, I’d try to get new
Since then, when I’ve tried to have rational conversations about
secession, I have heard the idea dismissed by those who would call themselves
progressive or even radical as “middle-class parlor games” or “not
even worth discussing” or, they say, very emotionally, “That’s just
plain crazy.” I’m a pretty conventional person and an unadventurous thinker
myself, and still the radical notion of seceding seems logical, necessary and
even inevitable to me. What I want to know, and have yet to hear anyone explain
— based on reason and not emotion — is why not secede?
To the middle-class parlor-game argument, I say, since when have
revolutionary changes not started out so? Only back in the day, they called
them salons. These coffee klatches for the leisure class were considered so
dangerous that salons were forced underground after the French Revolution. Fact
is, revolution is the only trickle-down theory that works — most revolution
comes from above or at least slightly above the middle. The landed and moneyed
classes started the American Revolution, one of the world’s great secessionist
movements. It was the furthest thing from a workers’ revolt. Vladimir Lenin
was the highly educated son of a Russian aristocrat, Che Guevara was a medical
student son of a doctor, etc. Unfortunately, the working classes are usually
too busy surviving to start revolutions — though they are usually called upon
to finish them.
I also keep hearing the plea that “We have to stay and fight.”
To which, I ask — fight what? The answer I get back is “the right-wing
takeover” or “the Republicans” or “for America.” But,
you know, we had an election and “they” won — somewhat fair and square.
And they’ve been winning. I was 4 when Nixon got elected. Think about this country’s
leadership since then. Think about the values represented by that leadership.
Except for the sad blip of Jimmy Carter, it’s been 36 years of reaction against
the better angels of our nature — against Roosevelt, the Kennedys, Dr. King
and even LBJ and his Great Society. If you were born in the ’70s, it’s a safe
bet that whatever progressive victories you’ve seen in your lifetime were either
powered by the last fumes of the ’60s or were local and not national. The only
time a Democratic president has been elected since 1980, he was a closet Republican.
The next time a Democrat gets elected, he’ll probably be the same. News flash,
everybody: The “Republican takeover” is sadly what this country is
now and has been for a while. So, are you suggesting taking back the country
When I was arguing the merits of seceding recently, a friend finally
said, “But, but, we live in America.” I thought — we do? I
live in California. I sometimes visit other places in America, but not that
much anymore. Having lived all over this country and having been to every state
but three, I know we’ve got it pretty good here. We’ve got great mountains and
beaches, fruit and vegetables out the gazoo. We’ve got the fifth biggest economy
in the world that is so highly diversified it’s almost recession-proof. We’ve
got a public-education infrastructure that used to be the envy of the world.
Maybe we can repair it with some of the nearly $60 billion we’re currently sending
out in taxes and subsidies so the ignoramus “red” states can continue
to lord over us in their fat, Jesus-loving state of bliss and denial.
Okay, that’s a slightly unfair generalization about the red states,
and there’s always talk that we can’t leave behind the other 50 million of “us”
who voted blue . Sure you can. I mean, I only really know a handful of those
other 50 million — okay, maybe 50 — and frankly, they don’t care where I go,
so long as I keep in touch and maybe visit every now and then. I don’t think
seceding would mean we couldn’t do that. People visit further places than Ohio
all the time. Plus, those blue brothers we’re so worried about leaving behind
can feel free to come along.
I also keep hearing a sentiment-soaked refrain from anti-secession
friends to explain their attachment to the idea of the United States that goes
something like: But we fought for this great experiment called America . . .
and I believe in it. I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It’s
called the United States . . . of . . . America . . .
First of all, we didn’t fight for it, some guys in white wigs
and funny pants did, and that was 230 years ago. Remember, too, their forebears
once thought that the Magna Carta was the be all and end all; but the drive
for freedom didn’t stop there, why should it stop now? Look at Europe: In the
past couple of hundred years it’s gone through often bloody upheavals of nation
building, unification, de-unification, and now it’s unifying again. I’m sure
they thought they had it right every step of the way, but instead they keep
changing with changing times.
But in case you’re really prone to sentimentality, here’s the
first article of the California state Constitution:
All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable
rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring,
possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness,
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Secession has also been assailed as impractical — something
that’s just too hard to do, as if the San Fernando Valley didn’t come within
a hair’s breadth of seceding from the rest of Los Angeles just a couple of years
ago for many of the same reasons secession would be logical for California:
taxation without representation, local sovereignty, the difficulty many Valley
residents had in figuring out what Los Angeles had to do with them or vice versa.
These were practical reasons that had nothing to do with the city’s noble, if
abstract, mission as stated in the charter’s preamble:
We the people of the City of Los Angeles, in order to establish
a responsive, effective and accountable government through which all voices
in our diverse society can be heard; to provide fair representation and distribution
of government resources and a safe, harmonious environment based on principles
of liberty and equality, do enact this Charter.
What I’m getting at is that just because you want to start fresh
doesn’t mean you reject everything that came before, and seceding wouldn’t mean
a sudden embrace of strange ideals. After all, our legal system is still based
on English common law
. . . just because you can’t live at home anymore doesn’t mean you reject your
But for all those who like to argue that America is a “grand
experiment” and a shining beacon to the world that deserves our continuing
participation, I’ll say, You’re right, so long as we overlook nearly 100 years
of slavery following our nation’s birth, 100 more of apartheid following emancipation,
the continuing stain of racism, bigotry, gross economic inequity, inner-city
genocide, a dubious record as a global citizen that continues to subject the
rest of the world to its insatiable appetite, etc. (As inconceivable as it may
be to many Americans, a survey by The Economist, using such criteria
as freedom, health, economy, political stability, security, equality and community,
the good ol’ USA ranked 13th in the world, behind such irrelevant “Old
World” countries like Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden,
Australia, Iceland, Italy, Denmark, Spain and others not easily spotted in the
ranks of the “coalition of the willing.”) Still, for all that, this
has been a good experiment. America has a lot to be commended for. It
showed much of the world it could get by without kings or dictators, and those
marks against it are, unfortunately, largely the common histories of any prominent
country. Even now, for a lot of people (nearly 60 million on record) this place
is doing just fine.
But maybe we can do better. Maybe California can do better. Maybe
it can be a better shining light of hope for the world (hell, even its Republican
governor is a progressive by current standards). Maybe it could be an example
to its new next-door neighbor, the U.S., if we free ourselves from a system
that gives South Dakota as many senators as we have. Or if we are no longer
subjected to a $58 billion net giveaway to the U.S. Treasury that helps prop
up those rugged individualists in the subsidy states who seem to like living
off government cheese but don’t like our ideas about gay rights, abortion, stem
cells or even evolution, and are dangerously close to imposing their absurd
ideas about all that upon us.
Confounded by the logic of seceding, a friend recently broke down
and pleaded, “But I don’t want to give away Utah.” I was surprised
to learn she owned it. The people of Utah — who have their own ideas about life
and are welcome to them, so long as they don’t force them on me — will be, too.
Which brings me to my ultimate point: Why should we keep fighting to impose
our ideas upon one another? And don’t try to tell me that’s not what this is
about — from both sides. We have clearly entered the “with us or against
us” stage in this country. How about we here in sovereign California decline
either invitation and just be on our own?
It’s actually a very rugged, very American idea.