Q: Are you a Calexit group?
A: Yes, in the sense that we want more independence for California. But for us, the most important question is:
How can we move government’s power over Californians’ lives from the federal level, where we don’t have real democracy, to the state and local level, where we do?
Once you ask this question, it becomes clear that California independence is a spectrum (California can become or less independent) and a process (there are things Californians can do right now to make California more independent).
So Calexit, in the sense of California becoming a country, might be a good idea, but it’s pretty far along the spectrum from where we are now. It’s not magic: if we want full independence for California, we need to start with more independence for California. And it’s not enough to just want more independence; we’re going to have to make it possible.
We also see the work of achieving California independence as valuable whether California eventually becomes a full-fledged country or remains in the U.S. Best case scenario, America fixes itself and California stays, but as a state with a more effective, more empowered democracy that significantly improves Californians’ lives. Worst case scenario, the United States falls further into decline, and California establishes itself as an independent nation.
Q: Wait, what do you mean, Californians don’t have real democracy at the federal level?
Other than the House of Representatives, literally every other institution set up by the U.S. Constitution treats Californians like second-class voters. (And since other states actively gerrymander, while California does not, our representation in House is made correspondingly less impactful). So the United States is “our country” in the sense that it governs Californians, but it’s not “our country” in the sense of Californians proportional representation in the country’s government. To learn more, read our article, “Bearly Represented“.
Arguably, the federal system isn’t really a democracy for ordinary Americans either, but at least it’s not as transparently rigged against them.
So when people say that the United States is not a democracy, it’s a republic… we concur. And we think Californians deserve to live in a democracy!
Q: Do you have a plan?
Yes. And as you might imagine, it involves a series of policy changes. It also includes embarking on a campaign of research and education, and involving experts in various fields, to help us continue to formulate and improve upon potential policies for California.
To get a sense of how we think about these things, take a look at What California independence looks like: 12 ways California is already moving towards independence (and one more thing to try).
Q: Do you think California would be better off as an independent country?
A: Asking whether California would be “better off” sets a pretty low bar: the federal government we have now. So in one sense, yes, obviously, and in another sense… California’s system of government isn’t really ready yet.
We urge Californians to stop thinking of California politics as secondary to federal politics, and start thinking of critical to our future in a sustained democracy. California is literally the only democracy we have, so we may as well make it great.
Once you start thinking of California as a possible future country, some of the flaws in California’s current system of government become glaringly obvious (Are Californians well-served by the two-party system? Is it really a good idea for our legislature to need supermajority votes for so many things? Why is it nearly impossible to get an initiative on the ballot without millions of dollars? And what the hell are “subventions”?)
Once we acknowledge the importance of California’s government, fixing these shortcomings stops feeling like a boring exercise in government reform, and becomes a necessary and urgent step toward ensuring a better future for Californians.
So while we absolutely support California independence, we don’t support secession right now because there are things we need to do to prepare first. There’s limited benefit to rushing the process; secession will be best after we are ready and primed for success.
Q: Do we think California should unilaterally declare independence, possibly sparking a war?
A: No, absolutely not.
Q: How would California become independent then?
Through negotiation with the United States.
Peaceful, negotiated independence is a real thing that actually happens. Czechoslovakia turned out not to be one nation, indivisible, and the U.S. might not either.
In the context of the U.S., there are three big things that would need to happen:
- California would need to revise our constitution
- Congress would have to pass a law allowing California to leave
- California and the federal government would have to negotiate the details (trade, the national debt, the military, etc.) and come to an agreement.
Some things to note:
- Californians would have to really want this or it wouldn’t happen. California’s status as a U.S. state is baked into our Constitution’s basic government plan. Changing this would require a two-thirds vote of the California legislature and a vote of the people—it can’t be done by initiative alone.
- On the other hand, Congress would only need a majority vote. It is likely that they would vote for this after concluding that letting California leave is better than the alternative: letting California stay.
- Because independence requires a negotiation, California would get a much better deal if Americans wanted us out. Californians already irritate Americans plenty just by being ourselves—think what we could do if we tried!
This is why, while we support Californians thinking of ourselves as a country, and California acting like a country, we aren’t interested in pursuing secession at all costs. Whatever works—if it improves the lives of Californians and gets us closer to living in a real, modern democracy, we’re all for it.
Q: So California independence wouldn’t require amending the U.S. Constitution? What about Texas v. White?
