Robert David STEELE VivasHalf Chapter in ELECTION 2008: Lipstick on the Pig (Earth Intelligence Network, 2008)
Full Text Online to Facilitate Automated Translation
Secession, in the context of this book, is presented for deep reflection because when any political community is moved to organize itself toward the goal of secession from the larger political entity of which it is yet a part, any reasonable person must regard the undertaking as being representative of deep legitimate grievances, with secession being a “last resort.”
Following this first part on US-based secessionists, I summarize Anti-Americanism around the world, relying on non-fiction books and providing a description of grievances without specifics.
American exceptionalism in my view, is totally justified and laudatory only—ONLY—when America lives up to the ideals of its Founding Fathers and eschews intimate relations with dictators, predatory immoral capitalism, and unconstitutional spending and aggression.
The Chattanooga Declaration of 2007
The Chattanooga Declaration was drafted and approved by delegates to the Second North American Secessionist Convention on 4 October 2007.
We, the delegates of the Secession movements represented at the Second North American Secessionist Convention, acknowledging our differences, yet agree on the following truths:
1. The deepest questions of human liberty and government facing our time go beyond right and left, and in fact have made the old right-left split meaningless and dead.
2. The privileges, monopolies, and powers that private corporations have won from government threaten everyone’s health, prosperity, and liberty, and have already killed American self-government by the people.
3. The power of corporations endangers liberty as much as government power, especially when they are combined as in the American Empire.
4. Liberty can only survive if political power is returned from faraway and self-interested centers to local communities and States.
5. The American Empire is no longer a nation or a republic, but has become a tyrant aggressive abroad and despotic at home.
6. The States of the American union are and of right ought to be, free and self-governing.
7. Without secession, liberty and self-government can never be sustained, and diversity among human societies can never survive.
The Burlington Declaration of 2006
We, the participants in the First North American Secessionist Convention, though representing many different and diverse groups and constituencies, agree on the following principles as representing the truths of natural law and historical experience:
1. Any political entity has the right to separate itself from a larger body of which it is a part and peaceably to establish its independence as a free and legitimate state in the eyes of the world.
2. Governments are instituted among peoples, deriving their just powers from the consent of their citizens, and whenever any form of government becomes destructive of the legitimate goals of life, liberty, prosperity, and self-determination, it is the right of the people in democratic fashion to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
3. Any government formed by and dependent upon a constitution to regulate its actions and affairs has certain legitimate powers delegated to it, but any powers not so delegated are reserved to the people of that state and their democratically chosen political bodies.
4. Nations once independent should engage in peace, commerce, good will, and honest friendship with all nations, and observe good faith, justice, and harmony toward all, but establish entangling relationships with none, nor engage in colonial dominance, political or economic, over any.
5. Direct democracy, with one vote for each and every citizen (as the polity shall designate citizenship), has proven to be a desirable form of governance among people, but it can operate with justice and equality only when at a small enough scale that each person may be known to every other person; when representative forms of government are undertaken, they should likewise best be established at a scale small enough so that each representative can be informed of the opinions and beliefs of the general run of the people in the constituency or community which that person is chosen to represent.
It is within this body of principles that we ask all governments to operate and it is by them that we ourselves, individually and the organizations we represent, intend to be guided.
The Logic of Secession: Three Tines to a Trident By Kirkpatrick Sale
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead, who died on this day in 1978, coining the secessionists’ creed.
Because, let’s face it, many people initially regard secession as quite an outlandish idea—they tried it once before and it didn’t work, goes the refrain—and it’s not always easy to convince people of its validity as a political strategy, I want to lay out the powerful three-pronged logic of secession that can be used to dispel those doubts and dismissals.
The first tine of the logic of secession emerged for me from a conference that I put on with Thomas Naylor in Middlebury, Vermont, in the fall of 2004, just after the presidential election, designed to figure out what kind of action could a person take who was seriously interested in working for a fundamental alteration of the national government we suffer under. Let me tell you how it went.
We began the discussion with the time-old idea of electoral politics, the traditional panacea of voting for a better Democrat or Republican, in Congress, in the Presidency, wherever, but it took no time for us to reject that as futile: the two main parties, after all, had proved time and again how beholden they were to the corporate masters who pay for their campaigns, and vote. (And they just had just held an election between a goof and a conman that showed how ineptly that system works.) And we also took little time in rejecting the reformist lobby-Congress trap that so many environmental and liberal-cause groups spend so much money and effort on, since that was, just trying to influence those same bought elected officials.
