The state of New York is a stark exercise in living, breathing contrast. On its southern border, jutting off majestically into the Atlantic Ocean, visitors can marvel at what is arguably the single most influential metropolis in the world. Travel north for just a little over an hour, however, and the closest semblance to a skyscraper is a barn silo; thousands of chic shoppers rushing around with bags are replaced by acres of cows and milling chickens.
It’s old news, really–New York City eclipses the rest of the state. When a curious foreigner that you meet overseas asks where you live, and you respond with nothing more than “New York,” you’ll likely receive the same derivative and exclamatory responses.
“Oh! New York City,” they’ll usually say with a flash of excitement. “I love the Empire State Building.”
You want to tell them, “But I actually live hours away from New York City.” Maybe you live in Syracuse, home of the Orange and the University. Or your home is nestled along the beautiful, frozen gorges of Ithaca. Or perhaps you live in Poughkeepsie, Plattsburgh, Potsdam, near Lake Placid.
You want to say, “No, the capital is actually Albany.”
It turns out sizable communities of Upstate New Yorkers have finally decided to draw a line across the black dirt. They’re fed up with being lumped into a group that they feel completely misrepresents the greater majority of the state of which they are a part.
The media has labeled these factions as “pro-secession” groups. There are more than a dozen that comprise the Divide NYS Caucus, including the Upstate New York Towns Association, Tri-County Tea Party, Americans for Restoring the Constitution, and We the People of New York, among others.
The caucus is united through a firm resolution to divide the state into two regions. Everything north of Westchester and Rockland counties would henceforth become “New Amsterdam” (the name originally given by Dutch settlers before the English renamed it for the Duke of York in 1664). Downstate of this boundary would continue being called “New York.”
While the original plan called for a complete secession into two separate states, it would have been difficult to attain approval from Congress. Later, they proposed the creation of a small government with two autonomous regions inside the state. If this doesn’t work (and it’s likely it won’t…), a previously proposed plan was to secede Upstate to Pennsylvania, but that would also require an approval from Congress.
Reasoning behind the proposed secession is touted with deep-seeded conviction and a disdain that might sour the ears of urban neighbors. Supporters illustrate the diverse population of the state, citing that the “overwhelming majority” consists of small to medium sized communities rooted in rural and suburban climates.
These places are typically steeped with conservative values that have blended moderate liberal ideas over the years to create a unique political platform. Downstate counties that comprise New York City, however, typically embody more liberal policies and values.
For New Amsterdam-ers, the crux of their argument is this:
“It is equally unfair to both Upstate and Downstate residents to share a representative government; the vast differences in lifestyle and aspirations demonstrate that both Downstate and Upstate should have their own autonomous governments so as to more effectively serve their constituents.”
It’s an interesting notion to entertain. To the unbiased eye, these two regions are decidedly different. Even if, to some, it ends up sounding like little more than half-baked, disgruntled, politically ignorant farmer-babble, the movement has picked up steam nonetheless. Rallies held across the state demonstrate real support for the cause, including one that caught media attention recently in the Southern Tier town of Bainbridge.
Grievances extend past lifestyle choices and reach into the troubled waters of policy making. The SAFE Act (which regulates firearms), Cuomo’s ban on fracking, the Common Core, high property taxes, and low sales tax revenue are all purportedly barring the way towards seizing economic opportunities Upstate.
Believe it or not, but it’s not the first time this has happened. The state of Vermont wouldn’t even exist if a certain 1777 dispute over King George III’s New York and New Hampshire territories hadn’t spawned the state from land in New York.
But that was different. Now residents supporting the secession hope to see natural gas drilling that will make them independent on their own. They don’t want to count on the state to help them out.
However, they’ve overlooked outlets of revenue. The Center for Governmental Research in Rochester, NY discovered that Upstate New York benefits from tax revenues sent to Albany from New York City and its wealthy suburbs. Wall Street alone constitutes 19 percent of all state revenue.
In fact, despite its relatively small area per square mile (a little under 4,000 compared to a little under 55,000 for the rest of the state), New York City accounts for almost half of the entire state’s population.
The unfortunate reality is that Upstate New York continues to lose large swathes of its population every year. People can’t take the depressing winters and lack of sunshine, sky-high taxes and isolation.
It turns out even the beauty of nature isn’t enough to satisfy those who stay. A recent study by Business Insider discovered that two out of the five most depressed cities in the country were located in Upstate New York.
Meanwhile, New York City’s population continues to rise. Many facing imminent stagnation Upstate are flocking to the five boroughs in unprecedented droves.
If “New Amsterdam” wants to squander the few precious resources left in the ground, build more unnecessary casinos, buy a bunch of guns, and watch their economy dry up like snakeskin, they can damn well do what they please. That is, if they do actually secede from New York, which, again, seems unlikely.
Feature photo courtesy of Ben Rea.