Peace out, America: #Calexit movement gains momentum


(Illustration by Breannah Gammon)

Barbara Harvey

What began as a fringe political movement calling for California to secede from the United States has gained momentum in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump as president.

#Calexit began trending on social media on election night as it became increasingly clear that the Republican nominee had won. California, meanwhile, showed a marked disconnect with much of the rest of the country, going even more blue than in previous elections.

“The election has certainly given (the “Yes California Independence” campaign) the instant popularity that it lacked before,” said Sac State professor Thomas Clark, who teaches California history and American legal history.

The Yes campaign, which according to its website “advocate(s) for peaceful secession from the United States,” hopes to put a measure on the ballot in 2018 that, if passed, would begin the legal process to secede from the U.S.

“As the sixth largest economy in the world, California is more economically powerful than France and has a population larger than Poland. Point-by-point, California compares and competes with countries, not just the 49 other states,” the campaign website says.

However, “a peaceful secession” simply isn’t possible, according to Clark.

“If California were to claim a right to secede, I don’t imagine the federal government would sit idly by while California seized federal land and military bases. We have no military, after all, so we couldn’t put up much of a defense … The question of whether or not a state may unilaterally secede from the Union has already been decided by the US Supreme Court, and the answer was ‘no.’ ”

Despite doubts over the feasibility, the movement has already added high-profile Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to its ranks, including Hyperloop One founder Shervin Pishevar, who has become an advocate for “New California.”

“If Trump wins I am announcing and funding a legitimate campaign for California to become its own nation,” Pishevar tweeted on Nov. 8.

Pishevar has called his plan a “temporary withdrawal,” adding that California could reenter the U.S. at a later time.

Mark Brown, a professor of government at Sac State, compared the movement to proposals made by Northern states during the Civil War.

“(Calexit) makes me think of the 1850s — when William Lloyd Garrison and the Anti-Slavery Society of northern abolitionists, in their fight against slavery, argued that the best thing was to secede from the South. They had a motto: ‘no union with slaveholders,’ ” Brown said. “Frederick Douglass pointed out that that would do nothing at all for the slaves and that it was basically just an attempt of northern abolitionists to keep their own moral purity and keep their own hands clean. (Calexit) has similar problems.”

Clark also felt that secession isn’t a solution, adding that some problems would affect Californians regardless.

“Most of the things that are apparently prompting the current push — the anticipated policies of a President Trump — would still be problems. Global warming, for example, does not respect international, much less state, boundaries,” Clark said. “In other areas, we might not be affected by Trump policies, but our fellow Americans in the remaining states would still suffer from his policies, with the only difference being that we would no longer be able to do anything about it.”

Daniel Wilson contributed to this report.