Ever since the WTO riots in Seattle two years ago, a small secessionist movement has been growing in Oregon and Washington. Upset by the disconnect between the voices of the people and the federal government, this movement has begun to coalesce around an idea that the Northwest may be better off free from the rest of the United States--and specifically, outside the control of the current federal government.
This frustration has grown almost spiteful since the 2000 Presidential Election. With a popular vote between Al Gore and George Bush separated by only hundreds of ballots, that election should have reminded citizens that their votes, now more than ever, are significant in determining outcomes. But ironically, in the minds of many, those votes were largely discarded when the Supreme Court tossed aside Florida's electoral process after a painstaking hand count.
More recently, the Bush Administration has made several direct attacks regarding the morality of the Northwest--going so far as to try and squash an Oregon law (physician-assisted suicide) put in place several years ago by a popular voter initiative.
"The same thing happened with those who were in power during the fall of the Roman Empire," explains Phillips. "Those in power lost touch with the populace and the Roman Empire was lost when those leaders did not care anymore."
Currently, the secessionist movement is limited to a handful of committed people throughout the Northwest. Mostly young and progressive, the core group hopes to spread the word by hosting formal forums and meetings. "We want to attract a broad range of people, from blue-collar workers to senior citizens to those who live an alternative lifestyle," explains Phillips.
But is this defiance the beginning of a strong stance against a government who wants to infringe upon our individual morals, or is the Northwest making its last stand against a federal government intent on steamrolling state's rights?
WITH US OR AGAINST US
Rather than being a defining moment for our nation, September 11 will probably prove to be more of a bookmark signifying the start of the coming decade. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of the '90s, but did not necessarily define the attitude for the decade that followed, most social historians agree that the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. heralded a dramatic turn for American culture. However, they predict that the grief and shock and the aroused sense of community will most likely not characterize this coming decade.
"In the short run, yes; there was a lot of genuine and sincere sorrow," says Professor Richard Kraus with the American Studies program at the University of Oregon. "But there was also a lot of crass commercialism and opportunism; as time goes on, you'll see a shift to the latter."
This coming term, Kraus will teach a course about the intersection between political policies and American culture, called "Art and the State." Often, points out Kraus, an era is defined as much for what it stands for as what it stands against.
"We miss the Cold War," he explains, referring to the West versus East mentality that governed the bulk of the 20th Century, infusing movies and sporting events (like the U.S. hockey team's upset of the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics) with nationalistic fervor. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. lost much of its identity.
"But the Soviet Union really existed and had missiles pointed at us," continues Kraus. "This new enemy is so shadowy and Bogeyman-like (that it doesn't have the same defining force)."
With an ambiguous and largely invisible enemy like Osama bin Laden, the Bush Administration set about to find another villain to rally against: those who voiced opinions not in line with those of the federal government.
In the months following September 11, Americans exhibited a red, white, and blue patriotism not seen since World War II. That national pride paved the way for the Bush Administration to make a mad rush for the control of America's hearts, minds and laws by encouraging the nation to rally around dragnets, secret tribunals, and a hyperactive need for law and order.
Although there have been isolated pockets of complaints over the past few months about the growing strength of the federal government--from liberal pundits on the Jim Lehrer News Hour to intermittent student protests on college campuses--no other city in America has been home to such a wide array of resistance as Portland.
"Civil libertarians only ape terrorists and erode national unity," Attorney General Ashcroft said when he spoke in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in early December. At the time it is likely that Oregon was on his mind. Two weeks prior to his chiding, the State of Oregon filed a restraining order against him to halt the overturning of Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, a voter initiative that admittedly offended Ashcroft's sense of decency. Shortly thereafter and citing concerns over individual's civil liberties, the normally conservative Portland police bureau balked at joining the FBI, when they asked for assistance in interrogating men of Middle Eastern descent. Everyone from the local chapter of the ACLU and Mayor Katz stepped forward to applaud the police; it was the first time since September 11 that a government agency had broken from the rank and file of the federal government's agenda. These examples, along with weekly anti-war vigils staged at Pioneer Square, and the new secessionist movement, all provided testimony to Oregon's growing resistance against the federal government's control.
