Under the banner of “Yes California,” proponents of the so-called “Calexit” have secured the right to collect petition signatures. If they succeed in obtaining 365,880 by October, there will be a vote in 2020 on whether or not to open a secession discussion. A second vote a year later would be to declare California an independent country.
The Pagan residents of the state reached for comment have no expectation that the measure would ever pass, but some of them were willing to imagine what it might be like.
“It’s treason,” said Aline ‘Macha’ O’Brien, and “we probably can’t.”
Sean Harbaugh had a similar thought, saying that “the likelihood of California secession is almost zero. Even if the voters pass the bill — which is doubtful — the federal government would never allow it. There was a civil war fought over this very thing.”
Angus McMahan acknowledged that most believe it a long shot. “Well, the conventional wisdom would be, ‘Yeah, right,’ but then I never thought I’d see a black president or legalized marijuana or gay marriage in my lifetime.”
“It”s important to note that California secession is not the only proposal out there,” said Tim Titus.
“There are at least three other plans to split up California into two or three or six different states. In the end, all of these plans fail because no one can agree. In the absence of a clear second choice, voters tend toward what they know. These movements come up often and they invariably fail.”
Jason Mankey agreed, saying, “I don’t think there’s any chance that this happens. I don’t think it will be approved by a majority of voters in California, and I don’t think the national government would be in favor of it either.”
California has a big, diverse economy, something which was raised again and again among interviewees. All touted the state’s standing as sixth-largest economy in the world, as reported by Forbes in 2018.
The many climates and ecological zones of California give it a natural diversity of special value, O’Brien noted. The agricultural output supplies some 90% of the crops in her estimation.
“Alone, we’re the world’s [sixth] biggest economy, and I think we could get by just fine without the East Coast, the South and the Midwest,” said McMahan. “We’d still have our own Disneyland. We’ll be fine.”
Titus brought forth a factor that intersects ecology and economy: fights over water rights.
“[If] California fully seceded from the union, this would intensify,” he said. “Arizona and California have a history of battling over access to Colorado River water, and if the two were different countries that would only get worse. On the other hand, since California is the world’s sixth-largest economy, its loss would substantially harm the coffers of the United States.”
O’Brien praised the fact that a high percentage of residents are [socially and politically] engaged, a fact reflecting their largely progressive values. It’s “a sanctuary state, which should tell you something,” she said, and home of some of the strictest environmental laws on the books. Those laws make California an example, she said, which is one reason to remain part of the U.S.
Californians pay more in federal tax dollars than is received back in aid, but none of those interviewees reached specifically had a problem with that fact.
The flip side of the outflow of tax dollars is the relative influence one resident’s vote gets in the presidential election, and that’s something which could get resolved by a parting of ways. The electoral college was designed to prevent outsized influence from large population centers, and that means Californians don’t always feel their voice is heard.
“My vote would be worth as much as a North Dakotan.” said McMahan.
“Wyoming gets an electoral vote for every 188,000 citizens, California gets one electoral vote for every 677,000 citizens,” said Mankey. “That wouldn’t matter if the popular vote was in sync with the electoral college, but that hasn’t happened in two out of the last five elections. The United States is being governed by a minority of voters, a minority vastly out of step with the values of most Californians.”
The result of that friction can be plans like last year’s tax reformation, which Mankey said was designed to punish residents of high-tax states like his.
As many Pagans have an environmental focus, concerns for the environment were raised again and again.
“California seceding would not affect the redwood forests and sparkling ocean where I work my craft, and so I think the impact … would be minimal, from a Pagan point of view,” said McMahan.
“As a Pagan, an independent California would probably disrupt my life to some degree because I travel a great deal,” said Mankey, acknowledging this as a first-world problem.
“On the flip side, I think an independent California would be a real win for the values many of us hold dear in Paganism. It would mean more separation of church and state, and protections for people of color, immigrants, women and the LGBTQ community,” as well as environmental regulation.
“In terms of Pagan ministry, it would not make much difference,” thought Titus. We are such a large state, we are used to huge sections with different cultures.”
Harbaugh agreed, saying, “I couldn’t see anything changing,” when it comes to Pagans.
However, O’Brien thought that it might just increase the chances of Pagans being elected to higher office. “I have strong support of the union,” she said, and wouldn’t vote in favor of leaving. “That’s libertarian, and I don’t subscribe to that.”
McMahan, for his part, suggested a different tack, asking, “why stop at seceding from boring backwards old America? I would go further, and break up California into 4 different pieces:
1) From San Diego to San Luis Obispo. Call it ‘Trafficstan.’
2) The whole Central Valley up to Redding, where they grow soybeans for animal feed instead or for tofu. The whole Interstate 5 corridor is super-conservative, so let’s call their state: ‘No.’
3) The Central Coast up to Eureka, where all the tech stuff and wacky ideas come from — and the seedbed for about 100 Pagan and “don’t-call-us-Pagan” traditions. Call it ‘Sanfrangooglestan.’
4) Aaaand, the big square hat on top of the state that few people have ever visited, or seen. Call it ‘Southern Oregon.’
Altogether, we could be the United States of California.