Meet Mark Baird. He has has been a Californian all his life. Living in Siskiyou County now, he says he doesn't want that life to change, but to keep it, he'll have to change everything.
“We literally have to do this, or rural Californians won’t survive,” Baird says.
Seventy-two years ago, in late November, 1941, northern California counties in concert with Southern Oregon declare themselves a new State- the State of Jefferson. They draw-up a proclamation of independence, and set-up roads blocks along Interstate 5, letting anyone who comes north know they aren’t in California anymore.
A week later, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, America is cast in World War II, and plans for a separate Jefferson are abandoned - for a time.
“We need to spread this at the grass roots,” said a speaker at recent organizational meeting for the new State of Jefferson.
The modern movement borrows its colors from that 1941 effort: A gold pan in a field of green; in the center of the gold pan, there are two X’s meant to represent the people of Jefferson, double-crossed by Sacramento.
“[If] everybody in the North State were to vote one way, we’d have about a million people. [Los Angeles]? The city votes one way, they have three and a half million people. So we can’t even say ‘this is what we need to bring back the jobs here, bring back our livelihoods,' because LA goes, ‘Oh but we don’t like that,’ and it’s done,” said Kayla Brown, an organizer for the separatist effort.
The meeting is in Shasta County. Jefferson supporters are holding a break-out session at a Tea Party gathering, but both Democrats and Republicans attend. Statehood supporters say they aren’t of any particular political stripe.
But they do have commonalities with the Tea Party- a small, motivated group bound and determined to be recognized.
So are we going to see roadblocks again?
“Nah,” laughs Baird. “It would be fun, but it would be counterproductive. I’d love to see a bunch of guys on horseback riding down I-5, but it wouldn’t do us any good.”
Instead, they are going county-by-county, looking for buy-in from each board of supervisors. Siskiyou County was first to approve. Modoc County was next.
The separatists have their eyes fixed on thirteen counties in all- the entire northern block. They say they don’t need all of them. Even if they get fewer, nine counties for instance, as long as they can draw a State border around them, they’ll try to do it.
But even if they get all of those counties, they will still have to come to the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento, to ask the legislature to approve Statehood for Jefferson.
It’s not an idea California’s current legislators are exactly attuned to.
“Well, I would ask that they support me in my efforts to run for State Insurance Commissioner. And I’m trying to do my part in representing my constituents. I know that they’re often getting the short end of the stick,” said Ted Gaines, the state senator who currently represents the Jefferson counties. “One way to engage is running for a State Constitutional Office.”
But to assume the separatists are running anything but a professional, well-organized campaign themselves is to underestimate them.
Take a look at the organization in action: here is how Mark Baird and Kayla Brown answer the same question. Keep in mind, these are two people separated by generations, in interviews hours apart and dozens of miles away.
I asked if there was a law in particular passed in Sacramento that spurred them to dream of a new state.
“For me personally it was the transgender bathroom law. That was one of the ones that made me go ‘absolutely ridiculous,’” Brown said.
“The child transgender law. I don’t think there are 10 people in almost a million people in the State of Jefferson that agree with that piece of trash,” Baird said.
It may be a sign of unanimity. But it’s also a sign that this organization knows what a wedge issue is, and how to deliver a talking point too.
They’ve got more than one: Taxes and fees, State regulations on mining, logging and the environment. Where unemployment is highest, so is motivation.
And Mark Baird isn’t the kind of guy who strikes you as a kook living off in the woods.
“I hope not. Sometime things that are hard need to be done. This literally needs to be done. This isn’t a whim by a few people,” Baird said.
And that’s why Baird says he’s willing to move mountains to change the name of his mountain, and to keep what he calls home.
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