Next we considered the third-party alternative, thinking of Perot’s and Nader’s influence on national politics, and concluded that they did so poorly, despite considerable money and media attention, because the two major parties had essentially rigged the system so that outsiders couldn’t win. Besides, launching a party and fighting an election on a national scale if it stands any chance at all involves getting money and support from the same kinds of people and organizations that contribute to the other parties, and in the process becoming beholden to them.
So if reformism in all its guises is rejected, what other means of action for serious change? There’s always revolt and revolution, of course, but it didn’t take much deliberation to decide that there was no way, even if there were trained militia bands and some weaponry smuggled in by separatist sympathizers in Canada, that a serious revolution could be mounted in this country today. And no reason to doubt that Washington would use its most potent weaponry to crush it if it arose.
And so that leaves secession—instead of reforming or attacking the corrupt and corporatist system, leave it. At first glance, it seemed like a crazy idea to many, and maybe as dangerous as a revolution—after all, the last time anybody in this country seceded, they were ruthlessly attacked and their society eventually destroyed. But the more we considered it the more it seemed like a reasonable option, particularly if it was done peaceably and openly, with full democratic support of the people.
It is, to begin with, in the grand American tradition—the war of the colonies against the British empire was not a war of revolution, for no one wanted to take over London, but of secession, for leaving the empire; and there was even a peaceable tradition of it afterward, for Maine seceded from Massachusetts peaceably, Tennessee from North Carolina, and Kentucky and West Virginia from Virginia.
It also could justifiably be seen as legal and constitutional, since three of the colonies wrote provisions allowing them to secede before joining the Union, there is nothing in the Constitution forbidding it, and the fact that Congress considered passing a law against it in 1861 but failed to do so indicates it was not then considered unlawful. (There is the uncomfortable fact that, in Texas v. White, in 1869, the Supreme Court did declare that the union was indivisible—but that was a decision, rendered in the heat of the time just after the war, that totally ignored history and precedent, and could be overturned by any halfway skillful argument, if the justices were allowed to vote honestly.)
It could be done practically and democratically, either by a vote among all citizens of voting age with, say, a two-thirds majority, or by a two-thirds (or other large) vote of the legislature of a state. Upon such a vote and a declaration of independence delivered to Washington, a seceding state could immediately appeal to the world, apply to the United Nations, and seek diplomatic support particularly from the fifteen republics that seceded from the Soviet Union and the seven nations that seceded from Yugoslavia, plus Norway (which seceded from Sweden), Belgium (from the Netherlands), Singapore (from Malaysia), Slovenia and the Czech Republic, plus all the colonies that declared independence from European empires.
And its especial attraction would be that not only does it allow a state (or region) to remove itself from the taxes, regulations, entangling alliances, bloated bureaucracy, militarized culture, and corrupting forms of governance of the national government, it allows a state to regain some measure of democracy, some hands-on control over the decisions that affect its life.
We ended our conference with a strong feeling that secession was a very powerful tool for promoting self-determination, democracy, and independence, but also a powerful idea that could spread widely throughout this continent, as it has spread widely throughout the world since 1945.
And that is the second prong to the logic of secession: the separatist/secessionist movement is the most important and widespread political force in the world today and has been for the last half-century, during which time the United Nations, to take one measure, has grown from 51 nations in 1945 to 193 nations in 2007. The break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia are recent manifestations of this fundamental trend, and there are separatist movements in more than two dozen countries at this time, including such well-known ones as the Basque country, Catalonia, Scotland, Lapland, Belgium, Sardinia, Sicily, Sudan, Eritrea, Congo, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Kurdistan, Quebec, British Columbia, and among several of the Indian nations of North America. (Indeed, economist Milica Bookman wrote a decade ago that no more than 25 nations were free of secessionist or territorial disputes!)
It is also growing in the United States. The Middlebury Institute was created in the wake of the 2004 conference—the first think tank in North America devoted to the study of separatism, secession, and self-determination—and according to its survey there are already at least 31 separatist organizations in this country. The most active seem to be in Alaska, Cascadia, California, Texas, Hawai’i, Vermont, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, and the South as a whole, but there are nascent nuclei of organizations in Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and probably others that we don’t yet know about. We have just completed—the thought of such an event would have been extraordinary only a decade ago—the Second Secessionist Convention—a convention, not a conference because it was attended by about 20 delegates from 15 ongoing secessionist groups in 25 states, as well as attracting something like 40 observers, something on the order of a dozen members of the press, and generating more than 50 TV and radio interviews.