In his remarks in the Senate that day, Ashcroft went on to vilify dissenters to the Bush Administration. "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists."
THE '90s ARE OFFICIALLY OVER
A decade ago, Seattle became the epicenter of American culture: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Sub Pop records jolted rock from its super-group pretensions back to a humble grittiness. Based on the so-called Northwest look, Perry Ellis and Ralph Lauren released their "grunge" line of apparel, while Singles, a glossy film about Seattle's music and dating scene, was a top-grossing film of 1992. Simultaneously, the coffeehouse culture of the Northwest was exported from a few dozen coffee shops to a Starbucks in more than 500 cities; and Microsoft, another harbinger of Seattle, crept into more than 10 million households nationwide.
Emphasizing the significance of these cultural trends and the vogueness of "regionalism," was the U.S. Supreme Court who set out to fortify state's rights. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court set out on a near-decade long crusade for state's rights and immunity from the intrusion of the federal government. That year sixty-five state probation officers had sued the State of Maine for violating the Fair Labor Standards Acts; the officers claimed that they were not being paid premium wages for their overtime. The Supreme Court disagreed and essentially said that the State of Maine had a large discretion to set their own rules and play by them as well.
In a subsequent case, in 1996, Justice Kennedy boldly told the federal government to keep their noses out of the states' business; he wrote that state governments must be allowed to "perform their roles as laboratories for experimentation." By 1999, it was clear that at no point since the Civil War did states have more autonomy and a stronger voice in determining the politics of America.
Within this framework, local politics flourished. In Vermont, gay marriages were legalized; a ballot initiative in California broke new ground and permitted the medicinal use of marijuana. And in Oregon, after years during which Dr. Jack Kevorkian had illegally helped dozens of terminally ill patients end their own lives, voters institutionalized assisted suicide. Throughout the nation, the number of voter initiatives soared. Oregon led the way with eighteen ballot measures in the last election; almost double the number of any other state.
But as if on cue for changing decades and an era, the Supreme Court announced a shock decision on December 13, 2000: A majority of five Justices decided to supersede Florida state law and halt the counting of disputed presidential ballots. In doing so, the Justices reached past the very barriers they had set up against federal intrusion into state sovereignty. Since then, most constitutional professors have claimed that all bets are off when it comes to state's rights.
SETTING OURSELVES APART
Just three days before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C., the Cascadian National Party became official. They launched a website and began to gather a membership list. In an odd parallel, in the weeks immediately before the United States entry into World War II, a twelve-county region straddling the Oregon/California border seceded from the nation. Residents in the lush Umpqua Valley were fuming that natural resources, like old-growth trees, were being chopped down by the U.S. Forest Service at an alarming rate; in turn, they felt as if the federal government was not giving anything back. The primary highway through the area was derelict and impassable during snowy months.
On December 4, 1941, the residents declared their independence, setting up road barricades and electing a governor. Leaflets were distributed proclaiming the independence of "The State of Jefferson." The movement was taken seriously enough that the Governor of California responded by officially apologizing for road conditions in the region, and both Time and Life magazines sent reporters to cover the events.
Three days later, Japanese forces leveled the U.S. Naval base in Pearl Harbor; the following day, the U.S. government entered World War II. That same day, in the interest of national unity, the State of Jefferson decided to dissolve.
The more recent secessionist movement of 2001 was also only three days old when a surprise terrorist attack triggered a wave of patriotism and calls for national unity. Like many Americans, the attacks made John Phillips re-evaluate the definition of being an American and the importance of individual differences with the federal government.
"After the tragic events, I did consider putting the plans on hold," says Phillips with CNP. "I thought the current wave of American patriotism would be a setback to getting the party organized. (But) in times of crisis, one must stay true to their convictions and continue with what they believe in."
[For more information about Cascadian National Party, www.angelfire.com/wa3/cascadia/]