“I believe that destiny has suggested that this small state of Vermont is, in fact, going to lead America in a very different direction.
And the day is going to come when all over America, people are going to say, “Thank You, Vermont.'”
– Bernie Sanders, 2006
Back in early March, in the midst of the U.S. Super Tuesday 2016 presidential brouhaha, I published a playful little meme on my Facebook page. “PLAN B,” declares the meme, against a “Welcome to Vermont – Green Mountain State” sign, green with yellow borders. “WE ALL MOVE TO DECLARE INDEPENDENCE FROM THE USA AND VOTE FOR BERNIE TO BE OUR PRESIDENT.” My accompanying Facebook status update was simple. “Plan B: Who is with me?” I wrote. “Please share – on behalf of the @2nd Vermont Republic,” with a hyperlink to our 2VR Facebook page. Sent to me by a dear friend and neighbor, the “2VR/Bernie” meme, as I dubbed it, might make for a fun little online conversation starter. Or so I thought.
To my astonishment, the meme almost instantaneously blew up on Facebook: more than 600 likes and close to 700 shares in 72 hours, with close to 100 comments from folks from all over, many of them thoughtful, heartfelt, and sometimes, quite funny. “Vermont isn’t big enough for everyone!” one person wrote. What was going on?
As a Vermont decentralist – neither a liberal nor a conservative, but an amalgam of the two – I’ve been championing an independent Vermont since the Bush/Cheney regime “won” their second presidential term in 2004. Nonviolent secession was serious, as an idea, anyway, for many Vermonters a decade ago, in the wake of the U.S. corporatocracy’s leveraging of the 2001 9/11 tragedy to dramatically expand U.S. imperial aggression globally while boosting the “military-industrial-terror-surveillance complex” and curtailing civil liberties (thanks USA PATRIOT Act!) at home. We’ve witnessed quieter times for Vermont independence since the Barack Obama “Hope And Change” marketing juggernaut roared through Vermont in 2008. But now, with Obama nearing the end of his eight-year tenure, the conversational zeitgeist is shifting once again.
To Bernie. To Trump. To what everyone seems to agree is the most interesting (or fraught?) U.S. presidential contest in decades.
Full disclosure. We’ve written extensively and often critically about Bernie’s presidential campaign, donated money to Bernie 2016 last summer, and attended his official campaign kick off that hot and humid day on Lake Champlain’s Burlington Waterfront when Bernie launched into what has now become a familiar stump speech for Americans across the country, railing against corporate greed, Wall Street banksters, climate change, the corporately-controlled media, as well as promising a more inclusive, equitable, humane and fair society for all Americans – “a future,” his campaign slogan suggests, “we can believe in.” We did this, knowing full well that, while Bernie would not win the 2016 presidential nomination (sorry, BernieBots), Bernie would bring refreshing courage, chutzhpah, and conviction to challenge what seemed to be Hillary Clinton’s inevitable coronation (back in summer 2015) as the Democratic Party standard bearer in 2016.
Back to the 2VR/Bernie meme. In my ten years working on Vermont independence, I’ve never seen anything like this moment of deeply visceral and shared social media mojo. Without reading too much into it, I’ve been wondering why the meme blew up when it did. Beyond support for Bernie’s WYSIWYG rhetoric and vision, many Vermont-connected citizens rightly fear the dangerous buffoonery of Donald Trump and the rise, more generally, of Authoritarian tendencies in the American Body Politic. Others are tired of the Clintonistas – no question that Hillary and Bill represent the ultimate in Insider/Establishment politics-as-usual. Thomas Naylor, the godfather and lightning rod of the Second Vermont Republic (SVR) for many years, once provocatively invited Bernie to be the President of the SVR as one of his many PR stunts. Predictably, Bernie refused. But the 2VR/Bernie meme – with its vision of an independent Vermont with Bernie at the Helm – does seem to suddenly be back in vogue, at least in the ephemeral world of social media. And, lastly, Vermont has always generated a certain other-wordly mystique in the minds of many who have lived, worked, and played in our Green Mountains – and anyone who has been through Vermont knows why.
The dialogue around the playful 2VR/Bernie meme has been instructive. A few Bernie detractors claim Sanders is just another Flatlander giving away the Store, or leveraging Vermont for his own purposes. “The original Vermont Republic wouldn’t have had Bernie,” wrote one wag. “He’d have been the squirrely shiftless guy living alone in a shack outside of town.” But most wrote in support of the 2VR/Bernie meme in some way, as well as expressing sadness, fear, or concern about the direction in which the U.S. is headed. “I’m with you!” wrote several supporters, and yes, let’s please remember – this is FACEBOOK, for crying out loud.
We’ve been using the word “Empire” to describe the U.S. since 2004, back when most Americans (and Vermonters) looked at us funny – “What is this – Star Wars?” one fellow complained to us years ago. But the troubling events of the past decade – growing militarism, curtailed civil liberties, massive corp/gov surveillance, a casino economy rigged on behalf of the rich, rampant speculation, the (pseudo) grassroots movements of the TEA Party and #OccupyWallStreet, seemingly endless wars abroad and at home (see journalist Trevor Aaronson on the FBI’s manufacture of Muslim terrorists, or the U.S.-sponsored creation of ISIS) have all forced thinking Americans to wake up and recognize that the much-mythologized U.S. of Mrs. McGillicutty’s middle school U.S. history class bears little resemblance to the hegemonic Behemoth some call, with no sense of irony, “The Homeland.”
As Vermont decentralists have insisted since 2004 – the American Left (Big Corporations are the Problem!) and the Right-Wingers (Big Government is the Problem!) are both half right.
The Problem, in fact, is Bigness. The U.S. is too big, too centralized, and too corrupt to be effectively “fixed” by a single person, party, platform, or program. Not even Bernie can fix what ails the United States.
The only way to effectively deal with Bigness is to disassemble it.
Nonviolent secession – the peaceful “absenting” of the once-and-future Republic of Vermont from the United States – may be the best way to begin, given Vermont’s unique history as the only state in the U.S. to self-constitute and govern itself as an independent country (1777-1791).
Plan B. And Beyond.
Long live the 2nd Vermont Republic, and may the Gods bless the UNtied States of America.