Don’t Tread On Me

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A detailed look at a secessionist movement, and Oregon’s progressive utopia

Several months ago I decided that in addition to our blog, I was going to do some freelance writing for other publications. Today, I would like to share an excerpt of an article I did for a print and online magazine called The Culture Crush. Following the excerpt, I will include links to the full article, as well as other links associated with my piece. But first, I need to provide some brief background and context.

As we all know, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 dramatically magnified the already deep divisions we have been experiencing in our country. Since moving to Oregon in 2016, I learned some things about this state that I hadn’t known previously. For one, the state has a deep and troubling history of white nationalism and militias, that date back to the founding of the State 160 years ago. This seemed to be in direct contradiction to my overall belief that the state was primarily progressive in nature, having become a reliably ‘blue’ state in most of the recent elections.

It’s this contradiction that inspired me to write the piece for The Culture Crush. Much of the focus centers around a secessionist movement that I learned about, called The State of Jefferson. I had noticed flags placed strategically throughout the rural areas and had wondered what the meaning was behind it.

I set out to get a better understanding, and pitched an idea to the magazine that would take a deeper look into the movement, and how it contradicts with the so-called liberal and progressive ideals that many associate with the state of Oregon. What you see here is my contribution to what eventually became a comprehensive project, with photos, video, and interviews. Initially, this was to be an essay only, released as part of the magazines ‘The Weekly’ edition online. However, as the weeks went on, the essay ended up taking a dramatic turn.

And here is where I’d like to recognize two people who made this possible. It was the founder and editor of the magazine, Debra Scherer, who not only decided to publish my piece, but had the vision and fortitude to make it something much bigger. Debra, who spent nearly three decades as the fashion and features editor at Vogue Magazine, started The Culture Crush in January, 2018. I’m proud to have been able to work with her on this project, and her patience and creativity never ceased to amaze me.

Finally, I’d like to also thank Josue’ Rivas, a wonderful young man and talented photojournalist, who I collaborated with to make this project come to life. The photos you see here today, are all courtesy of Josue’, and you can also see more of his outstanding work at josuerivasfoto.com.

Here is the excerpt, followed by links to the full article and entire project.

 

The Pacific Northwest. The bastion of progressive thought. Land of Subaru-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, dope-smoking environmentalists. A place where all are welcome regardless of race, color, or religious identification. A region where it’s all about what’s best for all of us; not just the rich, white and powerful. A sort of utopian-progressivism that our hippie friends from the 1960’s would be proud of.

Ok, maybe not.

It’s complicated. While there certainly are elements of the aforementioned progressiveness here, just like in much of America, it’s a lot more nuanced. We hear all of the time about how certain areas of the country are branded with labels: The Deep South Bible Belt, The Northeast Liberal Elitists, The Midwest Rust Belt, The Left Coast Libs, and so on. In a sense, we get a mental picture of a region, thanks in part to our media branding, because well, it’s what they do best.

But it’s kind of like eating an apple. You grab it and start eating. Eventually, you get to the core. But once you get there, you find something totally different than what you just consumed. It’s no different when you take a look at a city or a region of the country. We may think we know what it’s all about, but we really don’t. We can’t say that all people who live in the Pacific Northwest are a bunch of left-wing nut cases, just as we can’t say all people who live in the Deep South are right-wing racists. So while we make certain assumptions about that last stop towards Manifest Destiny that is one of the most beautiful places in the continental United States, its real founding story remains an ominous cloud that even the most inclusively minded hipster cafes can’t escape from.

The complexities of American society continue to confound us. We’re divided. We’re angry. We see progress on some fronts—backtracking on others. On the one hand, in 2008 we elected the first African-American to the office of President of the United States. On the other, in 2016, we elected a real-estate developer/b-list reality show star who found a way to seize upon the racial fears and anti-immigrant fervor that had been boiling over in middle-America. In the Pacific Northwest, we see both sides of the coin playing out. We do see progress. But we also see exclusion. While it’s a dichotomy that regularly plays out throughout American society, there’s something about this region that sets it apart from the rest. Once you start looking at the true history of the region, a narrative begins to develop. 

