A citizen movement committed to restoring Vermont to an independent republic, free to pursue life, liberty and happiness unimpeded by the demands of an imperial, corrupt and disintegrating United States.
by Chellis Glendinning
Nothing that is can pause or stay;
The moon will wax, the moon will wane,
The mist and cloud will turn to rain,
The rain to mist and cloud again,
Tomorrow will be today.
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Humans like to think that because a thing exists, it will always exist. The response is, of course, irrational — yet there it is, helping us to believe in permanence so that we can rise each morning with some assurance of continuity.
A cadre of constitutional historians, organic farmers, bucolic philosophers, lawyers, slow-food advocates, sheepherders, and artisans in Vermont are betting their souls to the contrary. They believe in the ultimate confrontation with stability: the breakdown of the United States into bioregional sovereign nations — and, most urgently, the secession of the good state of Vermont from the US Empire.
Before one rolls one´s eyes at the innocence of such an endeavor, one might open to the reality that secession stands among the most widespread political ventures in today´s less-than-post-colonial world. Think: Scotland, Catalonia, Quebec, Croatia, North Ireland, Herzegovina, Kashmir, Sicily, Sardinia, Tibet, the caracoles of Chiapas, the Native nations of North America. As Edward Said has reminded us, immediately after World War II, some 100 new nations arose out of the classical empires that had taken possession of 85% of the planet´s land mass. And the trend continues. In the last 50 years the United Nations has expanded from its original 51 participating countries to some 200.
And so, why not Alaska? Northern California? Puerto Rico? Hawaii? The Republic of Cascadia? These are among the 35 movements – some as hypothetical as wisps from the Aquarian Age, others dead-serious — now seeking secession from the United States of America.
The most intent-on-success of the lot is Vermont.
From the union of ambition and ignorance,
From the union of genius and war,
From the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
The Mad Farmer walks quietly away.
Thomas Naylor is recognized as the father of the current effort. After a thirty-year career as an economist at Duke University, the southern gentleman with a flair for incisive research and rigorous morality, retired to the Montanges Vertes/Green Mountains. Fueled by outrage at the unethical wars perpetrated by his government and fresh from pushing Downsizing the U.S.A., Naylor saw Vermont as a small, community-oriented bioregion that could lead the way to dissolution. He got to work giving lectures at local colleges, and soon enough he was joined by such local luminaries as publisher Ian Baldwin, Bread and Puppet Theater, organic farmer Enid Wonnacott, and professor Rob Williams – and such “from-away” activists as historian Kirkpatrick Sale, author James Howard Kunstler, slow-food activist Judy Wicks, and journalist Christopher Ketchum.
Out of this swirl came the conception of the Second Vermont Republic and Naylor´s Vermont Manifesto, Williams´ bimonthly journal Vermont Commons, Sale´s Middlebury Institute linking the disparate secession movements working in what soon came to be called the Un-Tied States of America, and a host of books, papers, radio programs, and folk songs about Vermont´s heritage as a state uniquely positioned by history, legality, and inclination to lead the way.
Fueling this sentiment toward the viability of secession is the fact that the First Republic of Vermont had been neither a royal nor a continental colony. From the get-go of European settlement, it was an independent republic boasting its own political culture and constitution; to defend the rights of the region´s land grants against expansionist New York, Ethan Allen had organized the Green Mountain Boys militia in 1770, and this resistance had led to independence in 1777.
As populist scholar Adrian Kuzminski writes in his essay, “The First Populist Republic,”
They achieved, albeit briefly, a startling decentralization of political and economic power seldom seen in human history. Unlike the neighboring American colonies, with their links to Europe and their increasing hierarchical power structures rooted in the commercial seaport centers like Boston and New York, Vermonters in their hills were able to achieve widespread ownership of land as independent farmers and artisans without reckoning with an established wealthy elite in control of resources.
The current movement to fashion the Second Vermont Republic stems from this same spirit of independence.
