In 2014 I created a political movement on social media to promote California secession from the United States. I named it Sovereign California because its mission was to make California a sovereign nation. It would be the second time in my life that a political campaign I created on social media became the largest of its kind.
Before Sovereign California, I created a social media campaign to “protect” the traditional definition of marriage. That campaign became so large that it eventually merged with the National Organization for Marriage, the largest political organization in the country that was fighting the spread of same-sex marriage at that time. They subsequently paid me $1,500 a month to continue doing on social media what I had already been doing for free.
When my work for that organization took me offline for a cross-country bus tour which visited 21 cities in 17 states in the summer of 2010, I met the people whose lives I directly impacted in a negative and even hurtful way. Over the course of that month-long tour, I began to empathize with them and had a change of heart. In a very public way, I soon thereafter became an early conservative advocate for civil marriage equality—two years before Hillary Clinton announced her evolution on the issue.
Between my 2011 change of heart and her 2013 statement in support of marriage equality, I returned to the United States after studying abroad. I brought my girlfriend with me and we ended up settling in California. It was also during this time that my colleague, my brother, Marc Ruiz Evans, was travelling around the state of California promoting the ideas of his book, California’s Next Century, in which he advocates for something called devolution.
Devolution is a term history buffs and political scientists may know and understand, but it is not widely used in the context of American politics. It refers to the transfer of power and authority from a higher level of government to a lower one. This is a common term and current political topic in Scotland, which may vote on a new independence referendum in the near future and choose between preserving the status quo, full independence, or a third middle-ground option known as “Devo-Max”, an option that would grant Scotland the maximum amount of autonomy possible (through the devolution of powers) while still remaining part of the United Kingdom. Note that Scotland already has a great deal of autonomy obtained through devolution from the late 1990s and again in the early 2010s.
Marc Ruiz Evans dreamt of a similar transfer of authority to California. He envisioned the state government maintaining all of its current powers made possible through federalism, but obtaining the additional power to set its own policies and make its own laws on issues like immigration and trade. Evans believes California is so unique that it needs the federal government to grant it authority no other state has. To drum up support for his dream, he would point to trade deals between China and California strawberry farmers that took years for the federal government to approve. He would highlight how Californians have suffered for decades since the federal government last reformed its immigration system. His book tour across California was about promoting these ideas.
It was not about secession from the United States. Evans was clear about that throughout his forty-city book tour, many stops of which he documented on YouTube. One commonly asked question from the audience, to which Evans always answered No, was if he was talking about seceding from the United States. Evans did not support secession, he supported devolution, or has he called it — Sub-National Sovereignty. He wanted to make California more like a nation, but not a nation in and of itself.
Marcus and I met in 2014 and began to pool our resources for Sovereign California but since he was opposed to outright seceding from the United States, the political campaign I created on social media started advocating for Sub-National Sovereignty instead. This was to placate Evans, as he was afraid of being associated with southern rednecks from the states of the former Confederacy if we were to use that dirty “S” word that led to the Civil War. Although I tried to explain the difficulty in selling an idea to the public that I myself did not completely understand at the time (consider the constitutional issues of granting one state more authority than the 49 others), I saw Marcus’ Sub-National Sovereignty as a stepping stone to the campaign for secession I envisioned.
During that first year we traveled around California and Marcus saw with his own eyes how much time we were spending just explaining Sub-National Sovereignty to people and how little time we spent explaining how they would benefit from such a change in California’s relationship with Washington. Just like in his book tour, most people asked us if we were for Secession. Many were disappointed when we told them No. Others were confused by the name. Were we with the sovereign citizens movement? Were we a religious group (consider the phrase “God is Sovereign”)?
Eventually, I was able to convince Marcus that we had to go bold and go for full political independence from the United States. The 2015 Scottish independence referendum campaign going on at that time proved to him it was safe to talk about a peaceful and legal secession and so that year we rebranded as Yes California and I finally had the campaign I envisioned.
The change in direction was stark. Our first act as a secession campaign was a bold statement in the form of a ballot measure that would declare California’s Bear Flag the national flag of California and fly it in position of first honor over the stars and stripes. Today it seems like nothing but back in 2015 when the news started covering our “quirky” National Flag Act, we were admittedly scared. This ballot measure was much more controversial than our first one, which would have established a Devolution Panel to explore Sub-National Sovereignty.
The following year, with Hillary Clinton a forborne conclusion, I decided to go on sabbatical for an indefinite period of time because I was disgusted with the idea of a woman becoming president of the United States just because she was a woman. Yet placing that checkmark next to “first woman president” was more important to the leftists than who that woman was. When Donald Trump unexpectedly won that November, I was already living overseas but was pleasantly surprised. I even celebrated with newfound friends and canceled classes for my students.
That’s also when the #CalExit hashtag was created and the campaign I left in the hands of Marc Ruiz Evans exploded. Like #Brexit, #CalExit was about a full political separation from a larger political union. #Brexit was the United Kingdom “seceding” from the European Union and #CalExit was California seceding from the United States. Beyond this, there was little else in common between the two campaigns. #CalExit was not about devolution or Sub-National Sovereignty, as Evans advocated for years prior to meeting me and throughout his book tour. This is why, although an instrumental figure, I take issue with him claiming to be the founder of the #CalExit movement.
I’ve already explained in a previous post why I decided to end the #CalExit campaign. However, there are a lot of people who continue to use this hashtag. What I’ve noticed is that they often use it in reference to political migration from California to a red state in search of more freedom, less regulation, and a lower cost of living. So let it be so. As the founder of the #CalExit campaign, I hereby yield to its new colloquial usage. Considering the fact that I myself have exited California and plan to relocate to a red state in search of more freedom and less government intrusion into my life, it is a fitting new meaning.
Here I am not a leader, but a follower - following all the countless families and businesses, all taxpayers, that have left the insanity of blue California for greener pastures in a red state. Many have gone to Texas, Idaho, or Florida. I have chosen to CalExit to a red county in the red state of Arkansas.