MEMBERS ONLY: The California Resistance

by Chez Pazienza

In August of 2001, I abandoned Los Angeles. I had no choice but to give up the city and everything in it because the place was literally killing me. I’d moved there a year earlier with my new wife because she’d accepted a job with NBC Newschannel — NBC’s affiliate feed service — but as our marriage already seemed to be falling apart I found myself turning more and more to drugs for comfort. That’s of course putting it mildly: The truth was that I had developed a heroin habit that was taking somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 a day out of my pocket. So, I left. I had already checked into a detox facility that summer, but while there I realized that the minute I got out I’d just get right back on the horse, so I knew the only hope was to blow the hatch and jettison everything — at least temporarily. My marriage was over anyway, so I flew away to rehab in Miami. And when that ended — when there was nothing left in my to hold onto anymore — I was, through an ironic twist of fate, given a second chance beginning on September 11th, 2001. I moved to New York City. I covered 9/11 for NBC, living in a hotel for five months. I rebuilt my life in the shadow of overwhelming death. I eventually wrote a book about the whole experience.

While I was in New York, as the world felt as if it was collapsing in on itself, I spent a good amount of time mocking Los Angeles and California. It was unfair, since it’s not like the city and state themselves had damaged me; I’d done that all by myself. But given how badly New York and Washington, DC were hurting, and how far removed from the chaos California was, there was something enraging about its ability to pretend nothing was wrong. When I visited L.A. in December of that year, leaving a 32-degree New York City sky filled with leaden gray clouds for the crystal clear blue of 75-degree Southern California, the contrast couldn’t have been sharper. L.A. had the luxury of not giving a shit. Life there felt as if it had gone on untarnished, as if 9/11 had never happened. Maybe anywhere but the 24/7 tragedy of New York would have felt alien to me, but something specifically about California — a place that prides itself on its ability to just chill and let everything roll off its back — seemed especially offensive. I had a hatred for the place, based on that: the state of California’s indomitable sense of serene detachment from the ugliness of life.

New York City was the real world, I thought. California was endless bullshit.

That was a long time ago, however.

Now, 15 years later, the United States is dealing with another emergency, this one a nightmare of our own creation. In January of next year, a man wholly unfit to lead anything or anyone will become the leader of our country and the most powerful person in the world (other than Vladimir Putin, to whom he’ll be a puppet). A malignant narcissist and serial liar, a sociopathic monster, a vengeful bully and the personification of vulgarity, a sexist and racist and xenophobic threat to the entire world will soon take the reins of the United States of America and represent us on the world stage. It matters not one bit that so many in the areas between the east and west coasts voted for this reality show buffoon. All that matters is that by doing so, they’ve put our entire nation in existential jeopardy. It’s difficult to fathom the wisest way to take a governmental stand against this new regime — and that word is fitting — but something has to be done. 

And that’s where California comes in.

In response to the election of Donald Trump, the state of California immediately issued a statement declaring its intent to resist any attempts to repeal the advances made over the past several years with regard to civil rights and general justice. “Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land,” the joint statement from California’s legislative leaders begins, “because yesterday Americans expressed their views on a pluralistic and democratic society that are clearly inconsistent with the values of the people of California.” The unprecedented declaration goes on to insist that Trump won’t be allowed to roll back progress within the state, with California even going so far as to use its heft as the sixth largest economy in the world to both fight the incoming Trump administration and fend for itself should it risk federal funding. While obviously not everyone in the state voted for Trump, California went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton and the state’s governing body considers that a point of pride, as does it consider its own willingness to resist the Trump era. “We have never been more proud to be Californians,” says the statement.

Going even further, California’s popular governor, Jerry Brown — a liberal legend — has said specifically that he won’t allow the Trump administration to force it to back down on its efforts to fight man-made climate change. Trump doesn’t believe climate change is a real thing, despite the overwhelming consensus of scientists, and God knows he has the backing of the paleolithic Republican party and conservative movement on that. Never mind that this is the future of the entire planet we’re talking about; best to just figure Jesus would never let all his dad’s people die off in the name of big business. Brown says that unifying the country is important — a fool’s errand at this point — but that California won’t sacrifice its values in the name of that goal, nor will it allow Trump to change any part of the spirit that makes the state what it is. Sure, there’s a move in California to secede from the union, which is silly because it’s better to stay and fight, but overall the defiance is something to be incredibly proud of and grateful for. 

That’s exactly the thing: It’s somewhat shocking to say, but living in California — and specifically Los Angeles, which overwhelmingly voted to stop Trump — now feels to me like a political statement. I’m back there again. I moved back five years ago and have found it to be a wondrous place, certainly one free of the demons I wrestled with last time around. Maybe I’m in a better head-space, but I’m glad I can call the place home now. And I’m eminently grateful to call the place home, because of all states, cool, laid-back California is in some ways the center of the resistance to Donald Trump. We’re located on the other side of the country from him and his funhouse version of Washington, DC. We’re the furthest removed in terms of attitude and values. We’re a place where you can still feel as free from oppression as is possible in this horrifying new America. We still honor the spirit that those who pioneered our state had: that you come to California to be who you want to be. And you can be whatever you want. 

It depresses me to think that Trump rose out of the glory that is New York City, in some ways tarnishing that town by making it an inescapable part of Trump’s ridiculous mythos. True, the city has been one of the strongest to fight back against him, maybe self-aware of its connection to him, but it’s still depressing to imagine that a place as cosmopolitan as New York gave the world such an oppressive monster. California, meanwhile, has no connection to Trump, maybe because at his core he represents something garish and vulgar that the Golden State has typically shunned. He feels like a phenomenon so many in our state just can’t process, even if we are the entertainment capital of the country. So now our isolationism from the “real world” doesn’t so much feel like a cop-out. It feels necessary. It’s feels like a sanctuary. It feels like a reprieve from Trump’s America. California now feels like its own America — a place that’s willing to take an official stand for what America really means and stands for. That’s an incredible thing. 

So, yeah, like the members of my state’s government, I’m proud to call California home. Turns out it has a fighting spirit nobody could’ve expected. And the country is going to need as much of that as it can get for the next four years.


photo credit: Thomas Hawk Oakland 2010 via photopin (license)