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. –W.B. Yeats
Most Likely to Secede is a compilation of essays written over the course of six years for Vermont Commons. Topics range from the violence of US foreign policy, the failure of the two-party system, the benefits of a human-scale politic, and the economic viability of small nationhood to the eco-social advantages of developing renewable energy sources, farming organic vegetables and grains, herding sheep, and trading with local currency.
Three assumptions bond the essays: 1) US governmental policy is brutal to all living beings and flat-out unsustainable, as is the societal product of imperialism — mass industrial civilization; 2) whether the indicator is unending arms build-up and war, economic disintegration, climate change, ecological degradation, food instability, the end of cheap fossil-fuel energy, social chaos, or spiritual trauma, global society is in a process of collapse; and 3) removal from this travesty is a worthy way for Vermont, and other regions, to reinvent the human community.
In light of the urgency of the situation, the choice the authors pose is between bowing to the inevitable breakdown of global systems and, as Sale puts it in the 2004 Middlebury Declaration, “all forms by which small political bodies distance themselves from larger ones, as in decentralization, dissolution, disunion, division, devolution, or secession.” For Vermonters, the abiding link between their traditional rural customs, contemporary back-to-the-land practices, and the political mechanisms offered by nationhood is laid out with a sophistication that reaches beyond Lewis Mumford´s 1940´s conception of regionalism to become what we might call Bioregionalism-All-Grown-Up-and-Ready-to-Trot.
Fueled by the urgency proposed by the environmental movement and the publication of E.F. Schumacher´s Small Is Beautiful, the bioregional congresses that emerged in the 1980s were essentially gatherings touting an idea: the United States would best be broken up into regions in which human-scale cultures would reflect the climate, landscape, hydrology, and species of their ecosystems. As it evolved, though, the practice of bioregionalism came to be focused mainly on community-building and culture-creation. Activists like David Haenke of the Ozarks went about “re-inhabiting Place” by “living as if the Earth mattered” – rejecting participation in the corporate marketplace and surviving directly from the land. Planet Drum founders Peter Berg and Judy Goldhaft of the Shasta Bioregion hit the San Francisco Chronicle´s front page in 1986 when, against city regulations, they ripped out the sidewalk in front of their Noe Valley home so that native plants could thrive, and ceremonialist Chris Wells founded All-Species Parade International to celebrate the existence of more-than-human beings.
What was missing from the endeavor was seriousness about the political/ economic means by which citizens could achieve the goal of breaking up the nation-state — and herein lies the most potent contribution of the secession movement.
When we feed ourselves, we become unconquerable. –Eliot Coleman
It is all well and fine to stand at the podium in the Vermont Statehouse, under a bigger-than-life portrait of George Washington, and spout platitudes about taking flight from the American Empire. When questions such as “Can a state secede – and how?” and “How would we survive?” are raised, though, the authors reveal themselves to be no-nonsense, scythe-wielding, windmill-building realists.
According to Naylor, Thomas Jefferson speaks to the question of the lawfulness of secession: “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” And the Tenth Amendment lays the legal basis, decreeing that what is not expressly prohibited is allowed. Regarding method, Naylor explains, it is first necessary to persuade the legislature to authorize a convention to rescind statehood; Articles of Secession are then submitted to the US President, Secretary of State, President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House; and diplomatic relations sought with the United Nations, Mexico, China, France, India, Brazil, Bolivia, Russia, Scotland, etc.
As to economic viability, Most Likely to Secede is rife with analysis and facts, as well as information about energy-efficiency and food-sovereignty projects already in operation. Sustainability consultant Gaelan Brown asks: which is the better investment — a $7 billion nuclear power plant that would make Vermont reliant on dwindling supplies of uranium while endangering health and ecology for centuries to come? Or a $7 billion distributed solar-electricity system that would generate 100% of the state´s residential power without any fuel costs for 30 years? Vermont´s household share of the cost of US militarism is $10,000 per year, Brown discloses, an amount that would cover installation of enough solar power to meet 100% of residential needs in three years. And replacing propane and heating oil with sustainably-harvested wood would keep $1 billion in the local economy, while the average home would save $2000 per year.
