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The Day Berkeley Seceded from the U.S.

On election night 1980 people on the west coast were learning that Ronald Reagan would be their next president even before their local polls had closed. Here in Berkeley, a large number of people, mostly students, refused to take that news sitting down. From our flat near the corner of Ashby and Telegraph, we heard the roar of outraged residents marching in the street. We naturally came out and joined them. The growing crowd wound its way around the South Campus area, shouting its outrage that their country could be so stupid. We had endured eight years of Reagan as governor. How could our country accept this amateur as its leader? A nervous Berkeley police force quickly set up an escort for the unruly crowd. The presence of a line of police cars attempting to lead the march was not welcome. It soon became a game for us to change direction quickly and keep the police guessing where we were headed. At one point, the march crossed to the west side of Grove Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way), which was considered a protest milestone. After several hours of chants and jeers, the crowd got tired and returned to their homes.

However, after all the marching and chanting, Ronald Reagan was still our next president. The frustration and anger lingered. I met an old woman in front of the post office who was depressed that her life of political activism seemed in vain. I could imagine that she was radicalized, as many were, during the great depression. After working for social and economic justice, she was now in the last years of her life, watching the country headed in the wrong direction.

Not long after that, an unusual concert was held in the city. The Veterans Memorial Building on Center Street had become a popular venue for politically-aware music and comedy. The main auditorium was a great place to listen and dance to live bands. Downstairs acoustic folkies and comedians played to more intimate groups. The stairways were crowded with fans filing past each other to sample the offerings on both floors. On one particular night, the Sisters of Perpetual indulgence of San Francisco came across the Bay to engage in a plot of political subversion. The City of Berkeley would secede from the United States. In a prominent location, a declaration of independence was placed on a table where we could all get a chance of add our names. Everyone in my household signed the declaration.

It would be hypocritical of me to criticize the right-wingers today that are now calling for secession. I am sure they have the same distain for Obama that we had for Reagan several decades ago. Like us, they had assumed that history would continue to move in their direction. Reagan brought an end to New Deal-style of government. The country would end its dependence on tax-financed social programs for the poor, government regulations on businesses, and labor unions for workers. America would bring peace to the world through military intervention anytime and anywhere it determined was needed. They eventually convinced enough Democrats to help them deregulate banks and support regime change in Iraq. Now we know where that led.

The right is bitter that we have a Democrat back in the White House, and more than a few are especially bitter that the new president is black. While the Senate addressed health care reform this past weekend, pundit Dick Morris was very active on his Twitter account, posting the following Tweets:

Would anyone like to play a game? Predict what states will secede from the union and in what order? Texas, Alaska, Connecticut.
BREAKING! Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Connecticut will soon announce their intentions to seceed (sic) from the union.
LET’S HIT THE GOVERNMENT WHERE IT HURTS! SECEDE! http://www.secession.net
It is our DUTY to protect and defend the CONSTITUTION at all costs… that’s why we have guns, folks!
Obama really gives you a good idea just how evil Satan is. Scary stuff

In previous tweets, Morris has speculated that the shooting at Fort Hood was a plot by Obama to divert attention from the health care debate. At least having Obama in office gives Morris someone else to hate beside Hillary and Bill Clinton.

SECESSION.NET advocates for what it calls “community based secession” and for “the primary political right of the individual and of political communities” to secede. This libertarian web site wants to appeal to both the left and right with buttons calling for both blue counties and red counties to secede. A couple of quotes from the website:
“The time has come to recognize that the great nation state “experiment” of the last five hundred years has failed. The time has come for humans to launch new experiments, ones based on past experience as well as new ideas and technology. The time has come to identify principles and strategies, and initiate educational and action campaigns, to support the world’s people as they seek true freedom, true peace and true justice.”
“Secession of individuals and communities does not have to mean war and violence. It should be a natural evolutionary feature of all political entities. Communities can form networks or confederations, since secession is accepted by both in principle. However, communities will not form “federations” which by definition do not allow secession. We will suggest practical and nonviolent means by which such separation can occur and the kinds of networks and confederations that could be created to replace oppressive nation states.”

This community-based secession is more in line with the Berkeley model that the state-based secession suggested Governor Rick Perry in Texas or by the Alaskan Independence Party that found support from Todd and Sarah Palin. It might be more like the revived movement to create a new state from northern California and southern Oregon that would be called Jefferson. In1975, Ernest Callenbach devised the secession of the northwest section of the U.S. to form Ecotopia, the product of a nonviolent revolution by environmentalists.

There is a certain populist appeal to this community-based secession movement. Berkeley has always been at the forefront of community-based movements. At the height of activism against the Vietnam War we became the first city with its own foreign policy. During the Reagan era, we were among the first cities to declare ourselves a nuclear-free zone. If the country would not get out of the nuclear war business, then we, the people, would do that, community by community. When the United States failed to ratify the Kyoto Treaty, we decided to reduce our own greenhouse emissions in compliance with Kyoto. Again, other cities are following our lead. Maybe the real solution is to secede from our narrow-minded nationalism and join the Planet Earth.

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November 23, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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