A California-Catalonia Secession Connection?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

In a year when protests against federal government has become as fashionable in California as board shorts, the protests on the last Saturday of September stood out.

They were for the right of Catalonian sovereignty.

Yes, that’s Cataloania, one of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions, home to 7.5 million people and the exquisite city of Barcelona. There was a highly disputed Oct. 1 referendum there on seeking independence from Spain. And the Spanish government moved aggressively to squelch it.

So why did it become an issue in California?

Because the California Freedom Coalition, which is pushing a ballot initiative for greater California autonomy from the federal government (and maybe, one day, actualy independence), decided to draw parallels with Catalonia. California also faces an authoritarian faraway federal government that would deny us our sovereignty.

So the California autonomy-independence movement decided to adopt Catalonian independence as its own cause. Two protests were organized – one in front of the Spanish consulate in Los Angeles, the other in front of the Spanish consulate in San Francisco.

This is an entertaining bit of theater, yes. But is it wise? The push for California independence has plenty of challenges on its own. Does it make sense to complicate things further by associating the movement with other movements next year? Particularly if those overseas movements use questionable tactics or do things that draw negative publicity. An recent, separate effort at California secession was discredited by its association with a leader who was living in Russia.

Catalonia’s push for independence is much older – it goes back hundreds of years – and draws energy from the suppression of democracy and the region’s culture by Spain’s 20th century dictator, Francisco Franco. California has experienced no similar trauma. Yes, Trump is pretty awful, but he’s not Franco, at least not yet.

Another problem: independence movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country of Spain have been distinguished by violence and by failure. Centuries of efforts haven’t brought independence. If California independence is going to succeed, it needs to avoid violence—a peaceful negotiation for more autonomy is essential – and it needs to be seen as a winning movement.

In a week that saw the federal government advance a tax proposal to punish Californians (on top of failed health care legislation that also was designed to hurt California), those of us who want more autonomy from the federal government have plenty to talk about already. We don’t need to borrow the Catalonian cause. Let Spain take care of itself.

 

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