Be the Change You Seek:

Raising Awareness of the #FreeCalifornia Campaign

Flag of California Independence, Free California Foundation. © 2017, Free California Foundation.

While persuasion is the coin of politics, persuading a politically-influential number of people is impossible without first establishing broad public awareness of the issue that the political campaign seeks to influence. Put another way, mass persuasion is impossible until many people are aware of the issue, and they believe the solution proposed by the campaign is at least possible. Thus public awareness is a necessary preliminary stage of any political campaign.

Public awareness is also vital to a strategy of changing society by inspiring people to live their lives as though those changes have occurred. For example, when students — white and black — sat at “whites only”
lunch counters
in 1960 and waited politely to be served, they were asserting their right to sit at a nondiscriminatory lunch counter by sitting at the lunch counter they sought to integrate. In the same way, the fastest way to cause the undemocratic federal government to recognize the rights to California is nonviolently live as though California is already independent of the U.S.A. Wearing and using “Free California” merchandise, and setting aside U.S.A.-themed products, are a symbolic way for millions of people to peacefully demonstrate that their loyalties and identities have shifted from the United States to a California Republic free of U.S.A. domination. To change others, first be that change.

This article explains the concept of the “Free California Republic” awareness-raising campaign, how it will be organized, promoted, and financed, and the ultimate goal of the campaign. Intended as a foundational document, i.e., “A Kind of Memo” to the California independence movement, it is relatively long, but that length is necessary to explain why this campaign is necessary, how it will work, and what it will achieve in the near and distant future.

Public awareness-raising is not the same as public education or policy research. In its purest form, awareness-raising presents the public with no facts or arguments; only the issue, or even a mere symbol being used to represent the issue, is presented. Typically, in a pure awareness-raising campaign, the public is initially introduced to a symbol, and then public awareness is achieved by repeatedly displaying the symbol.

One of the most successful global awareness-raising campaigns is World AIDS Day, held every December 1 around the world, and symbolized by a looped red ribbon. The red ribbon symbol for HIV/AIDS, first introduced in 1991, is usually displayed with no legend or other explanation. Instead, the campaign urges people who wear a red AIDS ribbon to explain the significance of the symbol to anyone who asks. Thus wearing the red HIV/AIDS ribbon allows people to demonstrate their concern about fighting HIV/AIDS, it reinforces the continuing need to improve responses to HIV/AIDS-related disease, and it broadens public awareness of HIV/AIDS by encouraging ribbon-wearers to inform others, as well as encouraging the mass media to highlight World AIDS Day and the Red Ribbon campaign.

In the case of the “Free California Republic” (FCR) campaign, public awareness of the issue is probably almost universal in California, in the sense that almost everyone in California has heard someone suggest that the state should be independent. However, the idea of making this republic independent of the United States is not reinforced often enough for most California residents to consider the issue of independence even worthy of serious consideration. Thus the task of awareness-raising is only half-complete.

If California residents saw a symbol they associated with independence for the republic often enough, they might be persuaded to not only support, but actively campaign for greater independence. The surest proof that California independence is not politically viable today is the fact that no organized opposition to the “Free California” cause exists.

Since the focus of the “Free California Republic” awareness-raising campaign is to increase awareness of the principle of California independence, and not to publicize any particular group, “Free California” symbols must be visibly different from the logos of the groups involved. However groups can, and should, reinforce the impact of “Free California Republic” symbols and slogans by using them (but only by express permission) in their messages. The more times a limited set of symbols, colors, and slogans appear on posters, social media, clothing, and other items that people use regularly, the more people will think about greater independence for California, and campaign for independence.

Fortunately for an awareness-raising marketing campaign, the name and identity of “California” has carried positive identifications since at least the Gold Rush. Although the name of “Free California” was inspired in November 2016 by the anti-Nazi “Free France” government during World War II, the name of “California” is already associated with “freedom” and “liberation” so much that we may speak of “California Free!” as easily as “Free California.”

Many brands and businesses — many with no connection to California — already use associations with “California” for their marketing; e.g., “LA Gear” clothing, the Ferrari California sports car, the Chevrolet Malibu and Bel Air sedans, and “Hollister California” clothing (created by Abercrombie & Fitch, the first store opened in Ohio! clothing. Dozens of other companies, from “Levi Strauss” jeans to the “In-N-Out Burger” restaurant chain have strong associations with California. If there can be a “Banana Republic” clothing line, a “Republic of Tea”, not to mention the “California Republic” brand, there can definitely be a “Free California Republic” lifestyle brand.

Also, one need not be a regional chauvinist to accept that beautiful photos are easy to take in California. California is one of those happy parts of North America whose beauties — from the Golden Gate to the Giant Sequoias to the Hollywood Sign — have graced countless travel posters for at least a century. Add a slogan or symbol to a beautiful photo of California: Instant awareness-raising material. Purchasers of “Free California Republic” will be encouraged to send in photos of themselves wearing and using “FCR” gear — rewarded by receiving exclusive FCR “swag” — which can be recirculated again via social media. In this way, the “Free California Republic” brand will be broadened and reinforced the same way as other California “lifestyle brands,” albeit for a more serious purpose.

Sales of “Free California”-branded items will be made over the Internet from the brand website: The difference between “Free California Republic” brand and a typical California lifestyle brand is that excess revenues from sales of “FCR” merchandise will support more awareness-raising, public education, and research, and none will be paid to investors, as occurs in a for-profit business. Likewise, donations to help set up the brand are tax-deductible for federal and state income tax.