While Texas v. White took unilateral secession off the table, it also explicitly endorsed secession through “consent of the states.” So this might not be the barrier you think.
Really though, try to fully imagine the scenario above: a California that’s clearly ready and willing to be a country, an America that would rather have California out than in, and a negotiation process that’s already underway. Would the U.S. Supreme Court step in and start making constitutional objections? Or would they let it slide?
The more relevant precedent here is not Texas v. White, but the Insular Cases. In 1898, the United States got ahold of the Philippines, Cuba, and other territories in the Spanish American war, and then decided, oops, we don’t want to let all these brown people be Americans! So the court invented, from whole cloth, the idea of “unincorporated territories,” not subject to the U.S. Constitution. In 1902, Cuba became independent not through a revolutionary war, but through an amendment to an ordinary army appropriations bill.
Again, the question is not “do the Insular Cases allow for California independence?” (depends to what extent you think California is a colony) but “will the Court make up new rules about U.S. territory if they have to?” And the answer is yes. So while the Supreme Court might get involved in California independence, its members would likely be more interested in saving face for the country than standing in the way of the inevitable.
And the U.S. Constitution certainly has plenty of loopholes they could exploit; for just a few examples (and maps!) see Constitutional Loopholes for Independence.
Q: Are you trying to break up the United States?
No. We hope the United States remains a stable and prosperous country. We just don’t think the way things are now works well for anybody, and especially not Californians.
The question isn’t whether Californians have things in common with Americans (arguably, so do Canadians). It’s not even about whether Californians should want to share a system of government with other Americans. The question is whether we should want to share this system of government, a system that drastically under-represents us, works rather poorly in practice, and is nearly impossible to change.
The compromises that resulted in the U.S. Constitution simply don’t make sense today, especially for a large nation-state like California that has more people than the 21 smallest states combined. (Arguably true for Texas as well, though for them it’s only the 17 smallest states.) California’s mere presence in the United States threatens the democratic legitimacy of institutions like the Senate. If Americans want to continue feeling good about using nearly the same exact system of government for more than 200 years, we’re really, really willing to make that work. All we ask is: keep us, but let us govern ourselves, or let us go.
A federal government that doesn’t act like exercising power over Californians is just as valid as exercising power over, say, Nevadans is one that would govern much more legitimately. And if California does gain full independence, we think the United States would be a great neighbor to have!
Q: What if you’re wrong, and the United States collapses, like the Soviet Union did?
Supreme Court precedent wouldn’t matter a whole lot in that circumstance. And Californians would be really, really glad that we started preparing for an independent California now, because we’d have to start being a country whether we like it or not.
Q: Shouldn’t we fix California first before trying to be our own country?
A: Absolutely! We think fixing California goes hand in hand with both helping California gain more independence and, if it comes to it, the ultimate success of California as an independent country.
Q: Shouldn’t Californians just focus on fixing the federal system instead of trying to leave it?
Fix it how? The Electoral College? California already signed up for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
Gerrymandering? California fully outlawed it in 2010.
Amend the U.S. Constitution? Our vote to ratify an amendment is no more valuable than Delaware’s, and that’s unlikely to fix the Senate anyhow.
So it’s like, what more do you want from us, Uncle Sam?
And let’s face it, California independence is about the most painless “fix” to the federal system there is:
- Little impact on the day-to-day lives of people in other states
- Reduces the level of policy conflicts that currently make the U.S. ungovernable
- No need to amend the Constitution
- Doesn’t require shutting down the federal government indefinitely
- Requires zero maturity or introspection about the obvious conflict between living under a system of government designed in the 18th century and democracy in the modern sense of the word.
Q: Shouldn’t we all just work together to get the Democrats back in power?
A: When we say Independent California is non-partisan, we really mean it. It’s not just for the sake of our non-profit status; we really see American partisanship as a nasty tribalism with ever-shifting values that pits Californians against each other for no good reason. Our leadership, directors, and membership are registered with a variety of different parties (or no party at all).
But even to the extent that our principles align with those of the the Democratic Party, the answer is still no.
Would that get Californians fair representation in the Senate? No.
Would it give California a fair share of federal spending? No.
Would it end partisan gerrymandering in other states? No.
Would it rein in wasteful (or fraudulent?) military overspending or reallocate those dollars to support veterans? No.
