“Imagine a world worth living in, a world worth fighting for.” ― Leslie Feinberg
I first met the legendary transgender activist Les Feinberg in the late nineties. I was in my twenties, presenting as male, and living the life of leaden nullification my fellow travelers know. All was still and dark, gray and cold, not simply because it was a winter night in the mountains of western Massachusetts. A gifted orator, Les spoke of repression and freedom, spinning a glistening web that spiraled from the struggles of an individual to that of the world and back again in one intricate, entrancing whole. Les ended by challenging us to imagine and to fight, and to bring a better world into being. I imagined my better world, and it wasn’t in progressive but prudish New England. It wasn’t a world of the dark, but a world in the light. Not Massachusetts, but California. As soon as I was able, I took a train from east coast to west. I came to California. I came to California to be free.
The quintessential American travel story (Twain’s river trek notwithstanding) is from east to west. While one must reject the imperialist notion of Manifest Destiny, journeying westward has always represented a movement from limitation to possibility. Notably, and long before my train trip, Kerouac penned On The Road, a work he said “was really a story about two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him. I found him in the sky, in Market Street San Francisco.” And so it was, as I stumbled over one east coast friend after another. We had all made the same exodus, east to west, to find what was wanting back there.
But if California has been the United States’ destination for those seeking freedom, what does that mean today? America’s stumble toward freedom seems to have taken a faceplant into the sidewalk. Our national rhetoric always centered around soaring concepts like freedom and liberty, and there’s ever been an invisible asterisk next to these words as our foundational documents were penned in a nation under slavery. They remained goals many have reached for, even when we failed to grasp them. But these aspirations no longer drive the course of American politics.
The single issue that defined this election was how we engage our diversity. It was a referendum on the presence of immigrants, both from the southern border and those adhering to religions which are in the minority on our shores. Nevertheless, the American electoral process decided in favor of closing its shores to newcomers, and rejecting refugees.
I’m a lifelong leftie, but Orange County taught me a startling lesson this year. They voted blue for the first time since the Great Depression. Surely they didn’t do so because the Democratic candidate was so inspiring! No, they recognized in their party’s candidate a fox in the ideological henhouse. They held their noses and cast their votes to preserve their party’s integrity. Because of this, I can never forget that the conservative heart beats to ideals such as small government, not to fear of their neighbors. But their votes simply counted for less in the electoral college because they live in a populous state. It’s a shame that Orange County can’t teach the right and and the left of this nation what it means to hold to a principle even in the face of a mob of opportunists. Because here in California on the left and on the right, we know that which makes a nation great is when freedom has no asterisk next to it.
The ideals which have represented the best of America can be preserved, but not where the will of the people is overridden by archaic electoral schemes. It can only survive with the leadership of a California that is independent of outside control. Freedom without footnotes can survive in a Free California Republic, because the strong but generous spirit of California makes it the place where people journey to be free.
Is a Free California a long shot? It certainly is. It’s the uphill battle to end them all. But it’s not beyond dreaming, and this makes its cause a necessity. I’m in favor of California’s independence because long ago Les Feinberg told me to imagine a world worth living in, a world worth fighting for.
Imagine with me, and let’s get to work fighting for our better world.