Oregon for one, has a past that if you didn’t know any better, could be compared to a state from the Jim Crow Deep South. There’s a history of racism, a history of not being kind to either blacks or immigrants, mixed with a settler’s erasure of its own role in Indigenous genocide. And of course there’s also a deep mistrust and animosity towards the federal government. Militias and white supremacy groups have called this region home for generations. According to The New York Times, over 300 of these groups have operated here since the mid 1850’s.

josue-rivas-portland-means-to-me

But there’s also a progressive spirit that emanates from Portland, Oregon’s largest and most culturally diverse city in the state. It’s the hub of economic activity. While Salem is the state capital, there’s no doubt that the real power in the state resides in Portland. Most of the legislation coming out of Salem surely has the blessing of it’s large neighbor to the North. Thus, those in rural Oregon feel abandoned and kicked to the curb. It’s a clash of cultures, a clash that’s been going on as long as Oregon has been a state. Yet the hypocrisy of those progressives casts a shadow that even the most suped up VW van can’t shake.

We cannot understate something else occurring out there, as well as in other parts of the country; there’s a sense of fear; the same fear that drove many to vote for the conman in chief—that the era of white dominance over American society is fast approaching its inevitable conclusion. Eventually, the demographic experts tell us, white people will no longer be in the majority. Ironically, as it once was. In California, this is already the case. Fear of the ‘other’ people is what drives many of the red-hat wearing Trump voters. The same ones who cram auditoriums to hear the conman tell everyone that there are caravans of very bad people ‘invading’ America. It’s getting ugly. Fear breeds exclusion. It’s in America’s history. Certainly, Oregon is no different.

josue-rivas-state-of-jefferson-declaration

Some of that fear has undoubtedly fueled a current movement brewing in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a secessionist movement to create a 51st state called the State of Jefferson, in which 23 counties in Northern California would merge with 4 counties in Southern Oregon to create a state of its own. But again though, let’s not forget how Oregon and this region has embraced progressiveness either. After all, in 2012 Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Oregon quickly followed in 2014. Some of the same independence and individualism that has spurred exclusionary policies in the past have also fueled the movement to make weed legal.

It’s purely American isn’t it? Two steps forward, one step back. We elect the first black man as President, then we follow that up with the election of a man who spent a good portion of Barack Obama’s two terms questioning his legitimacy and citizenship. We pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which gave protections to African-Americans and placed scrutiny on Jim Crow Southern states, followed in 2013 with the Supreme Court decision that basically gutted the act. Progress, followed by regression. Inclusion, followed by exclusion. Our continued quest to form a more perfect union keeps falling short.

But what is the State of Jefferson movement and what do they hope to achieve? It depends on who you ask. The State of Jefferson is not a new concept. Back in the 1850’s, when California and Oregon were still territories but moving toward eventual statehood, there were efforts made to carve up parts of Oregon and California in order to form a new state. An actual bill was introduced in the California State Legislature in 1852 to do just that but it died in committee and was never acted upon. Even back then, residents felt abandoned and screwed over by the state capitals of Sacramento and Salem, and that attitude still resonates in present day rural Oregon.

josue-rivas-state-of-jefferson-culture-crush-map

Today, the State of Jefferson movement is alive and well. In 2013, Siskiyou County California resident Mark Baird, a Vietnam Veteran and airplane pilot, decided to test the waters and see how residents of the area felt about a possible new 51st state. According to its website, 21 of 23 Northern California counties have signed so-called field declarations stating the desire to secede from California and form a separate state. Four additional counties in Southern Oregon are also contemplating whether to join those California counties in the proposed new state. Now that’s not as crazy as it sounds, due to the fact that it has happened before, and led to the formation of a few states we now know and love. To quote the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page:

No State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate,” declares Article V of the Constitution, which lays out the amendment process. A Californian has only 1/65th the representation of a Wyoming resident in the upper chamber. That’s undemocratic, but there’s no way around Article V. Or is there? Article IV provides that “new States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union”—including from the territory of an existing state, if its legislature consents. Five states were created in this manner: Vermont from New York (1791), Kentucky from Virginia (1792), Tennessee from North Carolina (1796), Maine from Massachusetts (1820) and West Virginia from Virginia (1863).”

