Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How Many Stars Can Fit on One Flag? Upstate New York Now Talking Secession

North Colorado.  South California.  Western Maryland.  The State of Jefferson.  And now ... West New York?

This political season’s Tea Party meme—rural portions of liberal or liberal-leaning states threatening to split off and seek statehood—started in the red northeast corner of increasingly-blue Colorado but quickly spread to northern California, where a 1940 plan to join with southern Oregon as the “State of Jeffersonwas revived in remote Siskiyou County.  Then Maryland’s five westernmost counties, in the Appalachians, began talking of forming their own state.  And this joins already existing movements—all of them pushed by anti-government right-wing Republicans—in northern Michigan (“the State of Superior”), inland southern California (South California), and downstate Illinois (Illinois minus Chicago) (all of them covered in this blog; click the links in this paragraph to read more).

Sen. Joseph Robach

And now a state senator from Greece, New York (yes, that’s the name of the town)—a Rochester suburb on the shores of Lake Ontario, across from Toronto, Ontariois reviving the idea of a 51st state formed out of upstate New York.  The senator, Joseph Robach, complains that locals need more say in the level of taxation, which he says is too high because of free-spending liberals in New York City.  He also wants more local control of the question of where to locate non-Indian casinos.  Back in 2009, Robach and two fellow Republicans tried to bring about a referendum on whether an as-yet-to-be-delineated inland portion of the state would like to secede as the State of West New York.  (“Niagara” is another possible name.)  Another Republican Party proposal in the State Assembly, from February of this year, suggested giving each New York county a voice on whether to join the new state.

(Despite the coincidence of names, Sen. Robach is not related to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who represents Orange County, California, in the United States House of Representatives and has spoken in the past in favor of the South California idea, the secession of northwestern Iran’s South Azerbaijan region so that it can unite with the U.S.-allied Republic of Azerbaijan, and even allowing parts of California to join Mexico if they chose.)

The flag of New York State.
No “West New York” or “State of Niagara” flags have been specifically proposed.
The idea of subdividing New York—whose politics are dominated by the liberal bastion of New York City—is not new.  Upstate New York did not really fall under U.S. control until after the War of 1812, and New York was bifurcated in 1791, too, when its far-northeastern corner became Vermont.  The town of Town Line, New York, in the far west near Niagara Falls, rebelled during the Civil War and wanted to join the Confederate States of America.  It did not even formally “rejoin” the union until 1946, and even then the vote was 90 to 23.

Most notoriously, the novelist Norman Mailer and the journalist Jimmy Breslin campaigned together in 1969 to become mayor and city-council president of New York City.  In addition to rooftop gardens and a ban on cars, they promised secession of the city as its own “State of New York,” leaving the rest of the state to call itself “Buffalo.”  (Ouch.)  They got 5% of the vote, and 10% in Manhattan.

The Summer of Love—Big Apple style

In 2007, an Italian-American eccentric named Cesidio Tallini declared all four counties of Long Island (including two New York City boroughs, Brooklyn and Queens) to be the Independent State of Long Island (I.L.I.) (as in independent of the United States), later renamed Winnecomac.

Cesidio Tallini, royal founder of the Independent State of Long Island,
plots his next move from his war room (in his mother’s basement?).
When Republicans’ demonized bugaboo Hillary Rodham Clinton became senator from New York in 2001, “carpetbagger” was added to the many epithets smeared on her, and upstate feelings of alienation were intensified.  Now, it seems, the separatist wildfires in Colorado and California have emboldened Upstaters again.

How New York’s counties voted in 2012, ranging from dark red (strongly for Mitt Romney)
to dark blue (strongly for Barack Obama)
Robach’s small home town of Greece has been in the news of late for other reasons, as well.  Soon the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a legal challenge to the Grecian (as I suppose we must call it—or Greek?) town board (i.e., city council), which opens each session with a prayer and hopes to evade laws on the separation of church and state by allowing all faiths to serve in the rotating position of chaplain-for-the-day.  Baha’is and even Wiccans have all applied for spots.  (To be consistent, such prayers should be banned, but a Supreme Court ruling to that effect would cause trouble for other elected bodies, including the U.S. Congress and nearly every state assembly, which have prayers and chaplains as well.)

Wiccans, here shown marking Memorial Day,
are entering the American religious mainstream, but slowly.
Sen. Robach would do well to enlist the services of the Wiccan priestess who would like to bless Greece’s city council.  He’ll need some sort of supernatural intercession to get any traction at all with his plan to partition New York.

[You can read more about West New York, the State of Jefferson, North Colorado, and many 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 interview for more information on the book.]


  1. How will water rights be handled as most New York City (Gotham?) water comes from Upstate?

  2. This is the real Jennifer zarpentine, that photo is NOT me, I look nothing like that and If you are going to print things about me at least get a correct photo and INFO!

  3. My apologies, Ms. Zarpentine. I should have double-checked the source on the image. It has now been removed from the article.


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