You are here:

Divided States of America: Why do so many want to secede?

Americans are not letting President Barack Obama enjoy his second honeymoon in office. A little over a week after a majority of America's 312 million voted Obama to be President till 2016, a significant number in all its 50 states is now clamouring for divorce.

They are doing that by signing up on a page 'We the People', interestingly put up by the White House itself in 2011, to enable the aam aadmi of America to petition the Presidency for easy redress of their grievances. Except that now, the issue is far more serious.

They are asking to secede from the United States of America.

How does a standard representation to secede from the Union read? Sample this one from Illinois, ironically President Obama's home district. "We petition the Obama administration to peacefully grant the state of Illinois to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW government.''

Many Americans are voting with their feet. Reuters.

According to 'We the People', petitions that gather 25,000 signatures within 30 days of their original posting will get an official response from the White House. This is America's of behaving like a corporate giant, stressing the need to address citizens' angst almost in the manner that an industrial group would handle customer grievance. There have been sarcastic responses wondering the White House replies will read something like this. "We are in receipt of your interest in seceding from the United States of America. Your petition is important to us. Our President and the rest of the government are busy attending to other petitions. Please bear with us while we get back to you.''

Why do these people in America's states want to secede? Is it a commentary on the dissatisfaction with what America’s democracy is unable to do for each individual? Most are revolting against controls by the federal government and want their respective state governments to have the power over their life, better job opportunities and lower taxes. They are protesting against a one-size-fits-all laws passed by Washington DC and want to show Capitol Hill its place.

The interesting part is that such petitions are actually gathering thousands of signatures. And more worrisome is the fact that this has gathered momentum since Obama's re-election.

The first state to cross the 25,000 barrier is the Republican territory of Texas. In fact, the count from the cowboy land is more than four times that mandatory number. And while most Americans in the administration treat this outpouring as nothing more than online grief of a few disgruntled Americans, what they ought not to ignore is that it is a pointer to the deeply divided society that America is.

Opinion is divided over whether the petition to secede should be equated to treason. Those who rubbish that thought argue that secession is in fact "a very American principle’". Republican Ron Paul from Texas  said in a YouTube video in April 2009: "It is very American to talk about secession. That’s how we came into being. Thirteen colonies seceded from the British and established a new country, so secession is very much an American principle.’’

But there are many others who are trolling these who are affixing their signatures on these petitions. Counter-petitions are being posted on the website asking President Obama to "deport everyone who signed a petition to withdraw their state from the United States of America’’. And demanding that they be stripped of their citizenship.

Of course, in the case of Texas, there is a historical context too. The country’s most populous state was an independent Republic between 1836 and 1845 and it was after that nine-year period that it became the 28th state to join the USA. No wonder that many in Texas still believe that with a  few digital signatures,  they can revert to becoming an independent country all over again.

While these online petitions won’t go too far despite the rumblings of discontent they convey, the expressions of hatred and the racial divide should cause concern. On Stormfront, a popular pro-white web forum, it is obvious that the urge to secede comes from the discomfort that a combination of African-Americans, Asian-Americans and  Hispanics together ensured a second term for America’s first Black President. Like a comment on a thread on the site said : "Gun control? How about negro control.’’ Or this one. "We need to form a White republic. One that is for whites by whites.’’

Many America watchers admit that a majority of the white population is finding it difficult to come to terms with the fact that non-whites are deciding who gets to rule the country. And that unless something is done about it, the white vote will get devalued with every successive election and that the whites will get elbowed out of positions of power in the federal government. Hence the demand that more power flow to the states.

In this election, only 36 per cent working class males voted for Obama (down from 41 per cent in 2008) and yet that could not get Mitt Romney past the finishing line.

But while these signatures have created a ripple in the American political waters, even Republican politicians aren’t willing to back this questionable reflection of a public mood. Texas Governor Rick Perry himself has thumbed down the secession petition plan, saying he "believes in the greatness of our Union and nothing should be done to change it.’’

President Obama has his task cut out for him. The biggest challenge before him would be to reduce the bridge between different groups in the country, if he is to stay true to the belief of the "greatness’" of the Union. Coining the campaign slogan 'Forward' was the easier part. The actual path, as the President  knows, is littered with potholes and he will have to do more than just hope for change.