I’ve long been attracted to secession as a strategy for breaking up the purposeful gigantism of empire and returning power to communities. Here in Río Arriba County – where our government officials are community activists, poets, and farmers honed by the 1960s-70s La Raza movement – I proposed seceding from the U.S. and opening trade relations with Cuba. The year was 1998. Although secession is not a new idea in New Mexico – the territory, after all, became a state only in 1912, and the state is interlaced with semi-sovereign Native nations – the proposal went over like a leadchile pod.
The choice between “into” and “out of” has become the archetypal conundrum for those attempting to address the violence, inequities, and injustices that are inherent to corporate capitalism. In this instance, la gente chose to lunge in the direction of “into.”
Not so Vermont.
Vermont was never a colony; it was an independent republic from the get-go. No major battle between European invaders and Native peoples ever took place there, and no slaves were imported to it. Entering the Union only in 1791, Vermont kept its decentralized means of decision-making via the grass-roots Town Meeting, and 24 years later it joined other New England states to sign the “Hartford Convention”: in essence, declaring the sovereign right to secede.
Today the Second Vermont Republic is the direct descendant of this history. Secession is a topic regularly discussed around wood stoves and vats of boiling maple sap, while a 2007 statewide survey found that 74% of Vermont citizens believes the U.S. government has lost all moral authority, 93% of whom want secession considered by the state legislature.
It can be no surprise, then, that the book Secession: How Vermont and All the Other States Can Save Themselves From the Empire (Feral House) was written by a Vermonter. Ode magazine calls economist Thomas Naylor a “Tom Paine for the 21st Century,” and indeed he is the chair of the Second Vermont Republic. I agree with Kirkpatrick Sale who writes in the Foreword that, among other books on the topic, “none (is) as powerful and useful as this one.”
Speaking of Tom Paine, the Feral House edition is near pamphlet-size, making it fanny-pack-able to demonstrations, political meetings, and farmers’ markets. The book is also Paine-like for its hit-the-nail-on-the-head analysis. Naylor details the utter bankruptcy of U.S. politics, economics, agriculture, consumerism, and environmental policy, then points to viable examples of secession in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland; in the 100-plus nations that seceded from empires after World War II; and in …. well … colonial America.
If anyone doubts the efficacy of such an approach, the author reminds us, eight of the ten wealthiest nations in the world are not industrial superpowers, but miniscule countries like Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein – all of which harbor less poverty, violence, crime, and alienation than exist in the United States; three of which have populations even smaller than Vermont’s.
According to the Middlebury Institute, some 30 contemporary separatist movements are now active in the U.S., including in Puerto Rico, the Lakota Nation, the South, Texas, Hawai’i, Alaska, New Hampshire, and Maine.
As far as I can tell, the main blockage to popular embrace of such a strategy is the trumped-up patrio-corporate brainwashing that has long colored such a politic as whimsical, irrelevant, or impossible. Naylor debunks the dysfunction of such thinking and goes on to lay out real legal, economic, and political steps toward accomplishment of the goal.
The folks in Vermont are serious.
Here in Río Arriba, we have been living up-close-and-personal with the results of the county’s thrust toward assimilation “into” American society. Despite the initial promise of leadership by former radicals, we are now up to our cowboy hats in oil wells, gas stations, big boxes, banks, microwave towers, and satellite-dish “culture” – to the demise of the traditional, sustainable, and relatively non-hierarchical family-farm culture that was vibrant within memory.
With the U.S. empire in disarray, some would posit near collapse, it may be, as Vermonters publisher Ian Baldwin and professor Frank Bryan proposein the Washington Post, “The time to make it happen is now.” When you venture into Thomas Naylor’s Secession, get ready: your politics could get turned inside out by the sheer sanity of it all.
CHELLIS GLENDINNING is the author of six books, including Off the Map: An Expedition Deep into Empire and the Global Economy and the forthcoming Luddite.com: A Personal History of Technology. She lives in Chimayó, New Mexico.