Some other measures of this growing movement:
1. A poll taken by the University of Vermont in February of this year found that 13 per cent of the state’s residents came right out and said “it would be a good idea for Vermont to secede from the United States and become once again an independent republic as it was from 1777 to 1791.” Thirteen per cent—that may not seem a lot at first, but it translates to 64,400 people of voting age in the population at large—and it is up from 8 per cent in the previous year.
And another question from the UVM poll indicates that there is more fertile ground for it. When asked, “Has the United States government lost its moral authority?” a surprising 74.3 per cent said yes, an indication that attachment to the government is clearly eroding. It was the loss of moral authority that played a large part in the downfall of the apartheid government in South Africa, the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union itself. When the center cannot hold—allegiance, loyalty, moral authority—things fall apart.
2. The Washington Post in early April carried an op-ed article by two distinguished Vermonters, entitled “The Once and Future Republic of Vermont,” arguing that Vermont should again be an independent republic as it was in the 18th century before joining the union. According to an editor there, it was the second-most read piece in the entire Sunday paper (12,000 hits on-line) and garnered more than 200 emails, considered a high rate of response. It was syndicated cross-country and exploded with 21,000 entries on the internet.
3. A Daily Kos poll on April 2 asked, “Should states be allowed to secede from the union peaceably?” and 65 per cent answered affirmatively—which is interesting especially because it is conventional liberals, of the kind that this blog mostly attracts, who usually believe in working within the system—they like government, and want to control it—and are not often fans of secession. A previous poll in 2005 showed only 53 per cent in favor of secession.
4. A poll of Americans by the Opinion Research Corporation and broadcast by CNN in October 2006 found that an amazing 71 per cent of Americans said that “the system of government is broke and can’t be fixed.” No reformists there: can’t be fixed. And an additional 11 per cent agreed it is broke but thought it might be fixed. That’s almost three-fourths of the American public that does not believe this country is working and cannot get working by any means available. What is that but a latent horde of secessionists?
So there is a movement, and it is growing, but I would not argue that it will be easy to win our fellow citizens to secession despite the overwhelming logic in its favor. It will be a difficult transition for many, it will take a period of scholarship and investigation, a period of laying out our dreams in concrete form, a period of testing popular waters, a period of simply selling the soundness of the goal and the sense of its achievement.
But it well may be—I am convinced it will be—that the three impending disasters of peak oil, climate change, and a collapsing dollar will work in our favor and provide the third tine of the logic of secession. Peak oil and $10-15-a-gallon gasoline prices will bring to an end the era when goods from overseas or even from distant parts of the country can be shipped economically. It will mean that the national economy will be essentially irrelevant, and people will have to live within a smaller compass, share with neighbors, and create economies that are heavily dependent on state or possibly regional self-sufficiency—just the conditions which favor independent states.
Add to that the effects of climate change, and the whole fossil-fuel binge will have to come to a halt, coastlines will become flooded and the national government will be helpless to do anything about it, agriculture will have to adjust to very different local temperatures and conditions, and severe weather will create crises that (as Katrina made clear once again) can be attended to only at a local and state level—again, just the conditions which favor independent states.
The third predictable crisis is the collapse of the American dollar, squeezed by a national debt of almost $9 trillion that shows no sign of declining—in fact rising enormously since 1995 and precipitously since 2002—and by a trade deficit of $545 billion that a weaker dollar is not going to do much to change. Whether the trigger will be China’s switch to euro investments, or Iran and Saudi Arabia’s opting for a petro-euro instead of a petro-dollar, or a general worldwide distrust of the American cockeyed economy, is hard to say—but it could be one or all, and our economic bubble will collapse in a heap. And then the only useful currencies will be those based on real worth, calculated at a basically local level, and precious metals, which are primarily useful at local levels as well.
So there it is—and I am not the only one thinking this way, I hasten to say (just Google peak oil, for example)—a fairly wide circle of analysts who are predicting that, one way or another, and in the near future of say 15, 20 years, some kind of serious social collapse is likely and a weakened national government will in many respects become basically irrelevant. Given that, doesn’t it make sense to be prepared for it by working now for secession and planning viable states that can stand on their own—proudly, safely, and securely on their own? That is, again, the overriding logic of secession.
And lastly, let me repeat a thought that always works for me in convincing others of the logic of secession: the only way to leave this country, this increasingly odious, inept, militarized, and repressive country, and still to live in the home and community you love… is secession.