Wheat and rice farmer Erik Andrus writes that Vermonters currently grow just .08% of the wheat they consume and proposes that one ten-acre farm in each of the state´s 251 towns would provide two loaves of native-grown bread each week, year-round, to 37,000 Vermonters. Businesswoman Amy Krischner points out that some 4,000 local currencies are strengthening regional economies in the world today and puts forward a plan for a transitional monetary system based on locally-produced paper money, U.S. cash, “Time Dollars” accrued through hours of volunteer work , and business-to-business mutual credit. In an essay called “The Great Re-Skilling,” Rob Williams calls for the remembrance/re-invention of low-tech, hands-on, sustainable practices; aside from teaching and editing Vermont Commons, Williams also raises grass-fed yaks.
A most relevant debate emerges. In his 2008 treatise Secession, Naylor has laid out a more hard-nosed approach to solvency: measured by per-capita income, he writes, some of the richest countries in the world are smaller than Vermont: Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Bermuda, and Cayman Island, for instance – all of which realize wealth by via corporate services like financial institutions, telecommunications centers, and global tourism. But the authors of Most Likely to Secede appear to favor devolution from corporation-bound schemes; besides, they assume that global society is collapsing of its own contradictions.
The debate is a well-worn one, springing as it does from the paradoxes that imperial systems impose on the vanquished. Its inevitable appearance highlights the very point of secession: sovereignty. For liberation to be achieved, the path to economic solvency in Vermont – or in the Republic of Cascadia or in Puerto Rico – is to be decided by the citizens of those places.
Como el sol cuando amanece, yo soy libre
Como el mar
When my review copy of Most Likely to Secede arrived in Cochabamba, I was reading Teoponte, Gustavo Rodríguez Ostria´s historical tome about the little-known, post-Guevara guerrilla movement to keep armed revolution in the tropical hills of Bolivia going, and I had just spent an evening in a local cantina talking with one of the few surviving warriors of that massacre.
The contrast between the two books highlights the fact that different strategies spring from different realities. The inclination to remove one´s self from dysfunctional policies may be as old as the Green Mountains, and yet the urge to defeat the aggressor and reclaim power is as old as the Cordillera Oriental.
Although all evidence points to the contrary, many US citizens will not easily admit that they are victims of state violence. Despite the genocide of Native Americans, ongoing exploitation of young people in wars of aggression, racial profiling, contamination of the nation´s own citizenry by both nuclear and electromagnetic radiation, purposeful infusion of addictive drugs into activist communities, the Patriot Act, internet surveillance, jailing of protestors, etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum — myths touting “allegiance to (the) idea” of democracy are as blazingly alive today as they were on D-Day, successfully enabling what Sheldon Wolin has called “inverted totalitarianism”; whereas in the Latin America of both past and present, the unflagging omnipresence of machine guns and verde-olivo tanks — stimulating communal memory of tortures, assassinations, and disappearances — functions to call up a more blatantly ruthless reality.
And yet all the realities are, in the end, ruthless – and all the responses we have mustered not quite comprehensive enough to counter the brutality. In this context, every strategy that aims toward liberation becomes worthy of our consideration — and yet among progressives in the US, secession seems always to have struck a chord of flaky impossibility. Perhaps this rejection is because of its failed go-around during the Civil War and inevitable association with the immorality of slavery; perhaps because, like Marxist revolution or Callenbach´s Ecotopia, its promises appear to lie farther in the future than the coming elections propose; perhaps because people like to think that if a thing exists, it will always exist.
Most Likely to Secede may be the document most likely to propose otherwise.
Chellis Glendinning lives in Bolivia where she writes for Los Tiempos. She is the author of six books, including Off the Map: An Expedition Deep into Empire and the Global Economy, which won a National Federation of Press Women Book Award in 2000, and her recent luddite.com is available via www.ludditeluddite1812.blogspot.com. She can be reached via her website http://www.chellisglendinning.org.