Of course there’s been some debate as to whether the State of Jefferson is anything other than a bunch of white people trying to create their own version of a Libertarian utopia. According to Baird, the primary spokesman, juris coordinator and historical researcher of the organization, that’s just not the case. In fact, when asked if his organization is Libertarian, he answered with an emphatic “No.” And when asked if his movement is associated with white nationalism, he was even more forceful. 

To read the rest of this article, here is the link

There is also a very moving nearly 8 minute video that Josue’, my photojournalist friend, has produced, and Debra Scherer edited. Much of if this content was produced when Josue’ and I spent the day together traveling in my car to Yreka, CA and Cave Junction, OR. He narrates the piece, and his perspective as an indigenous person going through lands in which his ancestors were systematically slaughtered and conquered, was an eye-opening experience I will never forget. Here is that link.

Finally, here is another link that also features an essay from Josue’, who reflects on some of the same themes from my piece, as well as his perspective on living in Portland.

I hope you’ll take the time to check out the rest of my article, as well as the entire project. The subject matter, at times, is very troubling. But these are the times we live in. If we do not talk about these issues, we’re never going to move forward. The resistance to progress is always fierce. Change is hard. But America isn’t finished yet. At least I hope it isn’t.

If we can shed some light on what divides us, perhaps we can understand each other a little bit better. That was my goal when I wrote the article. I hope I at least achieved some of that. If I didn’t? It was still worth it.

 

 

23 comments

    1. Sure seems that way. It’s kind of a microcosm of the rest of the country actually. Why can’t we all just get along? LOL

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  1. BRAVO! 👍🥇🏆😍 Great article!

    I must say that I deeply hope the “State of Jefferson” doesn’t come to pass in my lifetime (I live in Douglas County). I would most likely get crosses burned in my front yard!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow….did not know that. So I’m sure you’re aware of this movement. I’ve spent some time in Roseburg while I’ve lived here. We went to a wine festival there back in May. Had a good time.
      To your point though…yes, I hope it never comes to pass, and I don’t think it ever will. These guys are persistent though.

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      1. You’re welcome! I think it’s great that your efforts were rewarded.

        I don’t do the social thing so I don’t know how many people in this area talk up the “Jefferson” thing. I’m sure there are several … but I tend to think it’s most likely the “older” conservatives who want things “like they used to be.” For some people, progress is a dirty word (even though they benefit from it everyday).

        As you probably discovered, the wines in the Umpqua Valley are quite good! Wine-tasting is one of our favorite habits. ❤🍷

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, Jeff! I thought I was fairly news-savvy, but I was certainly not aware of this ‘State of Jefferson’ movement, nor was I aware of the level of white supremacy/nationalism in the Pacific Northwest. You have done an excellent job here and with your article. I will check out Josué’s piece later this afternoon … his photos in your article are excellent. As always, you do good work and have certainly enlightened me. We tend to think that racism and extremism are mostly confined to the deep south, but that just isn’t the case, is it? I’ve long hoped that some day people would learn to just accept others, differences, flaws and all, and let love conquer hate, but I think I have taken off those rose-coloured glasses now. Sigh. I shall re-blog this afternoon … thank you for your great work, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Essentially, one would think “acceptance” would be part of the “Christian love” teachings. But alas! It seems to be just the opposite. As several have said, perhaps when religion disappears (not in our lifetimes, I’m afraid) the more accepting nature of people will begin to thrive.

