Friday, April 5, 2013

Texas Independence Now!

As you may have noticed, following the reelection of Barack Obama, many Americans got a bit upset. In fact they were so upset that they did what people do nowadays when they feel angry - they went on the Internet and moaned about it.

But these were not ordinary whinges, oh no. You see, the US government has a pointless website called “We the people” where anyone can go and pretend to interact with the authorities. In this corner of cyberspace ordinary citizens create petitions that will be completely ignored, as is the custom of advanced democracies all over the world.

Anyway, apparently lots of people created petitions pleading with the White House to permit their states to secede from the Union. America is based on an act of secession, and so this is a potent symbol. Even if the petitions are not serious, they imply that hundreds of thousands of people believe the Federal Government has become tyrannical, unrepresentative, and (of course) that it takes far too much in tax.

Petitions were filed in all fifty states, with the greatest number of signatures coming from Texas. Currently over 115,000 people have signed that one, easily clearing the 25,000 threshold that requires an official response from the Federal Government. By contrast “Take Action to minimize and protect against the threats of a warming planet” has only 172 while even the intriguing “Transfer funds from the drug war to fund the research and development of the genetic engineering of domestic cat girls” can only muster 222.

I wasn’t surprised: I’ve been living here for six years, and it’s not the first time the question of secession has come up. In the early days of the Tea Party, Governor Rick Perry mumbled a few words about secession on the steps of the state capitol and got a big whoop from the crowd. Shortly thereafter Chuck Norris floated the idea of running for president of an independent Texas. He played a Texas Ranger on TV after all and so is eminently qualified to lead us, even if he is from Oklahoma. Sadly that never happened, and President Chuck remains a wistful dream.

Texas is an independent-minded state with a very strong identity. It has its own secession story separate from the revolution of 1776, as in 1836 the proto-Texans fought a war to be free of Mexico. For nine years after that Texas was a free nation, a fact which the people who live here have never forgotten. Not only that, but the state is huge and has an economy larger than Australia’s. It could easily succeed as an independent country.

Even so, most Texans feel the state is stronger as a part of the US and so secession fever is not widespread. I know, because I attended a meeting of the Texas Nationalists on the 175th anniversary of Texas independence. Though they claim to have 250, 000 members they could only muster about 30 folk for a meeting in a hotel built on the grounds of the Alamo itself. They were very peaceful people, prone to crying when they looked out the window at the old mission building opposite.  

That may surprise some people as Texas has a reputation as a hotbed of right-wing nut-job militias. Indeed, I know a journalist who makes a good living by selling stories based on this myth to foreign newspapers. But to find real lunacy you have to look back to the 1990s and two botched raids that occurred under the Clinton administration. The first was at Ruby Ridge where two people and a dog died, while the second was at Waco, where as a result of epic FBI and ATF incompetence, seventy-six men, women and children burned to death.

Cue massive anti-government paranoia and the 1995 formation of the Republic of Texas movement, which soon split into a handful of squabbling factions. One group got in trouble in 1996 when they held two people hostage for a week, demanding the release of some imprisoned Texas nationalists. The Texas Rangers cracked a few skulls and that was the end of that.

After that another faction declared Overton (pop. 2,554) the capitol of an independent Texas and started issuing passports and driving licenses. The movement HQ burned down in 2005. They never rebuilt it.

Even if secessionists are not a serious force in Texas politics, I do like to fantasize: it would be very interesting to live in a hardcore right-wing nation with a strong streak of libertarianism. But the truth is there are several Texases. In the West we have desert, reptiles and oil. Dallas and Houston are humongous cities of big business. In East Texas you have trees and hillbillies. In the south, Texas blends with Mexico. Up in the Panhandle there’s… nothing. And in Austin, you have lefties, computer nerds and Sandra Bullock. Indeed, last week a man in Austin created a counter petition pleasing for the liberal city to secede from the rest of the state.

Clearly, Texas contains sectarian divisions that could result in a disastrous Iraq type situation following independence. Indeed, the bloodshed would be so awful that I fear not even Chuck Norris could save us.