“Calexit,” a campaign in California for the state to become an independent nation, has gone viral after Donald Trump won the race to the White House.
The Yes California Independence Campaign aims to put a referendum on a 2018 ballot that, if passed, would bring California one step closer to legally seceding from the union.
Far-fetched as it may sound, the campaign exploded from a fringe political group to a nationwide social media trend in a matter of hours as Californians came to terms with a Trump presidency.
The movement has at least one impressive backer in Shervin Pishevar, an early backer of Uber and a well-known angel investor who offered to bankroll the campaign on Twitter.
Yes California released a 33-page blue book on its website this year explaining its path to secession. It also provides clues as to what life might be like in a post-secession California.
To be clear, there is no precedent for a state to leave the US. The event that Calexit actually happens is unlikely, and we have no idea what the impact of a California exit might have.
But Yes California claims, at least, that a new California will be more or less the same.
If California broke away from the union — a process that would take years after the state election in 2018, when Californians will potentially (though unlikely) vote on a ballot initiative that gauges their support for secession — it would become a sort of sister nation of the US.
“We’re not trying a 1860s breakaway,” Louis Marinelli, president of Yes California, told The Los Angeles Times in 2015.”We’re talking about California being recognised as a nation within a nation, like Scotland in the United Kingdom. We feel California is more than just a state.”
We don’t know yet what kind of government, be it parliamentary or presidential, would take hold. Californians would choose the type of democracy it installs through a series of elections, according to the group’s blue book. The country could craft an entirely new system, which sounds like it would change life quite a bit, contrary to Yes on California’s claims.
Instead of paying taxes to the federal government, Californians would keep that money in the state. Yes California expects those tax dollars would increase California’s budget by “hundreds of billions of dollars,” seeing that the state has paid more in federal taxes than it has received in federal payouts (in the amount of double-digit billions) every year since 1995.
An independent California would continue to use American currency, the group hopes. The US dollar is a “‘fully-tradeable’ international currency, which means any country can use it if it wants to without requiring the US Government’s permission.”
Ecuador, El Salvador, and the British Virgin Islands, for example, use the US dollar.
The swirling uncertainty around Calexit, which has yet to get a formal response from Sacramento, the state’s capital, prompts lots of questions.
The campaign’s blue book at least addresses the more practical elements of life in California. What happens to our avocados? Could we still compete in the Olympics? (Answer is yes.)
The Golden State’s ranches and farms raked in $47 billion in crop cash receipts in 2015. It produces over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of fruits and nuts, making California’s agriculture industry the largest in the nation.
Booming agriculture could theoretically keep California’s economy afloat post-secession. Yes California wants to reinvest the money the new country earns in global experts into environmental conservation, technological innovation, and road maintenance and transportation infrastructure. (It ignores the awkward transition that millions of Californians would have to make in turning their businesses into global ones.)
Worried about your social security dollars? Yes California thought of that, too.
The Social Security Administration allows US citizens living outside the country to receive retirement payment so long as they are eligible and reside in a country where the US can send money. People living in Cuba or North Korea, for example, must exit to get their money.
Still, it’s impossible to know how Yes California’s dreamy picture of California as an independent nation would play out in practical terms.
The blue book leaves a gaping hole in one important area, summarized in this tweet.
There’s no clear path to supply the state’s 38 million people with drinking water. While much of California’s water comes from rain and snow that falls in the northern and eastern parts, the Colorado River also funnels water into drought-stricken western states including California.
While Southern California has invested more than $1 billion over the last decade to decrease its dependence on the Colorado, the state up and leaving the US would probably not bode well under the 94-year-old agreement between Colorado and its neighbours.
Yes California’s response? “No water, no food.”
Yes California has a short window to answer these questions and more.
As the campaign becomes inundated with new interest, following the election’s biggest upset in political history, Yes California will face more scrutiny, as well. The group’s Facebook page doubled in “likes” since November 8th, and gained just as many opponents on social media.
Curiosity may fade as quickly as it started unless Yes California finds followers beyond Facebook and Twitter’s fleeting ones.