With President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration less than two months away, the thought of Californian secession from the United States — once a fringe idea — is gaining more traction.
Disgruntled but hopeful, two dozen people crowded a North Berkeley cafe Saturday morning, convening to organize support for a November 2018 ballot measure that, if passed, would call a referendum on California’s independence from the U.S.
“I’m worried that Trump is going to erode and undermine the country I thought I was going to live in,” said Ethan Stone, a Berkeley resident who attended the meeting. “At some point, it’s every man for himself.”
Yes California, the group that proposed the ballot measure in late November, called the meeting. Attendees discussed organizing to obtain signatures supporting the ballot measure. To appear on the ballot, the measure must receive nearly 600,000 signatures, which Yes California must collect between January and June of 2017.
About 13,000 Californians have registered to volunteer for Yes California, while the organization’s mailing list comprises 110,000 people, according to organizers.
If the measure passes in 2018, a March 2019 special election would be called to ask Californians if they want to declare independence. Then the referendum would constitute a Californian declaration of independence if at least 50 percent of eligible voters turn out and 55 percent of them vote in favor of independence, according to Yes California’s filing with the California Attorney General.
“Practically, it’s completely possible,” Stone said. “The biggest obstacle to this happening is people believing it’s never going to happen.”
Proponents of secession argue that an independent California would be more socially progressive and economically prosperous. Yes California’s organizers said California pays more than its share of federal taxes: the federal government spends around $334 billion annually in the state, but collects about $370 billion in taxes from Californians each year.
If California were an independent country, its GDP would rank sixth in the world.
“We’re the same size as France. There are countries that exist that are way smaller that we are,” said Clare Hedin, the meeting’s lead organizer. “(The international community) recognize us already as the people to talk to.”
But even if the referendum succeeds, California’s secession would likely have to be ratified by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires approval from two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the country’s states.
Part of the meeting was devoted to discussing secession’s legal technicalities, which many attendees disagreed hotly over. Few of them expressed concerns for California’s viability as an independent nation — but not all experts share their confidence.
“An independent California would be a big country by European standards, but it would be an isolated one,” said Jan DeVries, a professor emeritus of economics and history, in an email. “Its wealth would depend very much on its access to the markets from which it had separated itself. That is unlikely to be a formula for success.”