We need to have a talk about a trend I was hoping would burn out that instead appears to be increasing, and that is various iterations of the ‘Bluexit’ meme — in other words, that ‘blue states’ should ‘withdraw’ from ‘red states’ and leave them to their own devices. I’m using a lot of scare quotes here because I find this whole thing repugnant, and I seriously cannot believe we need to actually have this conversation right now, but apparently we do.
In case this isn’t obvious: If you think this, and you support this kind of logic, you are wrong, and also you are a bigot. If this news surprises and upsets you, you are an exemplary instance of the kind of liberal that tends to give the left a bad name in America.
Look. I live in California, which many people seem to think is the bluest of all the blue states, and was certainly one of the first out of the gate with a self-serving, bigoted, naive, ridiculous ‘Calexit’ proposal. I commented at the time that I thought it was bullshit and I’m sticking to it, and now clearly this needs to be expanded to the rest of the country — and may I just say to all of you living in red states who are heartily sick of people from California talking about how they want to hang you out to dry, that I am ashamed of my fellow Californians and I swear I am trying.
Let’s start with the most basic assertion here: ‘Blue states’ have generally liberal politics and values that differ radically from those of ‘red states,’ and so we should withdraw from the union in order to form our own collective of states that would uphold those values. Some argue that this means ‘we’ can prioritise things like single payer health care, and education reform, and other things that will make the environment better for everyone. Some nakedly admit what this is really about, claiming that they want to ‘punish’ red states, that ‘they created this mess’ and should have to live with it, and they ‘don’t want to be part of the same country as a bunch of bigots.’
So let’s entertain, for a moment, the belief that blue states are uniformly liberal and red states are uniformly conservative. Can someone please explain to me where ‘punishing people’ is part of leftist values? Because it’s not part of mine. I don’t believe in making value judgments that degrade people’s quality of life on the basis of their political beliefs. I am happy to have my tax dollars fund higher education for bigoted right wing extremists alongside leftist undocumented immigrants because I believe that creating equality and a commons for all benefits everyone. I also believe that purity testing for eligibility for services is a one-way ticket to entrenching discriminatory practices, because what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
But the fact of the matter is that these assertions about the nature of ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states are also just dead wrong. There are tons of liberals and leftists who have been working for decades in traditionally conservative regions of the country — there are in fact highly liberal pockets, but even outside those, there are liberals who are putting in the work and being ignored, sidelined, and treated like shit by leftists from blue states who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread. There are queers and trans people and Muslims and people of colour and disabled people and people from a wide range of walks of life who are doing the work and upholding liberal values in red states.
Period. So what you are saying to those people when you make smug pronouncements like ‘fuck the South’ is that their work doesn’t matter to you, and neither does their suffering. You think it’s a great and super cool idea to condemn people to horrific social contraction so that you can have your own little blue state paradise. You are ignoring the role that gerrymandering and voter suppression play in the political makeup of states.
My politics does not involve throwing people out like garbage. It does not involve tossing people under the bus. It does not involve erasing hard work. It does not involve saying that access to services and equality should be predicated on what people think and where they were born, or where they’ve chosen to move to. It’s not predicated on sneering at Texans and then saying ‘oh but I didn’t mean you‘ to the myriad of hardworking liberal Texans I know. It’s not predicated on saying ‘fuck Arkansas’ in the face of the abortion organisers working to protect access in a state where the legislature against them. It’s not predicated on making sweeping judgmental comments about places I’ve never even been and organisers I’ve never even met.
It’s not about saying that ‘the good people’ from red states could ‘just move.’ One, that’s not necessarily a fiscal or social possibility. Two, has it occurred to you that maybe they like where they live? That people organise and agitate and work and struggle because they love the places where they live and they want to make them better for everyone?
It’s predicated on my belief that we make the world better by working together, that we benefit all by recognising that as a collective, we offer a net good to society. I want to protect vulnerable Americans — as a California resident, there’s a lot I can do to push to make that happen. I’m not just going to leave the country and say ‘welp, too bad’ to everyone who couldn’t — or didn’t — move to California in time to get residency. That’s hatred and cruelty and bigotry, to me. It’s classist. It is selfish and vicious and it’s telling that these attitudes are originating almost entirely from privileged white people with little to lose in the coming years, not from vulnerable people who have spent decades building solidarity and working together as collectives to protect each other.
I look to organisers and people working in red states who are asking for my help, and I’m supposed to say ‘too bad, just move’? Is that really the best response that you have? Rather than ‘what can I do to help you, and how can I use my clout to defend the most vulnerable’?
We also need to talk about the ‘red’ zones in blue states, like, oh, say, California. California is a large, populous, and demographically complex state, and it actually includes a lot of conservatives. Some are more moderate than others, and they tend to be concentrated in counties without a lot of residents (thus San Francisco and Los Angeles Counties are heavily Democratic, unlike, say, Mariposa and Colusa Counties). But if you think that blue states are pure bastions of liberal politics, you’re wrong — there are conservative communities, and there are plenty of places where conservatives dominate local politics, and where state reps come from those roots. So before you get self righteous about the demographic makeup of your state, check your own back yard, and check your shoe for toilet paper while you’re at it.
The left often likes to claim that it’s above bigotry and sweeping categorical dismissals of entire classes of humans, but I saw a lot of both before the election, and it’s even more obvious after. If you think that the solution to injustice in this country is for the wealthy, privileged, and powerful to leave en masse, abandoning everyone else to their fate, you need to seriously question your life choices and priorities.
Image: Welcome to Arkansas, Thomas Hawk, Flickr