In Defense of Vermont’s Secession from the Union by Keith Brunner
“…Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of [Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Declaration of Independence, 1776
Living in Burlington, the largest city in Vermont with a population of 40,000, it is easy to forget that I am part of the richest, most powerful nation in the history of the planet. Summer is almost here—sailboats are once again catching the breeze, musicians are performing on Church Street, the Intervale is attracting both new and experienced farmers eager to grow their own food, and hikers are exploring the nearby Green Mountains after a long winter. It’s an idyllic scene, until the silence is shattered by four F-16 fighter jets screaming over the landscape, very quickly on their way to a training sortie where they will be training to fight…Canada? Plattsburgh? Who is going to attack tiny, peaceful Vermont?
Snap back to reality—when I pay my taxes, I am funding a United States government that has proclaimed global military hegemony, a government that doesn’t even try to conceal its devotion to private-sector interests, a government that has ignored any attempt at curbing major climate change, and a government that is running itself into the ground–and taking the rest of the world with it. I’m tired of it, and so are many of my fellow Vermonters. Given that the government of the U.S. has lost its moral authority, given that the nature of the capitalist system on which it relies is inherently unsustainable, and given that attempting to take state power at this time is implausible, I will argue for Vermont’s secession from the union as the most reasonable attempt at dissolving the empire and providing the citizens of Vermont with a better opportunity for a life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The American Empire—Military Power
The United States of America is undoubtedly an empire, and furthermore it is the largest empire that has existed in the history of humankind. Its military budget exceeds the total military budget of the next 25 nations (Naylor 2003)—as Chalmers Johnson has recently pointed out, “defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history” (Johnson 2008). As of 2005, it officially had 737 military bases located on foreign soil, and 2.5 million U.S. military personnel spread across the planet (Johnson 2006). As Johnson interestingly points out,
“The thirty-eight large and medium-sized American facilities spread around the globe in 2005—mostly air and naval bases for our bombers and fleets–almost exactly equals Britain’s thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons at its imperial zenith in 1898. The Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD required thirty-seven major bases to police its realm from Britannia to Egypt, from Hispania to Armenia (2007).”
Notice that Johnson described American facilities around the globe. This is the first time that an empire has truly held global power. Something else that sets the U.S. apart from past empires is the fact that we are open about our imperial ambitions. In 2002, the Bush Administration “announced its National Security Strategy, which declared the right to resort to force to eliminate any perceived challenge to US global hegemony, which is to be permanent (Chomsky 2003).” The key word here is “perceived”—if the Bush Administration “perceives” that a country is challenging U.S. hegemony, it will eliminate that challenge, or that government, or perhaps just drop one of our 3,696 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads on their capital city (2007 Annual Report on Implementation of the Moscow Treaty). The US government “perceived” that Saddam Hussein was a threat to our power, and responded by invading Iraq, dismantling his government, and imprisoning him. In hindsight, it has become clear that Hussein was not harboring or even building weapons of mass destruction, nor was he connected in any way with al-Qaeda, as U.S. government propaganda led its citizens to believe. What has also become clear is the enormous amount of profit being made by oil companies and defense contractors (many of whom have direct connections with the Bush Administration), and the tremendous debt that this war has cast upon the country. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz believes that ultimately, this war will cost the United States over $3 trillion (Stiglitz 2008).
The American Empire and the Planet
It seems that those in charge of our country have forgotten the basic fact that any economic system that does not benefit the natural community on which it is based is inherently unsustainable (Jensen 2007). Let us take a look at the economy’s effects on our natural world. I believe that Kirkpatrick Sale (2008) sums up the situation quite well:
Science is in agreement that all the important systems upon which human life depends are in decline and have been for decades: the erosion of topsoils and beaches, overfishing of every ocean fishery, deforestation, freshwater and aquifer depletion, pollution of water, soil, air, and food, overpopulation, overconsumption, depletion of oil and minerals, introduction of new diseases and invigoration of old ones, extreme weather, global warming, rising sea levels, species extinctions [on a scale not seen for millions of years], and human overuse of the earth’s photosynthetic capacity (Sale, 2008).
I don’t need to go any further. As long as people have the view that nature is there as a commodity and not a community, this trend towards a barren earth will continue. A species of plant or animal goes extinct every 20 minutes. As the global empire and the culture with the highest level of consumption, America is responsible for vacuuming the oceans of life. We are responsible for the chaos that climate change is already beginning to bring us—droughts, food shortages, environmental refugees, etc. We are responsible for the sixth great mass extinction in the history of life on our planet. There are close to seven billion people on this earth, and everyone wants the right to consume like the Americans do. As Barry Commoner points out, we view nature as the tap and the sink—we harvest the natural world, convert it into something that is unnatural, and dump our useless waste back into the ecosystem (Commoner 1971).
