In the shadow of the election that returned to power the most autocratic and illegitimate government the nation has ever experienced, many are beginning to talk about “blue state” secession. Most of the talk has seemed frivolous, but over the weekend of November 5-7 in Middlebury, Vermont, three dozen people met to discuss and promote–seriously–the prospect of secession from the United States.
The three days of speeches, presentations and debate were sponsored by the Fourth World, an organization based in England devoted to the separatist movements working for independence within the other three “worlds,” and by the Second Vermont Republic, a grassroots movement that is ardently working for the state to become a republic, as it was from 1777 to 1791 (www.vermontrepublic.org). It is safe to say that not many people knew such organizations even existed, but the passion and earnestness of the weekend’s deliberations showed there is a real feeling that consideration of such an extreme measure as secession is not beyond the pale.
“I think November 7 was a watershed occasion,” said Thomas Naylor, a retired Duke University economics professor who has lived in Vermont for a decade and is the founder of the Second Vermont Republic. “We’ve put the idea of secession into the public arena and found it has a lot of resonance.” Indeed, the local Rutland Herald gave the conference a prominent fourteen-paragraph story (“Secession enthusiasts meet in Middlebury”). The leading French daily in Quebec did a front-page story on the meeting (naturally, it liked the idea).
The pattern of the meeting, billed as a “Radical Consultation,” was to consider the options open to people wanting to challenge and change the current American empire and to test the viability of what might be put in its place, especially if, as the call for the conference argued, “it has most probably become unsustainable economically, politically, militarily, agriculturally, socially, culturally, and environmentally.” Among the options considered and rejected were denial, compliance, reform and revolution, leaving the discussion to concentrate on decentralization, separatism and secession.
A statement signed by most of the participants gives a sense of where that discussion led: “In our deliberations we have considered many kinds of strategies for a new politics and eventually decided upon the inauguration of a campaign to monitor, study, promote and develop agencies of separatism,” meaning “all the forms by which small political bodies distance themselves from larger ones…creating small and independent states that rule themselves.”
The statement went on to argue that “there is no reason that we cannot begin to examine the process of secession in the United States.” It cited twenty-eight separatist organizations already operating in this country, including those in Alaska, Hawaii, Texas and Puerto Rico, in addition to Vermont. “The principle of secession,” it said, “must be established as valid and legitimate.”
The model of secession put forth by the Second Republic people was specifically endorsed by the meeting. That group has been working for a year and a half and has issued a Vermont constitution, a bill of rights and a 128-page manifesto arguing that secession is in fact legal under the US Constitution and that “all American states have a moral and legal right to leave the Union.” They believe that “a peaceful, democratic, grassroots, libertarian populist” approach can indeed make great inroads.
The conference also specifically endorsed an effort to establish a think tank to examine issues of sovereignty, independence and secession, and to create a journal that would explore popular and scholarly approaches to this area.
In a dark time of rampant “political capital” Bushism there are still people willing to shine a different light, and in that context the idea of separatism and secessionism might have a real attraction to disaffected Americans.