Free the Bear: A Discussion with Kyle Ellis – Part 1By Frederik Sisa @ 8:00 AM March 31, 2008
Californians for Independence is an advocacy group working towards the non-violent secession of California from the United States. I recently had a discussion with Kyle Ellis, a founding member of Californians for Independence.
Frédérik: Growing up in Québec, I was often surrounded by separatists who were quite serious in their desire to split away from Canada. I was never persuaded by the need, however. The province is already distinctive on account of the French Canadian language and culture, has many regulations in place to maintain that distinctiveness, and is economically quite powerful relative to many of Canada’s other provinces. While it is a complex topic, Québec separatism struck me in part as petulant – the spoiled child clamouring for more spoils – and also as rather academic, since Quebecers are distinct on the basis of how they live their lives – laws have nothing to do with it.
But living in California for almost seven years now, the situation in regards to California’s political status strikes me as very different than that of Québec. In essence, California seems very much politically isolated, with a small voice in the national chorus that is disproportionate to its economic power and large population. The primaries are an easy example of how California is marginalized. While small states like Iowa get to vote on a large number of presidential candidates, California does not. The issue goes further than that, however, when we consider issues like the EPA throwing a wrench in California’s recent climate change legislation, an issue that raises questions on the nature of states’ rights.
By themselves, however, these problems may raise vague, even fantastic, notions of an independent California in Californians’ minds. Yet your group believes there are significant reasons for California to consider seceding from the Union. What are those reasons, and how do they fit into the larger context of state versus federal rights? How do you plan to achieve independence?
We Are a Source for Easy Money
Kyle: I think that you hit the nail right on the head with your statements about how California, despite its vast size, population and economic presence, is significantly marginalized from federal level politics when you take into account the much higher proportion of representation that other, smaller states have. Since this is an election year, an excellent example of California’s disproportionate representation can be seen in the distribution of Electoral College votes, which is roughly one for every 650,000 people. This may not seem too bad on the surface of things, but when you take into consideration that some states like Vermont and Wyoming get roughly three times the representation that we do (at 1:207,000 and 1:168,000, respectively) it really makes you wonder at how this can possibly be considered democratic, much less fair. Think of it this way. If, in California, it’s one person-one vote, in Vermont it’s one person-three votes.
Another consideration for Independence comes from the continual use of California as a source of easy money, both from current presidential candidates and the federal government itself, which returns on average only 79¢ for each dollar that California sends out. Again, on the surface this may seem to be acceptable. But, considering that California sends out in excess of $200 billion a year, this means that California loses more than $50 billion each year. Take a moment to think about how much better off our state would be if we had $50 billion more dollars going into the state each year, not to mention the potential funds that could be uncovered from scaling back the military and other federal expenditures that would not be necessary in an Independent California. It is interesting to note that this policy of using our state as an ATM has been going on for a significant amount of time – it was California gold that helped to pay for Northern bullets during the Civil War, and it is California gold that helps to pay for the bullets being used in Iraq.
The final issue I would like to address in response to your first question is our group’s concern over local versus federal control over things that are of concern only to us Californians. To take an example that is in the news right now, the EPA, a federal agency, is currently denying California the ability to regulate its carbon emissions the way it would like. The only reason that this is occurring is that the auto industry doesn’t want to have to make cleaner vehicles in compliance with California’s proposed tougher standards. This is cronyism and corruption of the highest order, that California can be barred from protecting its environment by an industry that has an inside line at the federal level is absolutely appalling. It allows corporations to know that if they aren’t able to do a project or get a law passed (or blocked) on a local level, then all they have to do is head up to the federal level where they can easily buy the sort of influence that is difficult to maintain at a more accountable and local level of government.
As to your second question of how we intend to achieve independence, the answer is very straightforward; we intend to let people know about the miscarriages of democracy, fairness and accountability that have been perpetuated upon both our state and us. Eventually, when there is enough support behind the notion of separating ourselves politically from the U.S., our organization will use the ballot initiative process to both amend the California Constitution to allow us to secede (as it currently prevent us from doing), and then proceed to hold a plebiscite on the issue of independence. None of us expects this to be easy. But given enough time and effort, we believe that we will be able to find the support necessary to carry out this democratic transition to independence.
Frédérik: There is a precedent, of course, for California’s secession in the failed attempt to create the state of Jefferson out of Northern California and Southern Oregon counties, whose residents felt double-crossed by their respective governments. More significant, however, are the secessionist movements of other states, such as the Second Vermont Republic. How does Californians for Independence’s mission fit in with these other groups?
Kyle: Unfortunately I am not very familiar with the attempt to create the state of Jefferson. So I will refrain from commenting on it. However, on the issue of a possible collaboration between California’s independence movement and those of other states, I can confidently say that it will occur. Actually, collaboration is already happening, there have already been two North American Secessionist Conventions that have served to bring together all of the disparate U.S. secession groups in order to collaborate, share experiences and discuss methods of achieving a peaceful separation from one another. These conventions have been hosted by the Middlebury Institute (http://middleburyinstitute.org) for the past two years, and have featured groups from all over the United States including the South, New England, Alaska, Hawaii, Texas and California. I had the opportunity this last year to attend the convention, and I was deeply impressed by how people with such differing beliefs on everything from religion, politics and everything in between were able to get along so well together. In America today, there is a very deep division between Left and Right that sparks quite a lot of tension and anger from both sides of the schism, with each group trying to use the federal government as a cudgel to bash its vision of the United States against those who might disagree with them. But in this group of secessionist organizations, I was able to observe people honestly respecting one another despite whatever differences they may have because of the fact that they don’t want to force their vision of the world onto other people, and all they want in return is the same consideration. Should the United States splinter into a number of different and distinct nations, I am certain that this congeniality will transfer to their respective governments and will serve to usher in an era of peaceful cooperation between all of the former United States.
To Be Continued