The talk at Firestorm — billed as "Secession is in the Air" — begins at 5 p.m. Sale will continue the conversation at UNCA as part of student-sponsored Greenfest activities, speaking on "Bioregionalism: Your Home As Your Country," at 7 p.m. in the Alumni Hall at the Highsmith University Union.
Sale, a political activist, scholar and prolific writer, argues that the only way to restore democracy to "the American empire" is to divide it into small, autonomous countries practicing direct democracy. According to Sale, "Most talk so far has been around existing states, but there is no reason secession couldn't be successful along bio-regional lines. People in the Northwest are talking about Cascadia — which would extend from British Columbia down through Oregon."
Sale notes that a bioregional council named Katuah operated in Western North Carolina for about 10 years in the 1980s and 1990s, and the name may be appropriate for a hypothetical country. The Katuah bioregion includes mountain areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, southwestern Virginia and northern Georgia.
The secessionist movement was officially launched in 2004 in Middlebury, Vt., with a declaration that called for "true popular participation and genuine democracy." The newly established Middlebury Institute dedicated itself to the study of self-determination and "devolutionary trends and developments, on both national and international scales." Vermont has one of the most active secessionist movements, and according to Sale, the lieutenant governor and seven state senators have raised the possibility of a secessionist convention in 2015. The Middlebury Institute recently moved to Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Secessionists can be found across the political spectrum, from left to right, and in all areas of the country. What they have in common is an anti-authoritarian viewpoint. The whole point of secession is to "live under a government that fulfills your interests and aims," says Sale.
Such a hypothetical country would announce its intention to leave and establish a "separate and legitimate moral authority" that the U.S. government currently lacks, according to Sale. In time, he argues, secession would gain the support of many Americans, as well as nations around the world. Sale is also quick to point out that the United States in recent history supported the secession of Kosovo.
Sale believes that the Constitution does not preclude secession and that there is American precedent for it, even before the Southern secession which resulted in the Civil War. Nonetheless, it has a way to go as a viable political strategy, he admits, but he believes that the first steps are occurring now, in which "ideas percolate" and various groups agitate or advocate around the idea and even get it on the political agenda, as people have done in Vermont. A 2015 secession convention seems "a little hasty," says Sale, but "as the American Empire disintegrates, more and more people will come over to talk about secession."