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      1. I hope your’e right. The divisiveness is stronger than ever I’m afraid. I don’t think Jesus would have been on the side of hate and bigotry would he? Yet, many of these so-called evangelicals support the man in the White House…..I just don’t get it….

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      2. I agree with you 100%. Though not a Christian, I always thought it was about love, acceptance, compassion, etc., but a large portion of today’s Christians seem to cherry-pick which parts of their bible to follow. Not all, but too many. I agree … if religion with all its rules and prejudices was gone, humans might be more apt to learn to live together. I always find it humorous to hear people say someone is “acting like an animal”, intending it to be an insult, when in reality, animals act much nicer than humans.

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      3. In my view…it’s not Freedom OF religion…it’s freedom FROM religion. People should practice whatever religion they want. It’s when we get this Judeo Christian value stuff from the right, that my head begins to spin…..

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      4. I’m with you there. Freedom to be a Catholic, Jew, Muslim or any other religion, but also to be an agnostic or atheist. But in truth, I agree with Nan, that the world would be better off without any religion, just people being humanitarians and caring about others. Look to the animal kingdom … as far as we know, they don’t worship a deity or have religious rules, rites and rituals, and they are much kinder than we are.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Thanks so much Jill…and for the re-blog as always. Yes, it definitely was an eye-opener for me as well. One of the hopes I had for this article was to perhaps encourage an understanding of where each side stands on these issues. Josue wanted to see what this was all about. He still doesn’t agree with what they stand for..but he wanted to meet them, and at least TRY to see where they’re coming from. On the flip-side, the guy at the barber shop, who is sympathetic to SOJ, also was willing to let us interview him. He met Josue, let him be photographed, and even shook his hand. It was cordial. I was thinking..I wonder if he had ever even met or talked to an indigenous individual..or Hispanic person before? Where he lives, it’s probably 95% white..rural…and far away from any major city. We at least forged a conversation right? These days, small steps like that seem like very large ones. Baby steps Jill….baby steps….Thanks again!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re right … I think it can only happen in baby steps, but … do we have time left? When you factor in two things: climate change and the possibility of a nuclear war, I’m not sure we can get very far before the human species extincts itself. But, we must try, nonetheless.

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  3. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Our friend Jeff from On the Fence Voters has written a piece for another publication and has shared a portion of that work in a post on his blog. Jeff lives in Oregon, part of the Pacific Northwest that we tend to think of as being liberal, non-racist, progressive. But beneath the surface, all is not what it seems. There is a growing movement in Northern California and part of Oregon to actually secede from the U.S. and form a 51st state to be called the State of Jefferson. We think of racism as being predominantly in the deep south, but perhaps that is a fallacy, perhaps the south is only more vocal, more obvious about it. Take a look at Jeff’s article, if you will, and give him some feedback. Thanks, Jeff, for permission to share this enlightening piece of work!

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  4. Is it possible to create a new state out of parts of two existing states? What would it take to do that? I have heard the idea bandied about of creating a christian nation in North America, thus letting such people as wished move away from non-christians, but I cannot see that happening. A 51st state, I’d like to see them try it to see what kind of a place it would be. It might teach the rest of the world how dangerous such a move could be!

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    1. It actually could happen, albeit highly unlikely. I think the two state legislatures..in this case Oregon and California..would have to pass a statute allowing it. Then, the U.S. Congress would have to allow it. So, it’s doubtful it would ever happen. Not unprecedented of course..Virginia..West Virginia…North and South Dakota etc…But, I think they’d be better served trying to get more representation in the legislatures. Perhaps that’s a better solution for them.

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  5. Sounds a LOT like NY state. There’s a similar movement to create a separate state here … I hope it doesn’t happen. The LAST thing I want is to be stuck in a red upstate/western NY with a bunch of trumpsters. It’s bad enough already.

    Liked by 1 person

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