California Separatist Movement | Derek Li

California Separatist Movement

by Derek Li

As Americans watched Donald Trump edge closer and closer to a presidential victory in 2016, many started to fear the worst. For example, the Canadian immigration website crashed on the day of Trump’s election due to the unprecedented amount of activity. Yet, perhaps more significantly for us locally, the term “Calexit” started taking over social media and even trended on Twitter for some time. Although the movement has slowed down since, the seemingly outlandish idea associated with it remains a vague hope for some Californians.

As many of us have learned in our U.S history classes, California was an independent republic in 1846 for 26 days. This short-lasting independent “nation” was created after the Bear Flag Revolt, which was led by William Ide. The U.S. military quickly learned of the situation in California and easily took over the Republic, but the legacy of this temporary state lives on in California to this day, from the continued use of the bear on the state flag to great regional pride among Californians.

The Yes California Movement, more commonly known as Calexit, draws inspiration from what the short-lived California Republic stood for: independence from the rest of the United States. Headed by Louis J. Marinelli (who, ironically enough, lives in Russia), this campaign seeks secession from the Union because being a U.S. state “no longer [serves] California’s best interests,” according to the Yes California website. Proponents of the movement believe that the state of California is being neglected and treated unfairly by the federal government. Some complaints include restrictive trade laws that limit economic growth, being forced to compensate for other states’ economic troubles, outdated immigration policies, and much more. However, our very own Mr. Stiven feels that “[Yes California] is a way... for people who feel that because they lose elections, the best way for them to solve that is to break away...which is not really how democracy works.” The majority of citizens evidently don’t find this movement to be plausible, either. In a poll conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, in 2017, 68% were opposed to a statewide ballot calling for California to secede from the US. Put simply, the logistical and political difficulties of leaving America are just too much to make independence worthwhile. Add the fact that a new amendment would need to be created in the U.S constitution (which requires 75% of national support), and Yes California seems like a distant reality. Currently, although the movement has lost much of its initial momentum, it’s still hoping to make some noise in the 2018 midterm elections.

Yes California is not the only major campaign in support for major political change in California. In the past few months, a movement called New California has also gained awareness. It calls for a split of California, creating one region that would be extremely liberal (including the Bay Area and Los Angeles) and another that would be conservative (including San Diego and most of inland California). The conservative area would belong to New California and the rest would be left alone to self-govern. This campaign believes, “The nature of the State becoming ungovernable has caused a decline in essential basic services,” and that carving up California into two different geographical areas would be the most beneficial to everyone. But, the obvious underlying goal is to create a conservative state that would be able to make a difference in regards to national politics and elections. In order to create this theoretical 51st state, New California looks to follow the footprints of how West Virginia gained its independence from Virginia during the Civil War, which was by congressional approval. However, just like Yes California, New California’s success is extremely improbable, and even more difficult would be it gaining widespread approval.

Although both independence movements are still a long way from becoming reality, they reflect a growing divide in American political thought and ideologies. Instead of trying to bringing closer the opposing sides, some people are now hoping to leave the union altogether. Yet, looking back at some of the recent political events that have taken the nation by complete surprise, it wouldn’t be completely shocking if major political modifications and rearrangements took place in California in the distant future.