Saturday, November 17, 2012

Let a Thousand Secession Petitions Bloom: The U.S. Balkanized, but Perhaps Only on the White House Website, Nowhere Else—but Most Importantly: What Does All This Have to Do with Topless Car Washes and the State of Jefferson?

Since the day after Barack Obama’s re-election on November 6th as president of the United States, “Let’s secede from the Union!” has become conservative Republicans’ equivalent to liberal Democrats’ refrain after George W. Bush prevailed (“won” is too strong a word) in the 2000 and 2004 elections: “I’m moving to Canada!”  In both cases it’s mostly bluster and the venting of steam—or is it?  As discussed in detail in a blog article here three days ago, the Obama administration provides a “We the People” feature on its website, where any individual can start a petition, and the administration commits itself to giving at least some sort of a reply to any which garners 25,000 signatures in the space of a month.  This has inspired a proliferation of petitions for individual states to secede from the Union.  Louisiana and Texas (Texas has more separatist sentiment than any other state—though Louisiana was a surprise here) led off within the first 24 hours.  The Southern states were early adopters of the idea and have made the strongest showing.  Three days ago, only four states, and arguably the most liberal four—Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Vermont—had no petitions, but since then that has ceased to be the case (though their numbers are still laughably low).  Now there are petitions from all 50 states.

Among over a million signatures in all of the secession petitions, seven have reached the 25,000-signature thresholds: Texas, with 113,120 signatures as of the morning of November 17th, Louisiana (36,094), Florida (33,617), Tennessee (30,133), Alabama (29,468), North Carolina (29,446), Georgia (31,135, plus two identical petitions with an additional 19,906 votes)—all Southern states.  Another Deep South state, South Carolina, would be at the threshold if its effort were not divided between two petitions, with 23,321 and 14,762 votes.  This is also true of Missouri (34,244 signatures spread among three petitions) and Oklahoma (26,576 in two petitions).  Four additional states have over 20,000 and seem poised to exceed the 25,000 mark: Arizona (22,313), Arkansas (22,196), Colorado (21,288), and Indiana (20,600).  Others may reach it as well; there’s plenty of time left.  Other strong performers like Pennsylvania, California, Mississippi, and Kentucky may well reach it, as well: there’s plenty of time.
A University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill study produced this map showing the density of secessionist sentiment after an analysis of this week’s online petitions.  Compare to this map of how the election went ...
There have also been counter-petitions: ones to keep the U.S. united, ones to keep individual states in the union (pretty weak showings there), some to strip citizenship from secession petitioners or to say a brisk “sayonara” to secessionist states.  Austin, Texas (with 7,817 signatures), and Atlanta, Georgia (with 1,436), are petitioning to stay in the U.S. if their states secede—which would be tricky, since they are landlocked capitals.  Likewise El Paso, where 1,130 residents wish to stop being part of Texas—though whether they want to stay in the U.S. as a separate state or become an independent nation themselves is not specified.

Even the State of Jefferson—an old idea to cobble together a new state out of rural counties in southern Oregon and northern California—has gotten a boost with 611 votes.  The Jefferson idea has lots of Tea Party fans, but it is not clear if these petitioners want to stay in the union in case California and Oregon secede, or want their own separate country, or are merely hopping on the bandwagon with their own, pre-existing idea for a 51st state.

So how will Obama react to these petitions—since he has already indicated he will respond to those that reach the 25,000 threshold?  Probably by invoking the fact that there are theoretically procedures in place for states to pursue secession.  It is only folklore that Texas has a special constitutional provision allowing it to secede at any point.  Though legally untested, probably departures from the union, like admissions to it, will need to be ratified by Congress.  The State of Alaska, famously, once brought its Alaska Independence Party to court and prevailed, exempting it from any obligation to hold a plebiscite.  But this could change—and each state would have to pursue its own course.  Theoretically, of course.  These numbers may be reaching surprisingly high numbers, but they are still low as popular movements go.

Here, by the way, are some other reactions to the secession-petition wave ...