The American Empire and Capitalism
When viewing civilization from a modern perspective, one can see the ebbs and flows of empires, for example the militarism and slavery of the Roman Empire, then the mercantilism and colonialism of the British Empire, and now the global capitalism of the American Empire. Empires have always been about a certain amount of people gaining wealth and power at the expense of other people and the natural world, and the American Empire is surely no different.
Since the 1980’s, U.S. internal and foreign policy has mostly been dominated by the Washington Consensus, which calls for the repeal of governmental regulations, in favor of a hands-off, laissez-faire approach to economic decisions. These regulations that are being axed were put in place after the stock market crash and resulting Great Depression in the 1930’s to provide a social net for workers and to prevent another devastating crash. They were an attempt to solve what has become known as the Polanyi Problem, which is the fact that unregulated capitalism makes for intolerable social conditions and is therefore unsustainable. Now that this social net is being removed, the United States is seeing the highest levels of income inequality since the 1920’s–right before the crash. Through agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. government has pushed other governments to eliminate trade barriers and regulations in order to promote the uninhibited flow of goods and services.
This trade is free only for those who have the power, however. Regulations were there for a reason, and their removal has pushed many people in the US and abroad into poverty, as heavily-subsidized U.S. crops flood foreign markets, and American jobs are sent overseas. John Maynard Keynes pointed out that unregulated capitalism tends toward wild financial speculation, creating a setting in which financial bubbles grow and burst. The removal of regulations on financial markets has allowed for financial speculators to gain an unprecedented hold on the domestic and global economy, allowing them to have an influence in such diverse fields as the housing market, food prices, and even currencies markets—and this financialization creates a wildly unstable market. This unprecedented push towards a socially intolerable and financially unstable consolidation of power has been aided and defended by the U.S. government, at the expense of its own citizens as well as the rest of the world.
Renowned M.I.T. professor Noam Chomsky decided to name his 2003 bestseller on American foreign policy Hegemony or Survival. He fears that the current empire threatens the whole of humanity on our planet (and, I would add, most of the non-humans as well). We have a choice: either we end, dissolve, destroy (insert your own verb here) the American Empire, or we watch as humanity, as well as the natural world, falls into chaos.
With or without active participation in its demise, the American Empire is on its way out. Every single empire that has ever existed has eventually collapsed or deflated, and ours will prove to be no different. Given the destructive nature of this empire, and the fact that every day that it continues to exist it pushes more and more species to extinction and puts more and more people below the poverty level with the intent of increasing the wealth and power of a small few, we cannot sit around and wait for it to collapse on its own. We must take it down. We have not inherited the land from our ancestors; rather, we are borrowing it from our grandchildren. The longer we wait to take down this destructive system, the worse off those grandchildren will be.
As one of fifty states in the union, Vermont holds tremendous power in and over the United States. What would happen if our entire state decided that it has had enough, and left the empire to form its own nation? We have governed ourselves before—I believe it’s high time we start thinking about it again.
Secession as a Direct Action
Direct action is a form of political activism which seeks immediate remedy for perceived ills, as opposed to indirect actions such as electing representatives who promise to provide remedy at some later date (Wikipedia).
The citizens of Vermont have elected representatives who consistently speak out against the Iraq war, yet the occupation continues. One of Vermont’s Senators has introduced the most progressive climate-change bill in the Senate, yet it is not taken seriously. Vermont has joined with California in supporting states’ rights to make their own greenhouse-gas- emissions laws for automobiles, but legal roadblocks continually pop up to stall the effort. I am not alone in my belief that it’s time that Vermont informs Washington that we’ve had enough, and we are leaving to form our own country. In the words of University of Vermont professor Frank Bryan, “Vermont didn’t join the Union to become part of an Empire” (Bryan 2007)”
This idea of secession is not as outlandish as it may seem at first glance. For one, Vermont was its own country from 1777 to 1791, when it agreed to become the 14th state in the union. For those 14 years of political independence, Vermont “issued its own currency, ran its own postal service, developed its own foreign relations, grew its own food, made its own roads and paid for its own militia” (Bryan 2007). We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.
Professor Bryan and I are not alone. Two months ago, the 2008 Vermonter Poll done by the U.V.M. Center for Rural Studies found that 11.5% of Vermonters favored secession (vermontrepublic.org 2008), and the year before it was 13 per cent. As the empire of which it is a part of continues to fall apart, those numbers will surely grow.
Vermont’s secession from the United States of America would serve a dual purpose. First, it would be a direct action against the American Empire. The act of Vermont’s citizens collectively standing up and saying “We’ve had enough” would make many U.S. citizens in other states think long and hard about Washington’s legitimacy, and it is my belief that this would inspire movements for major change across the country. When a state has decided that things are so bad that it wants out, you can be sure it will be recognized by the other 49 states. Secession would also show the rest of the world that there are major chinks in America’s armor. Given America’s enormous military, breaking down the empire from within may be the only feasible option at this time.
