The revolution will not be televised. The revolution, it seems, will be meme'd.
In the days following President Barack Obama's re-election, links of insurrection were "liked," retweeted, and forwarded across the nation. Word of a would-be rebellion spread in the same way as Rebecca Black's "Friday" music video, Texts From Hillary, or McKayla Maroney Is Not Impressed (which hit the big time last weekend, when Maroney struck the pose with the president himself).
Just like that, secession went viral.
Now residents in all 50 states have filed petitions on the White House's official website to secede from the union. But while the country may well be divided, it's unlikely that it will literally divide anytime soon.
The signees would appear to be a blend of true believers, disappointed conservatives expressing discontent but not treason, and politically disenchanted Web surfers just signing for kicks. Naturally, the movement, such as it was, was soon overtaken by irony. Among the petitions now appearing on the White House site are one to "Pardon the Ohio State Buckeyes from unjust NCAA sanctions" and another to "Nationalize the Twinkie industry."
Still, the breadth and relative size of the phenomenon command some sort of attention, even if only by way of a bewildered glance. As of last week, professors at the University of North Carolina had identified 312,036 signatures that appear to represent unique individuals. The total number of signatures they found for all the petitions — including those of people who apparently signed multiple petitions — was 887,093.
As of this writing, Tennessee's has been signed by 30,599 people, 816 of whom signed from Davidson County. (Contain your laughter, Democrats — 704,708 of you across the state, including 105,432 in Davidson County, voted for Mark Clayton this year.)
But the individuals making up those numbers are harder to pin down. All that's needed to sign one of the petitions is a whitehouse.gov account, created by providing a first and last initial, an email address, and a zip code if you wish (no photo ID required). Beyond making it difficult to identify any particular signee, that means Richard C. from Raleigh, N.C., and Fredrico D. from Anchorage, Alaska, were able to cross the virtual border and support the Volunteer State's quest for independence (real, symbolic or ironic as it may be).
Ground zero for the essentially anonymous uprising here was Harrogate, Tenn., population 4,389. That was the location attached to Signature No. 1 on the petition to "peacefully grant the state of Tennessee to withdraw from the United States," from one Jason B. Those concerned about the increasing lack of privacy in our society will be encouraged to hear that the Scene was unable to track him down.
As a result, we can only guess as to what motivated Jason B. to create the declaration of — or, rather, request for — independence. But an email and Facebook message sent to tea party activists in West Tennessee, alerting them about the petitions, reveals the likely inspiration for many of the signatures.
"Patriots, several states are petitioning to withdraw from the union," wrote David Nance, president of the Gibson County Patriots. "Tennessee is one of them. This is completely symbolic I'm sure, but not a total waste of time. Don't it send a nice message to the federal government."
The patriots of Gibson County have not shied away from sending rather eccentric messages. They were among the conservative groups this past summer pushing resolutions denouncing Gov. Bill Haslam for appointing Samar Ali, a Muslim woman, to the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Speaking to the Scene by phone, however, Nance says a message is all it is.
"There's nothing to it," he said. "It's about sending a message to our federal government — what we think of them."
Nance says he signed the petition as a protest of sorts against a federal government that is "unbelievably corrupt" and "out of control" and two parties that are both "bankrupting" the country. Not only that, but it would seem to be an extension of the tea party patriot ethos — a fearless statement of dissent in the face of the federal monolith.
"I haven't polled any tea party members or anything," he says. "Some people didn't sign it because they didn't want their name on a petition to secede. Maybe out of fear of government. If you live in fear of government, we're already beat."
In accordance with its own policy, the Obama administration now owes Tennessee a response regarding its request to withdraw from the union and "create its own new government," after the petition surpassed the 25,000-signature threshold required to trigger attention from the White House. Secession would be logistically difficult, as Tennessee actually takes more money from the federal government than it sends to D.C. And even if it weren't, it's hard to imagine the president saying anything other than a blunt "no."
That's more direct than what Tennesseans got from their own governor. Last week, in another of his cautious pronouncements, Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters, "I don't think [secession] is a viable option." That's all the fury a threat of secession rouses? One imagines Haslam instead of Patrick Henry addressing the Virginia Convention: "Liberty and death are options we are exploring."
Then again, in Tennessee these days, Haslam's probably wise never to say never.