Rick Perry “Shares Frustrations” but Won’t Back a Split; Ron Paul Warm to Idea.  The office of the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who took flak during his run for the Republican nomination for the presidency for favorable comments on Texan independence, tamped down talk of secession this week, with a spokeswoman saying, “Gov. Perry believes in the greatness of our Union and nothing should be done to change it.  But he also shares the frustrations many Americans have with our federal government.”  The governor’s office was responding to the nearly 100,000 signatures on the online petition—started by Micah Hurd, a U.S. Marines veteran University of Texas–Arlington freshman.  Meanwhile, Cary Wise, membership director for the Texas Nationalist Movement (T.N.M.), reported a surge in interest in his group, adding, “We’re not gonna start a revolution; we’re not gonna go shoot anybody.  We’re gonna politically and peacefully, through the pressure of the sovereign people of the State of Texas, we will change this.  People ask if Texas independence will really happen.  Folks, it is inevitable.”  The president of the T.N.M., Daniel Miller, said that this month’s presidential elections proves that “ a majority of the people in the United States ... esteem the principles of Karl Marx.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Ron Paul, the several-times Libertarian and Republican presidential candidate who represents part of southern Texas for the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, said that Paul “feels the same now” as he did when he recorded a controversial 2009 video on YouTube in which he said it was “very American to talk about secession.”  The right-wing talk-show host Alex Jones proposes a secession-oriented “second American revolution” led by Paul.  And Bob Smiley (his real name), a former research assistant for the gratingly effete crypto-fascist William F. Buckley, Jr., and author of a new comic novel about a separatist Texan governor titled Don’t Mess with Travis, is reiterating this week that Texas would be quite viable as a separate nation.

“Didn’t We Try That Once Before?” Dixie Governors React to Secession Petitions.  The Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindalcalled the petitions “silly,” adding, “We are proud to be part of the greatest country in the history of the world.  Whatever our political differences, we are American first.”  Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Haslamsaid on November 13th, “I don’t think that’s a valid option for Tennessee.  I don’t think we’ll be seceding.”  The governor of South CarolinaNikki Haley, another Republican, said of the petitions, “Didn’t we try that once before?  I love this country.  I’m going to fight for this country.  I’m going to do everything I can for this country, and this country is going to be great.”  However, she did not specify which country she meant: the U.S., the Confederacy, or South Carolina.

South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley
The same day, a spokeswoman for Robert Bentley, Alabama’s Republican governor, poured cold water on attempts to stoke separatism in that state, saying, “Governor Bentley believes in one nation under God.  While there is frustration with the federal government, Governor Bentley believes that states can be great laboratories of change.”  Alabama’s secession petition was started by Derrick Belcher, a 45-year-old truck driver who calls himself “an absolute Libertarian.”  Belcher said, “If you look at a map of the red states, we have all of the oil and we produce all of the food.  We’re the ones that are carrying the rest of the nation.”  Belcher is the former owner of a topless car wash in Mobile which was shut down by the authorities in 2001 on obscenity charges.  Of those events, he says, “The government ripped my business away, and now they’re choking America to death with rules and regulations.”

The former career path of Alabama’s separatist revolutionary Derrick Belcher.
Meanwhile, in a quiet northwestern corner of the nation, secession plans that were already underway are proceeding apace ...

New Hampshire Separatist Foundation Established, with Libertarian Links.  Five citizens of New Hampshire have registered a new non-profit organization called the Foundation for New Hampshire Independence.  Neal Conner, a technology consultant originally from Florida who lives in Manchester, N.H., and who is treasurer of the Foundation, told media, “This nation has grown too large to be represented by a few people, a few bureaucrats, in Washington.”  Conner is affiliated with the Free State Project, a libertarian initiative to encourage libertarian-minded individuals to move to low-population U.S. states so as to create the conditions for greater autonomy and libertarian-style government.

Watch this space for more updates.  If the United States breaks up like Yugoslavia, we’ll be the first to know.

One liberal’s vision for the future
[You can read more about these and other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]


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