Secondly, and just as important, Vermont’s secession would provide a better life for Vermonters than is currently possible under U.S. domination. Right now there are people working to push three bills into law in the Vermont Statehouse: one legalizing industrial hemp, one allowing the sale of farm-fresh meat, and one allowing the sale of farm-fresh milk. The bills are necessary because these three things are either prohibited or heavily restricted under U.S. law. I would like to know: who is Washington to tell me where I can and cannot slaughter my family cow? These restrictions were created by big agribusiness to keep citizens from growing their own food so they stay dependent upon the present economic system and fuel corporate profits.
Vermonters should be free to implement whatever kind of health care they desire, without having to answer to Washington. The same can be said about education, about drug laws, about same-sex marriage, about the death penalty, about abortion rights, and especially about sending their sons and daughters off to fight in an unjust war. In the U.V.M. 2008 poll, 77% of Vermonters agreed that the United States has lost its moral authority—and I, for one, do not want to be governed by a body without morals.
When I bring up the idea of secession in conversations, people often point to the Civil War. “It’s illegal” they say, “look at what happened when the South left the Union.” I will take the opportunity right now to say that these people are ignorant. First and foremost, the U.S. constitution does not forbid withdrawal from the Union. According to the Tenth Amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” As Thomas Naylor of the Second Vermont Republic think tank points out, nowhere in the Constitution or in the state ratification documents is there any renunciation of sovereignty to the national government—which means that states can leave any time they please (Naylor, 2005). Second, when the Confederate states were in the process of leaving the Union, there were three proposed amendments to the constitution that would forbid secession. These did not pass, but that makes it clear that it is fully constitutional to secede. And lastly, when the Union army withdrew from the South, it forced the Confederate states to sign a clause forgoing the right of sovereignty. This clearly implies that states which have not signed this clause–Vermont being one of them—have the full right to secede from the Union.
The idea of secession is not new, and it is not limited to Vermont. As I write this, sixty native Hawaiians have occupied the Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu, stating that they are the true government of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and will begin governing immediately (Associated Press, 2008). What makes Vermont’s secession movement stand out, however, is the very real possibility that, if necessary, the state could govern and feed itself. Arguably, the transition to self-governance would be easiest in Vermont, where almost all of the state’s 237 towns convene once a year in a town meeting to vote upon issues of importance within the town. This is direct democracy in action, normal citizens getting together to make decisions for themselves, with no room for lobbyists and special interests to get in the way. Switzerland, with its 26 cantons, or small states, each with a good deal of autonomy, provides a working example of what Vermont could look like in the not-so-distant future. The cantons are small enough for the citizens’ voices to be heard, and most of the country holds to traditional agrarian values, which are encouraged by the government. With prosperous Switzerland as an example and a rich history of direct democracy under its belt, Vermont could surely govern itself.
The question of providing enough food to sustain the population is a bit more complex. Before addressing this, I would like to point out that food self-sustainability would be necessary only in the event of total economic sanctions placed upon Vermont, or the event that the global or continental food system totally collapses. Noted author Bill McKibben addressed this issue in September 2007, and while he did not specifically give a “yes” or “no” answer, he makes it clear that in his opinion Vermont could make the transition to feed itself if it became necessary (McKibben 2007). I personally live in a cooperative, where I pay around $120 a month for food that has been grown and produced as close as possible to Burlington. This summer, I will be attempting to grow all of my own food, and sustain myself as much as possible by my own efforts. I know this opportunity does not currently exist for all Vermonters, but if it came down to it, anyone can tend a garden. Our state is currently “at the center of a renaissance of farmers’ markets, farm stands, and other forms of direct sales from farmers to consumers” (Timmons 2006). Local food has become part of the culture, as Vermont has the highest per-capita direct sales in the country. As oil prices skyrocket, prices of local organic foods will become more and more competitive with heavily subsidized yet oil-dependent industrial agriculture, and the greater demand for local food will bring down the price even further.
Should Vermont secede, the United States would be faced with a number of options, ranging from diplomatic to quite violent action. Given that our government, through its own National Security Strategy, is willing to eliminate even “perceived” threats to its power, its reaction must be carefully thought out and planned for.