Would it stop the U.S. from deporting Californians? No.
Would it give California back the 45% of our territory currently owned by the federal government? No.
Would it provide for universal healthcare, criminal justice reform, and any other number of policies that Californians overwhelmingly support but which were never implemented even with a Democratic president or Congress? No.
Since California voters have barely any practical ability to meaningfully influence federal policy, the party, personalities, and values of those who represent Californians nationally are largely symbolic. Even if “Democrats” (for the sake of argument) controlled the legislatures of all fifty states, would they support amending the Constitution to make one person, one vote a reality for Californians, or would they hold on to the inflated power they have now?
Q: I’m a Californian and I love what you’re doing, but I don’t support secession. What should I do?
A: Join us, and work together for policy changes that help California! There is an enormous amount of success we can (and hope to!) achieve short of secession.
Help us network with other regions, organizations, and individuals. Contribute to or educate others about our research relating to which policies best serve California. Read our bill tracker and call your state legislators. That’s the kind of stuff we do, and we’d love to have you on board.
If it ever does come to the point of California putting the issue of secession to vote (and not just America giving California more respect), and you still oppose it, feel free to fight against it, lobby against it, and vote no. No hard feelings!
Q: Are you funded by Russia?
A: Absolutely not. As a matter of policy, we don’t accept foreign donations of any kind.
(Seriously guys, Mueller never calls us.)
Q: Are you part of Yes California?
Nope, not us. Though there are definitely Californians that support both organizations, there is zero overlap between our groups’ leadership and no formal affiliation whatsoever.
But beside all that, we have a completely different approach. Yes Cal appears to have a primary focus on immediate secession. As you’ve read above, we have a pretty nuanced, incremental approach, and our primary focus is on policy changes.
Q: I love California and I love what you’re doing, but I’m in another state. Can I help?
Other than donating, the most important thing you can do is help democratize the U.S. Get involved in your state to help to:
- end the Electoral College by getting your state to adopt the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact
- end partisan redistricting by getting your state to adopt an independent redistricting commission
- end felony disenfranchisement and let all citizens in your state vote, period
- support public campaign financing to end the pay-to-play reality of American politics
Q: If California seceded, what would we do for a military?
A: This is an important question. Rest assured, there are many options and little reason for concern about California’s future security.
Some things to consider:
- Even after independence, the U.S. and California would have aligned security interests. The U.S. would have a huge incentive to protect and defend California because withdrawing entirely would present too great of a security risk to the U.S. Because of California’s unique geographical attributes, the U.S. would also want to maintain the right to continue operating some or all of its military bases here.
- The likely result, based on decades of historical precedent, is that California and the U.S. would reach a comprehensive mutually beneficial security agreement, similar to what the U.S. has now with Japan and Germany.
- The amount of money California presently contributes to the U.S. military budget vastly outweighs the amount (both dollar amount and percentage of GDP) that other advanced, similarly situated nations spend on their own defense. It is likely, for several reasons, that California could similarly provide for its own defense at a fraction of the cost.
- California already operates its own Army and Air Force, by way of the California National Guard. It therefore would not be an issue of starting from scratch, but merely scaling up.
- California’s unique geography provides natural barriers of defense, and intellectual and technological infrastructures already exist.
- The extraordinary amount and diversity of foreign direct investment in California makes it undesirable to attack. Why would someone with money, property, and investments in California want to devalue them? And it gives foreign powers added incentive to help defend us, and their own investments.
To learn more, check out our article, “The High Price of Fear“.
Q: How would California survive without water from the Colorado river?
A: California is not going to lose access to the Colorado, and even if we did, we’d definitely survive.
First of all, California is not a desert! We get tremendous amounts of rainfall in northern and eastern California, and have a ton of infrastructure for moving that water all over the state.
So the Colorado river accounts for less than one-eighth of the fresh water Californians use (that is, for residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural purposes combined). Nearly 80% of that water goes to agriculture; if push comes to shove, Californians are never going to run short of drinking water.
California’s rights to Colorado River are currently guaranteed by a compact between seven states that is nearly 100 years old. Independence negotiations wouldn’t obliterate Californians’ water rights; it’d just be a matter of replacing our part of the compact with a treaty, just like the U.S. currently has with Mexico.
And if the U.S. (hypothetically speaking) didn’t honor that treaty, so what? Every place California takes water out of the Colorado is within California’s borders.