Once the brand is a little more established, the products will be offered to California stores for retail sale. Although most “FCR” products will be sold to California residents, sales to California visitors will help raise awareness of the “Free California” cause around the world. That will be helpful in the future, when public opinion in places like Germany and Japan are important for influencing decisions by the federal U.S. government.

Being tied to merchandise, and not just to words or ideas, “Free California Republic” will use social media in a radically different way than other political social media campaigns like the “NoH8” campaign created to protest the passage of the anti-LGBT Proposition 8 in 2008, or the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” craze of 2014. Although having a bucket of ice dropped on you is a significant measurement of commitment, it does not have permanence and reinforcing elements of participation in a branded merchandise program.

As a California lifestyle brand, the “Free California Republic” awareness-raising campaign is also different from traditional merchandising by political groups like Sierra Club or Feminist Majority because, rather than targeting committed activists, it will encourage people with a loose or no affiliation with the California independence movement to purchase merchandise and display it proudly. On the other hand, unlike other “lifestyle” brands trading on the image of California, “Free California Republic” identifies itself to both and/or either the committed “Free California/#Calexit” activist, and a loosely impressionistic “Free California” of imagination.

Thus the “Free California Republic” brand campaign is something like the “Conch Republic” that Key West, Florida promotes, except that “FCR” is tied to a Republic with more land than Sweden, more people than Poland, more economically significant than France, and over 400 years of recorded history. Although the “Free California Republic” brand may start out as a “fun” idea — the same way all California brands are identified with “fun” — once millions of Californians start wearing and using “Free California Republic” merchandise, these diffuse masses will share the consciousness necessary to ready to rise up and organize itself into an independent nation when the occasion demands it.

The importance of inspiring consciousness of even a loose concept of “Free California” should not be underestimated. As fellow north San Diego County resident Neil Longhurst reminded me, in the 1966 Hugo award-winning novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein, the tinder that sparks into an anti-colonial rebellion by residents of a colony on the Moon (called “Luna”) is when the Moon residents establish a non-Earth identity, and call each other “Loonies.” Once that stage is reached, the many grievances of the Moon residents rapidly coalesce into an independence movement.

What symbol is best for the “Free California” campaign? Unlike, for example, the Scottish independence campaign which has the old flag of the Scottish kingdom ready for use, the California Republic flag has a long association with the State of California. However, because the California flag and key elements like the grizzly bear are so well known, it makes a good basis for a “Free California” symbol.

Since the California flag is unsuitable for identification with the “Free California” campaign without changes, the design above was created to symbolize California independence as an issue and cause. The specific changes are that the “CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC” legend is lowered to the red stripe on the original flag and changed to white, the word “FREE” is spelled in a diversity-inspiring rainbow of colors placed on a contrasting blue stripe, and the Spanish slogan “¡Siempre Seremos Libres!” (“We shall always be Free!”) balances the lone red star on the left side of the flag. Including a Spanish slogan helps establish that the Free California Republic rejects institutional White Supremacy in the United States, and also carries an association with revolutionary movements, like “¡Viva Zapata!” Of course, the use of a rainbow to symbolize diversity largely originated in California, as the rainbow-striped LGBT Pride Flag known worldwide was created in San Francisco in 1978.

In addition to the symbols on the “Free California Republic” flag, the campaign has already used “¡Viva California Libre!” (“Long Live Free California!”) as a slogan, which reinforces the multicultural basis of the “Free California” movement. The allusion to revolutionary Mexico adds to the “fun” aspect of “Free California,” intended to inspire a more serious version of the California-based counterculture of the 1960s; “Free California Republic” is more than “Revolution for the Hell of It!” but a decisive break from the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, hegemonic, and exploitative culture of the existing United States.

The least expensive way to circulate these symbols and slogans is to add them to evocative photos of California scenes and circulate them through social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The next least costly method is to produce stickers, like those used to publicize new bands, and distribute them for people to affix them to their bags, cars, bicycles, and other items in public view.

T-shirts and other items of clothing are relatively inexpensive to produce, but stocking all the needed sizes is costly and distribution is complicated. Therefore, the ideal article for “Free California” awareness-raising is a canvas shopping bag.

Canvas shopping bags are ideal for awareness-raising because now that California has banned disposable plastic shopping bags, everyone must carry reusable bags to stores when we shop. Although canvas bags are reusable, they eventually wear out, so the “Free California” messaging will remain relatively intact while the bags are in use. Canvas bags are also great for heading to California beaches and traveling about our sunny communities. Best of all, union printing shops will readily make full-color silk-screened shopping bags for resale.

A fund-raising website will be set up soon to raise funds for this awareness-raising campaign, with proceeds from sales going to restock and expand the range of “Free California” merchandise. The nonprofit Free California Foundation will take the orders, manage production, and ship the goods to purchasers from offices in Southern California. Initial donors will receive “Free California Republic” stickers as a token of gratitude, so they can immediately start spreading the word about “FCR.” As the “Free California Foundation” is already supported by a charity recognized by the IRS and registered with California, all donations to support this “Free California” awareness-raising campaign will are tax-deductible.

The “Free California Republic” awareness-raising merchandising campaign will not be easy to create, and its success may take years to achieve. However, creating a lifestyle brand for California independence is the most practical way — a self-funding and self-perpetuating method — to inspire the consciousness necessary to someday form our sovereign republic of 39 million Californians into a politically and culturally-independent nation in the International Community.