The first question that comes to mind is that of invasion or attack. If the 625,000 people of Vermont get together and decide to leave the Union, will Washington respond with violence? It could. Even though from an economic viewpoint Vermont exists solely for dairy, tourism, and maple syrup, the audacity of its people for even considering secession might push the U.S. government to respond militarily. Of course, Vermont would have no chance fighting back against the U.S. military (and probably wouldn’t even try), but even with that certain defeat the state has still accomplished one of the two goals it set out to accomplish. It would be noticed, both domestically and internationally, and it would probably find a surprising level of support. After all, it has been the norm for only half of the United States population to vote these days—I have an inkling that many of those who don’t vote do it for a reason, and the news that one of the states tried to secede may galvanize them into action.
Another scenario is the U.S. allowing for secession, thanking the Vermont Republic for its time with the Union, and both entities go on their way. I have some doubts that this would occur. I think that the most realistic scenario would be a combination of both the violent and the nonviolent—the U.S. would develop a package of economic sanctions and place an embargo on Vermont, then lean on other countries like Canada to also adopt the embargo. Given that we share a border with Canada, the question of whether they would bend to U.S. pressure or continue to trade with Vermont is quite important.
As I have said before, I am not alone in calling for secession. The Second Vermont Republic is a secessionist citizen’s network that has been around for five years, publishing editorials and appearing on prime time news networks. The Middlebury Institute for the study of separatism, secession, and self-determination has been convening conferences with separatist groups from all over the country since 2004, and is dedicated to looking at the policy implications of secession. And the Vermont Commons, a self-described online and print forum calling for independence, has been gaining steam since its introduction in 2005, with 13,000 copies of the last issue circulating all over the state. This is a movement that will continue to grow in the coming years, and it’s my belief that it can’t grow fast enough.
We are on a sinking ship. The American Empire is economically, politically, culturally, and especially environmentally unsustainable, and far from fixing itself, it is just getting worse. When a government of people who have no moral authority are in the possession of enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over, in the position to dominate the global economy for their own interests, and continually and foolishly place the needs of the “economic system” above the needs of the natural world, the time for action cannot be put off any longer. Someone, or something needs to stand in front of U.S. progress with an enormous red STOP sign. Vermont’s exodus will prove to be just that.
We are an anomaly among the fifty states of the Union. We are a peaceful, ecologically responsible, and mostly agrarian state in a country dominated by big business, industrial agriculture, and big impersonal governance. It is time that we once again step up to the world stage and return once again to be a self-governing republic. On behalf of the citizens of Republic of Vermont, I would like to say “Thanks for the hospitality, Uncle Sam. The past 217 years have had their ups and downs, and after a long time together, we will now be on our way. We bid you adieu.”
General History of Secessionist Movements in the USA
Attempts or aspirations of secession have been a feature of the politics of the United States since the country’s birth. The line between actions based on a constitutional right of secession as opposed to actions justified by the extraconstitutional natural right of revolution has shaped the political debate.
Except for the American Revolution which created the United States, no such movement, revolution or secession, has succeeded. In 1861 the Confederate States of America attempted, and failed, to achieve secession by force of arms in the American Civil War.
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence opens with one long sentence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness
Historian Pauline Maier writes that this sentence “asserted one right, the right of revolution, which was, after all, the right Americans were exercising in 1776.” The chosen language was Thomas Jefferson’s way of incorporating ideas “explained at greater length by a long list of seventeenth-century writers that included such prominent figures as John Milton, Algernon Sidney, and John Locke, as well as a host of others, English and Scottish, familiar and obscure, who continued and, in some measure, developed that ‘Whig’ tradition in the eighteenth century.
History of secession in relations to the United States
Wikipedia provides a distilled history of secession in relation to the United States, with links.
Recent efforts in the United States
Examples of both local and state secession movements can be cited over the last 25 years. Some secessionist movements to create new states have failed, others are ongoing. Visit Wikipedia to reflect on the thousands of secessionist movements world-wide, as assemblages of individuals realize that the Treaty of Westphalia was a mistake and its artificial boundaries illegitimate.
There was an attempt by Staten Island to break away from New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s (See: City of Greater New York). Around the same time, there was a similar movement to separate Northeast Philadelphia from the rest of the city of Philadelphia. San Fernando Valley lost a vote to separate from Los Angeles in 2002 but has seen increased attention to its infrastructure needs (See: San Fernando Valley secession movement).
In US history many counties have been divided, often for routine administrative convenience, although sometimes at the request of a majority of the residents. During the 20th Century over 1,000 county secession movements existed but since the 1950s only three have succeeded: La Paz County, Arizona broke off from Yuma County and the Cibola County, New Mexico effort both occurred in the early 1980s, while during 1998-2001 there was a transition by Broomfield, Colorado to become a separate jurisdiction from Boulder County. Prior to these, the last county created in the U.S. was Menominee County, Wisconsin, in 1959.
The High Desert County, California plan to split the northern half of Los Angeles and the eastern half of Kern counties, was approved by the California state government in 2006, but has never been officially declared in force.
State Secession (Secession within a State)
Several towns in Vermont including Killington recently explored a secession request to allow them to join New Hampshire over claims that they are not getting adequate return of state resources from their state tax contributions.
Advocates in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with off and on intensity, have called for it to become a separate 51st state (sometimes with northern Wisconsin and Northeast Minnesota) called “Superior”. Similarly some in the Little Egypt region of Illinois want to separate due to what they consider Chicagoan control over the legislature and economy.
In November 2006, the Supreme Court of Alaska held that secession was illegal, Kohlhaas vs. State, and refused to permit an otherwise proper Initiative to be presented to the people of Alaska for a vote.
In March 2008, the comptroller of Suffolk County, New York once again proposed for Long Island to secede from New York State, citing the fact that Long Island gives more in taxes to the state than it receives back in aid.
In Florida there have been calls in the past and present to separate the state into north (a more southern culture) and south (a more northern culture).
With the decision of the United States Supreme Court to hear District of Columbia v. Heller in late 2007, an early 2008 movement began in Montana involving at least 60 elected officials addressing potential secession if the Second Amendment were interpreted not to grant an individual right, citing its compact with the United States of America.
Recent State Secession from the U.S.
On July 13, 1977, the City Council of Kinney, Minnesota, led by Mayor Mary Anderson wrote a “tongue in cheek” letter to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance informing him of the city’s secession from the Union to form the Republic of Kinney. Vance never acknowledged the letter.
The mock 1982 secessionist protest by the Conch Republic in the Florida Keys resulted in an ongoing source of local pride and tourist amusement.
The group Republic of Texas generated national publicity for its actions in the late 1990s. There have been repeated attempts to form a Republic of Cascadia in the Pacific Northwest. The Hawaiian sovereignty movement has a number of active groupings which have won some concessions from the State of Hawaii. Founded in 1983, The Creator’s Rights Party seeks to have one or more states secede in order to implement “God’s plan for government” and is fielding political candidates in 2007 around the United States.
Efforts to organize a continental secession movement have been initiated since 2004 by members of Second Vermont Republic, working with noted decentralist author Kirkpatrick Sale. Their second “radical consultation” in November of 2004 resulted in a statement of intent called The Middlebury Declaration. It also gave rise to the Middlebury Institute, which is dedicated to the “study of separatism, secession, and self-determination” and which engages in secessionist organizing.
In November 2006 the same group sponsored the First North American Secessionist Convention which attracted 40 participants from 16 secessionist organizations and was (erroneously) described as the first gathering of secessionists since the Civil War. Delegates included a broad spectrum from libertarians to socialists to greens to Christian conservatives to indigenous people’s activists. Groups represented included Alaskan Independence Party, Cascadia Independence Project, Hawaiʻi Nation, The Second Maine Militia, The Free State Project, the Republic of New Hampshire, the League of the South, Christian Exodus, the Second Vermont Republic and the United Republic of Texas. Delegates created a statement of principles of secession which they presented as the Burlington Declaration. The Second North American Secessionist Convention in October, 2007, in Chattanooga, Tennessee received local and national media attention.
Additionally some members of the Lakota people of Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakota region are also making steps to separate from the United States. The self-proclaimed Republic of Lakotah has made a point to say that their actions are not those of secession, but rather an assertion of independence of a nation that was always sovereign and did not join the United States willfully. They note a failure of the United States government in honoring treaties, and abuse of Native peoples throughout its history. A statement of independence was released as of January 2008, and the United States government has not commented on the issue.
Registry of Active Secessionist Movements in the USA
Alabama: Free Alabama
Georgia: Dixie Broadcasting
Georgia: League of the South
Georgia: Southern Party of Georgia
Hawaii: Free Hawai’I
Hawaii: Ka Lahui Hawai’i
Hawaii: Ka Pakaukau
Maine: Free Maine
New York Independent Long Island
Ohio: The Ohio Republic
Quebec: Parti Quebecois
Texas: United Republic of Texas
Vermont: Free Vermont
 This entire section is lifted from Wikipedia, which varies in quality from the superb to the mediocre to the maliciously idiotic. This section online, which is quite helpful, is followed by a roster of existing active secessionist movements, most with short descriptions of their cause, in their own words. Online notes have been retained in this text and are active in the online version of this book at www.oss.net/PIG.