This week, California moved to clear the Yes California Independence Campaign, allowing the movement’s supporters to begin collecting signatures to appear on California’s 2018 ballot. The initiative, which would require the collection of over 585,000 signatures by July 25, is designed to remove the clauses of the California Constitution which identify the state an “inseparable part” of the United States and make the U.S. Constitution the “supreme law of the land.” It also requires a vote on independence to take place in 2019, where California voters will determine if the state should form an independent country. Evidently, in the wake of Republican dominance in the U.S. government, some Californians believe that our place ought to be outside of America. However, precisely because of the losses that American progressivism has faced in recent months, California’s presence in the union is even more critical. Californians must spearhead the opposition to unwise federal government policies and rights violations, not abandon the role of progressive national leadership.
Around the world, there has been a surge in national sentiment, and it is clear that even California is no exception. Yet, Californians should be wary of embracing such a passionate perspective. The progressive ideals that most Californians agree on are threatened by an excessive pride that borders on narcissism. Politically speaking, California contributes immensely to the ethnic and ideological diversity of the United States. Without it, Republicans would net 24 more seats in the House of Representatives, and Democrats would lose two of the most powerful and outspoken senators. Culturally, the state would surely continue to be influential in America and the world, but it would do so regardless of the Yes California Independence Campaign’s success or failure. California and America both have a lot to lose and very little to gain from Californian independence.
Rather than explore the topic of secession, though, we should turn our attention to the factors that gave rise to such a movement — small as it is. California is massive, diverse and wealthy. In these and in many other ways, it dwarfs its neighbor states and even many countries. This might give Californians a sense of inflated ego; but pride goes before a fall, as the idiom goes.
California is in many ways unique and special, but it is not exceptional. It is a member of the United States, and as long as the state remains in the union, national priorities must come first. Organized opposition to controversial federal policies and actions, such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the executive order pertaining to immigration bans and denying sanctuary cities funding all reach their pinnacle in the Golden State. California is the breeding ground for liberal thought in the United States, and though a little introspection never hurt anyone, if Californians become too absorbed in themselves, it can only lead to calamity.
Instead of becoming disillusioned with the direction the United States is going and holding ourselves up on a contrarian pedestal, Californians ought to be proactive in steering the ship of state. We have a huge voice, and we need to use it to advance the causes we care most about throughout the nation, not only in our own backyard. Although state and local elections are immensely important, they are no substitute for doing what California does best — morphing the nation’s definition of “business as usual.” From slang to cuisine, California has immense influence. Just because things didn’t go our way once doesn’t mean we can’t change it for the better next time — history shows that, in fact, we can.
Neglecting California’s place as a bastion of American liberalism will only hurt progressive causes nationwide. Abandoning California’s statehood would be infinitely worse. If Californians are serious about issues like reproductive rights, protecting the LGBT community and maintaining the environment, then we need to confront the opposition. We cannot afford to slink away with our tails between our legs and barricade ourselves where we feel comfortable.
Trevor Kehrer is a senior majoring in political science. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.