The State of Jefferson

I grew up Northern, Northern, California right on the Oregon border in a county the size of Massachusetts but with a population of only around 40,000. In the 1940's it broke away along with the northern most counties in CA and the southern most in Oregon to form the State of Jefferson. They used theatrics like shutting down all the roads in and out of the area on the first Thursday of every month and riding out with horses to distribute information to stopped cars. Their grievances were that there was a lack if good roads to the area so they were cut off during the winter months, they were tired of having their needs ignored in favor of places with higher populations, they wanted no tax on booze, and no gun restrictions. They managed to wear down the state legislatures, and rumor has it that they were going to sign off on the new state. We inaugurated a governor (the celebration even had a grizzly bear in attendance). Then December 7th 1941 happened and the idea was abandoned for the sake of national unity during WWII.

But the State of Jefferson has not been forgotten. Passion for it amps up every time another government initiative effects the area negatively. In my lifetime, support for the separatist movement has never been as strong as it is now. My hometown has become a battle ground over water-rights in the state. The rivers are home to an endangered species of Coho salmon. The local Native American tribes, the farmers, the coastal fishermen and environmental policy makers have endless fights and lawsuits over how the water from the rivers that the fish spawn in is used. This is just icing on the cake for an area that has been struggling with unemployment rates of 20% since before the recession. The logging industry diminished in the early 1990's and farms that have split into smaller and smaller parcels as they are passed on through the generations or bought up by retirees from urban areas who aren't always as invested in the community and schools.

Personally, I would like to see a unified California, but I agree that the voices of the people in my hometown are buried by the urban majority. The media coverage either glorifies the farmers "calloused hands" or ridicules them as crazy rednecks. Thus, people in urban California are largely unaware of the real struggles facing my community members or think they are crazy vigilantes.

Having grown up in Siskiyou County and then lived in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, I have a deep desire to bridge the rural/urban divide in California. I feel that my community needs a platform other than the media to speak about the complexity of their lives.

I'm always felt the play The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov resonated with the issues in my hometown. It's about a family that is close to losing their land. Yet, it's not only about the loss of land, it's the loss of a culture and an end of an era as well. I want to bring professional actors from cities around CA to my hometown to live with residents and rehearse The Cherry Orchard. With guidance from a community advisory board, we will adapt the play to more closely resemble the community, then present the play in a farmhouse in my hometown. This is the first level of exchange between urban and rural communities. I'll also ask local high school students to interview community members and film their stories. These stories will be screened when The Cherry Orchard production tours to urban areas in CA.

In the future, I hope to expand the program to include an exchange of high school students between urban communities and my rural community. The rural kids would get a chance to go to baseball games, museums, plays, and music concerts while the urban kids would get to work with horses, learn local crafts, and spend time in the wilderness.