South wants devolution from US

AS A BAND of conspirators, they were ultra-respectable, just a couple of hundred college lecturers, schoolteachers and small businessmen brought together by a common grievance and a common hope. But their gathering this weekend in the hill country of North Carolina has the potential to change the face of America.

In signing into being the Southern Party, they have embarked on the first organised political challenge to the sway of the North since the surrender of the Confederate general Robert E Lee in 1865.

And while they recognise that their ultimate aim - independence for the South by peaceful, constitutional means - could take generations or never happen at all, they cite the recent success of devolutionary movements elsewhere, including in Britain, as a reason they cannot just be dismissed as a crowd of irresponsible nostalgics.

The scene in the select resort village of Flat Rock was the epitome of the southern idyll: a vast weathered gazebo on the lush lawn of a glistening white southern mansion; the heat of the summer sun fanned by a cooling breeze.

A few of the men wore grey Confederate uniforms, a few of the women wore crinolines, but the new political activists who had paid $50 (pounds 33) each for the privilege of assisting at the birth of "their" party mostly wore the costumes of today - summer suits and dresses.

As befitted a southern gathering, proceedings opened and closed with prayers - "Lord, show us the direction we need to go"- but the climax was the ceremonial presentation of the flags of 14 southern states and the signing of the "Asheville Declaration", named after the nearby city. It was endorsed by volleys of musket fire across the valley and loud "hurrahs".

The leading light of the new party is George Kalas, the son of a Greek immigrant father and a mother of staunch Confederate stock, and just 37.

For him, and the party's three other founding fathers, the time is right for the South to assert itself.

Registered in Houston, Texas, the party is already organising in all 18 southern states, and so much advance interest was shown in this weekend's founding rally that people had to be turned away. To the devoted southerners, their beloved and maligned South is resurgent. Southerners hold many of the most important offices of state. Interest in Confederate history is at record levels, judging by a slew of films, the popularity of visits to battlefield sites and amateur participation in Civil War re- enactments. Last year's anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg inspired more than 18,000 people to wear period costume to fight it all over again.

A large part of the rationale for the new party is economic self-confidence. "The South is becoming strong again. We're becoming a financial giant again, and that's why we're here," Jerry Baxley, the party's vice-chairman, told the assembled throng in his opening speech.

What many see as the moral bankruptcy of the Washington "regime" is another powerful ingredient.

The most compelling reason cited by the party's founders for their timing, though, is what they see as the stunning success of nationalist movements in Canada and Britain. "Thirty years ago they [the political Establishment] were laughing at the Quebecois. Ten years ago they were laughing at the population of Wales and Scotland for advocating their own parliaments. They're not laughing any more," said one enthusiast.

Mr Kalsa said: "We couldn't have done this 10 years ago.There would have been no media interest." And he credited the Internet with "making it a more level playing field" for non-establishment groups.

A new South could be seen as unrealistic, especially in view of the fervent opposition of black Americans to anything that smacks of the traditional Confederacy.

But while the new party's platform builds on the complex of southern sympathies and resentments, it makes a determined effort to strike out the racism.

When Mr Kalas enumerated its guiding principles - for: devolution and moral leadership from politicians; against: abortion, gun controls and federal taxes - his denunciation of racism drew a volume of applause second only to his rejection of the tax system.

"There is no room for those who harbour racial malice towards their fellow southerners," he said. "The politics of race have reached a dead end." The Southern Party, he said, "is an idea that all southerners should be proud to embrace".

There remains, however, a distinct ambiguity, enshrined in the party's careful choice of flag.

The "third" Confederate flag belongs to the late period of the Civil War when black volunteers were taken into Confederate ranks - showing, according to Mr Kalas and the others, that an end to slavery was an accepted precondition for the survival of the Confederacy.

This is not the standard Confederate flag. It is red and white and banishes the blue starred cross to the upper left-hand corner. But the cross is still there.

And adapting the old to sit well with the new is not easy. After the last prayer, a voice rang out: "Hey, Ron! Put `Dixie' on." And a scratchy recording of the song of the Confederacy, largely proscribed at public gatherings for its racist overtones, rang out across the lawns.

At first hesitantly, then taking heart, the Southern Party's initiates began to sing, waving their "third Confederate" flags aloft in time.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Apprentice Telesales & Marketing Opportunities

£10400 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £38,000

£22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...

Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests