By: Cecilia Moore
Two mass movements, one for secession from and one for a proposed admittance to the United States, have recently reached milestones. In seven states, petitions for secession have passed the 25,000-signature threshold required to warrant a response from the Obama administration. And three weeks ago, Puerto Rico held a referendum in which a majority of its voters expressed unhappiness with the island’s current status as an autonomous territory and indicated that they would prefer statehood.
The secession petitions were created through the White House’s “We The People” webpage, and since Nov. 7, hundreds of thousands of Americans have electronically signed them. With over 117,000 signatures, Texas’ petition has accumulated the most momentum. For many, this strong showing has come as no surprise; the citizens of Texas have espoused secessionist ambitions since the Civil War ended nearly 150 years ago. And as recently as 2009, Gov. Rick Perry toyed with the idea of secession after the passage of Pres. Obama’s healthcare plan. However, Texas’ leadership has not stood behind this most recent call to run from the Union. Perry’s spokesperson recently announced that the governor would not endorse his citizens’ petition, though he does understand the plight of the people. No other governors or state legislatures have endorsed their citizens’ proposals thus far either.
Ironically, sitting on Congress’ desk at this moment is the antithesis to these states’ petitions: Puerto Rico’s referendum for statehood. On Nov. 6, while the rest of the United States was transfixed on the national elections, Puerto Ricans voted in a referendum on their island’s future. The first question on the plebiscite was a “yes” or “no” as to whether or not the voter wanted Puerto Rico to maintain it’s current status as a U.S. commonwealth. The second section of the referendum had the voter choose between three different political status options: statehood, sovereign free association, and independence. On the first section, 54 percent voted “no,” indicating that they were not content to remain a commonwealth. A third of the voters, presumably those who voted yes to maintaining Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status, left the second section blank. However, 61 percent of those who answered that section voted for statehood. This is the first time in Puerto Rico’s history that a majority has voted to pursue this path.
The pros and cons of statehood for Puerto Rico are very complicated, and it is difficult to decipher which of the proposed political statuses are actually the most economical for Puerto Rico. Some argue that Puerto Ricans couldn’t afford the increase in federal taxes, while others counter that the return in U.S. federal investment would outweigh the cost of the tax hikes.
While this is an extremely heated debate within Puerto Rico, the referendum has received little media attention within the United States, especially since the election results cooled. This could be due to a lack of concern from the populous or the absence of new plot developments, as neither the President nor Congress has drawn battle lines yet. Either way, the fact that the legalization of marijuana in a few states grabbed most American’s interest more than the possibility of a 51st state, should come as no surprise to Puerto Ricans. They have been largely overlooked by most continental Americans since their island was placed under U.S. control in 1898.
These two national movements have thus far both been left in flux. States cannot legally secede from the United States, and without the backing of their state governments, the petitions are hollow. This could be why Pres. Obama has yet to release a statement on this growing movement in Texas and those across the United States. Though these secession petitions have no teeth, the administration should not overlook the fact that so many Americans have used this forum to display their growing anger with Washington. As shown over the course of the presidential election, Americans are exhausted and angry over the state of the economy and the federal government’s apparent inability to promote economic growth. This is now furthered evidenced by these petitions.
Talk of secession is legal, and voicing concerns and frustrations is a healthy component of democracy. However, talk of secession at this juncture does not seem to be fruitful or feasible. For example, how does Texas, or any other state, plan to float within the United States as a sovereign entity while infrastructure connects it to all of its bordering states?
The answers to these types of questions have yet to be addressed, and now most Americans are simply waiting for the President’s and Congress’ responses to these entreaties. And until then, the hopes of the petitioners and of the Puerto Ricans will dwell within the capital.