USA First Look

Calexit embassy? Did California just get its first diplomatic post?

Over the weekend, the secessionist movement Yes California opened what it describes as California's first embassy – in Moscow. The #Calexit movement gained momentum after Donald Trump was elected in November.

Police officers stand guard during a heavy snowfall in Red Square, with St. Basil's Cathedral in the background , in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. A California secessionist movement says it opened an "embassy" in Moscow.
(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
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In the days after the presidential election, #Calexit – a hashtag supporting the secession of California – trended on Twitter. Supporters say an embassy is the next step toward independence.

Over the weekend, Yes California, a grassroots organization advocating for the secession of California, established in Moscow what the campaign calls its first embassy. Unlike most embassies, however, it won’t be used for diplomatic affairs. Instead, it will be a forum for cultural outreach, as well as a vehicle to promote tourism and trade with California, Louis Marinelli, president of Yes California, told Business Insider last month.

"We want to start laying the groundwork for a dialogue about an independent California joining the United Nations now,” Mr. Marinelli said in an email, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In the event that California were to vote for independence, Yes California hopes that having embassies like this one will garner California diplomatic recognition from the international community. Though much of the energy around “Calexit” seems to have waned in the weeks since the election, the movement’s effort is still indicative of the political dynamics currently at play in the US.

“We didn’t have much talk about secession until 15 years ago ... we’ve seen further growth in support for secession,” Jason Sorens, a lecturer in the department of government lecturer at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., who also founded the Free State Project, previously told The Christian Science Monitor in an interview, adding, “Voters have sorted more clearly into two parties and have ideologically diverged and created more alienation from the federal government.”

California has been talking about secession since the 1920s, but secession movements nationwide have been on the uptick since around 2000, when voters objected to decisions such as the war in Iraq and holding prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Dr. Sorens told the Monitor.

Since then, support for secession has fluctuated, depending on which party holds the presidency. Red states are more likely to want to leave when a Democrat is in charge, while blue states call for secession when Republicans hold the White House.

The Calexit movement certainly fits that pattern. A fringe movement for the past few years, it gained traction with the election of Donald Trump in November. President-elect Trump, who has denied climate change and called for building a wall on the border with Mexico, is seen as actively opposing the ideals of openness and environmentalism that many Californians hold dear. Some also argue that California, possibly the world’s sixth-largest economy, would be more successful without the rest of the US.

Though support for the movement has died down in the weeks since the election – and the hashtag #Calexit is no longer trending on Twitter – Yes California’s leaders are still pushing forward with secession efforts.

Mr. Marinelli, the organization’s leader, met up with the Antiglobalization Movement of Russia, along with 30 other independence groups worldwide, at a conference on secessionists’ rights in September, Business Insider reported. He is still in Russia, working as an English teacher while addressing his wife’s visa issues, the Los Angeles Times reported. (His wife is a Russian national.)

Having an embassy in Moscow may make sense for Marinelli, though the decision has drawn criticism in some quarters, given the currently tense relations between the US and Russia. Marinelli, though, said his focus is on helping California secede – no matter how it happens.

“Yes California will work with any group that shares its values and supports the right of self-determination…. [W]e want California to become an independent country and we're not going to hold any punches to make that happen," he said, Business Insider reported.

California’s independence movement faces long odds. A petition to remove a phrase that calls California “inseparable part of the nation” will need enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot in November 2018. If the ballot measure succeeds, then a special election on the issue would be held in March 2019. After that, secession would still require the agreement of Congress and 38 states, the Monitor reported in November.