Tripping through The State of Jefferson

I’m slowly working my way north in my subcompact Fiat 500, which I converted into a little camper car, of sorts. I stripped it down to the bare bones, took out all the seats with the exception of the drivers seat (which I admit to giving consideration, however short-lived, to the idea of taking it out as well), and I stuffed it full of stuff with just enough room for a sleeping area where I can stretch out long-ways on the side of the car that formerly housed the passenger-side seat.

It always feels a little crazy packing for an Alaskan summer, and that’s when things are a bit more predictable, i.e., when I’m returning to the same area, working the same job, etc. But this year is quite different in that I’m not working. Because I’m not working, this summer holds the potential to be a small piece of heaven, but it also means that I have to plan ahead to provide all the supplies that I need to live in a dry cabin for the entirety of the summer, and this is way more planning than I usually do for my Alaskan summer.

It’s a lot to do, to prep, that is, for cabin life while also preparing for a long trip in a ridiculously small car. My mono-tasking brain tends to get scattered from all of the things I have to pull together to make the journey, but the payoff is pure gold: an entire summer of chill, of reading, hiking, and hanging out with friends at bonfires and The Potato and The Golden Saloon and Friday softball, etcetera and etcetera.

When I finally hit the road it all felt a bit surreal. It takes a while for it to set in: that all the packing and planning is over and the trip itself is underway. My head space has to switch from analytical to something more akin to improv. The art of improvisation is key to a long road trip, as well as spending a summer living off the grid. It took a few days (and nights) on the road for it all to sink in.

Highlights thus far include the following:

  • Driving though Yolo County. And why shouldn’t I? After all, you only live once.
  • Crossing over Gay Creek
  • Learning that PJ’s Pizza delivers to Toutle Northbound Rest Area in Washington State, I-5, milepost 55.
  • Passing through The State of Jefferson

There’s really not much by way of highlights, so far, is there? [But see footnote]

The State of Jefferson, though, is interesting. It’s one of those fringe independence Californian movements that I find quite compelling. Another being the #calexit movement, an initiative to make California it’s own nation and break from the United States.

“State of Jefferson” in 1941

The State of Jefferson, however, wants to break away from California. It’s a fascinating story, as recounted in this extensive telling, not simply for the politics but also the culture and history of the area.

“The fight to create Jefferson is the longest of long shots, a Hail Mary pass made by folks who are sick of being underrepresented in the state legislature and ignored by California’s urban centers. Cut off from the seats of power by geography, alienated by the state’s left-leaning politics and tendency toward regulation, enduring stubbornly high unemployment, facing the decimation of traditional industries such as logging, and harboring few prospects for economic growth, these disaffected citizens — overwhelmingly white and mostly conservative — share many of the concerns about central state overreach as the militia members who recently took control of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. They, however, are committed to a political solution rather than an armed rebellion.”

What the rest of California needs, is their water (and this water is for the water-intensive agricultural industry):

“The complex water infrastructure of California is designed to take water from the relatively wet north and channel it to the farmland and cities to the south. This reality — that California as a whole would be unable to function without access to that northern water — is one of the deepest sources of conflict and resentment within the state. The prolonged drought of recent years has only turned the feelings uglier. It’s been a wet winter, but Shasta Lake is still 140 feet below full, its bare brown slopes like a sad bathtub ring.”

I sympathize with the people in that like most Americans they have a feeling of not having agency and representation in government. In my humble opinion this reality is perhaps one of our core problems in the United States. Most folks feel as if they don’t have a voice in government, or they are tired of being expected to vote for the lesser of two evils, election after election.

Today’s United States politics isn’t really all that different from a Game of Thrones scenario: we’re all fighting each other on behalf of choosing which ruler is going to exploit us and game the system. We’ve all accepted the corruption of government, working on behalf of the 1%, but which side wins is still important to us because of social issues, like guns and abortion and so forth and so on.

To put it another way, the American public is expected to vote according to where the politicians align on social issues while politicians from both parties pander to their favorite corporations and billionaires. Hence our representatives have a vested interest in keeping us pissed at each other and fighting a culture war. If we were to take a closer look at the economic/class issues that are at the heart of American politics and start to reform the economic and democratic system, the jig would be up and the house of cards would fall and harmlessly scatter on the floor.

Instead, we keep fighting culture wars and we all feel like we are constantly losing. Again, this feeds the frenzy and sense of urgency that we must vote against Trump or against Clinton, etc.

Pardon the digression, but I could go on about this for a while. I am, after all, a democratic socialist, which means I can get a little ranty and carried away about democracy and how critical it is to the success of a culture and society to have citizens who are truly enfranchised with real agency and representation.

I continue road tripping, driving north, through Oregon, into Washington, and across the Canadian border. My Fiat 500 points north where a cabin awaits in a community far more remote but no less quirky, rambunctious and independent-minded than residents of The State of Jefferson.

Footnote: After I concluded writing the first draft of this post, chronicling the uneventful nature of the trip, a car pulled up next to mine, at a rest stop in central Washington State. It was night but there was still a bit of light, it was dusky. They were driving a beat down compact car (still large by my standards) and playing Eminem rather more loudly than is typically of a rest area. A young male excited the passenger side, talking on his cell phone, and the driver, a young woman, proceeded to crank up the volume. Because I parked by backing in and she parked by pulling straight in, our car doors were right next to each other. Despite the proximity, I decided it wasn’t the time to be neighborly, so I promptly began minding my own business, i.e., I started rummaging about for something (because when you are using a subcompact car as a camper that’s just about all of what you do when you’re not driving) but was soon startled by a sound like gunshots. The young woman had exited the car and was slamming her fists down on the hood of the car. She stopped, at which point she started cursing, then stopped cursing and resumed pounding the hood after which she continued cursing and got back into the car. I watched the scene, but when she returned to the car, I promptly resumed my rummaging aka minding my own business. The thought crossed my mind that if she was really losing it, then she might take it out on my car, but somehow I had a hunch that she’d worked it out. It wasn’t long before I glanced over at the car and saw that she was looking at me. As noted above, because I parked by backing in and she parked by pulling straight in, our car doors were right next to each other. She began to motion to me, as though she had something to say, so I opened my door and she explained that I didn’t need to call the cops because it wasn’t a matter of domestic violence but of family drama. It wasn’t abuse or anything, just “stupid family stuff.” I assured her that I would not call the cops and after all haven’t we all had family drama from time to time, chuckle, chuckle as I return to the mind-my-own-business task at hand. All of which is to say that you never know what might happen on an uneventful night while settling in at a rest stop in central Washington State.

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

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Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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