How Can We Miss You If You Won’t Go Away: Active Secession Movements in the U.S.

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September 16, 2013; Rural Blog


Secession movements are increasingly active in various states. Too often, they’re simply characterized as rural—which is totally unfair to rural America. What they are is politically right wing, anti-government, libertarian—and fruitless.

The latest is a group called the Western Maryland Initiative, led by one Scott Strzelczyk, which advocates that five western counties, containing only 11 percent of the state’s population, obtain an “amicable divorce” from the rest of Maryland. The registered voting population in the five counties is predominantly Republican, contrasting the rest of the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic political demography. The Initiative’s “FreeWesternMaryland” Facebook page has garnered 4,696 likes, though it is difficult to use likes as a measure of the Initiative’s public support.

The Initiative’s Strzelczek may be a resident of western Maryland, but more influential in his desire to divorce his region from Baltimore, Silver Spring, and Bethesda are his political beliefs. According to the Washington Post, Strzelczyk seems to be a libertarian in favor of “personal liberty, less government intrusion, less federal entanglements,” though despite his libertarian support for medical marijuana and his call for government to be out of marriage, he would put the question of gay marriage to a vote. He calls himself a “constitutionalist” rather than a libertarian, which may be how he has gotten the pro bono help of Suzanne Olden, a paralegal who opposes abortion, gay marriage, stronger gun control, and, with particular venom, the state’s storm-water management fee. Another source suggests that western Maryland secessionists also complain that the state doesn’t allow hunters to kill enough bears in Garrett County.

The Siskiyou County secession effort in California started with a county board of supervisors’ resolution drafted by a local radio station owner. While some of the county board’s public statements explaining their motivations cite environmental regulations, the Jefferson Statehood Project is clearer about the movement’s intentions: “Free people – Free Markets – Limited Government.” The county supervisors of neighboring Modoc County apparently plan to vote about joining the Jefferson movement later this month.

Understand these secession efforts as politically conservative, not rural, movements. Just about every year, the movement for the state of “South California” pops up, originating in the not-quite-so rural Riverside County, California located in the “Inland Empire.” South California’s advocates call for the state to include 13 counties, but scooping out Los Angeles as unwelcome. Secession advocates cite “high taxes, [an] unfriendly business environment…and large-scale government assistance” as the complaints requiring cutting ties with Sacramento.

As another example of a secession movement with a more suburban origin, on, something called the New Energy Party has a petition for Upstate New York to secede from New York State, though its definition of “upstate” seems to be everything except for the five boroughs of New York City. Making the Big Apple into the 51st state was part of the campaign platform of Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin when they ran for New York City mayor in 1969, but the New Energy Party’s politics aren’t quite as liberal, calling for “emancipat[ing] Up-State New York from NYC before it looks like Detroit. UP-State New York slavishly controlled by NYC liberals has become unbearable. Please continue to help US WIN Emancipation & Freedom from NYC Liberal Oppression.”

Like recall movements and voter initiatives, secession movements are an example of citizen engagement and mobilization, though usually on behalf of fringe political beliefs. To suggest that these are rural complaints, as opposed to politically right-wing, frequently libertarian initiatives, casts an unfair aspersion on rural Americans.—Rick Cohen

  • Richard Freedlund

    These secessionist movements are a political reaction when state politics are controlled by metropolitan areas that are out of touch with the rest of the state. In the two states I have spent the majority of my life in, Illinois and Oregon, Chicago and Portland are excessively liberal (Portland is often referred to as the “People’s Republic of Portland”) and those in the more moderate to conservative parts of the state get offended by their tax and spend mentalities. Illinois is in terrible shape financially because of this situation, and if Oregon is not careful, it will follow in Illinois’s footsteps. I imagine the states that you mentioned in your article simply feel the same way because they have little say in matters of the state.

  • Fred C

    Along with these secessionist movements there are active movements for statehood in our remaining territories. They are also written off as purely political and quixotic. Overwhelmingly Democratic DC has been seeking statehood for decades. Puerto Rico currently has a status bill pending in Congress with over 100 (mainly Democratic) co-sponsors. Guam has a fledgling statehood movement and a UN mandated decolonization plebiscite has been pending for years. To these territories the issue is not political distance from a state capital or a conflict between urban and rural interests, but a lack of representation in Congress that even Americans abroad can enjoy through the absentee ballot.
    Historically we have added new states to the union as pairs for the sake of balance. Before the civil war this balance was slave and free. Today that balance of power is little more than a question of Democrat or Republican. We should consider these conservative statehood movements as potential sister states for liberal leaning territories, leaving the partisan balance intact while correcting the grievous disenfranchisement of over 4 million American citizens that don’t live in any state.

  • none ya

    i live within the state of Jefferson and i support it i don’t consider myself conservative but libertarian, the fact is The State of Jefferson is a community bond of freedom loving Americans that crosses all political spectrum its a communities identity , the fact is over regulation and massive corruption has sunk California,, its time to give us our freedom let us live as we want not you feel we should live,