California’s influence in the world is renowned. A thing of awe. Silicon Valley continues to inspire and attract the brightest of minds, the most risk-tolerant investors. Hollywood movies and celebrities spread their messages, both good and bad, to palm-sized screens in tiny snippets and full-length features. Political movements have started on the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley, carried on a wave of idealistic fervor.
Has the trademark California swagger turned into intolerant bullying?
Perhaps Californians have gone too far wielding their power over the rest of America.
California’s legacy as the most powerful state came about in the 19th century when politicians lusted after its gold, and the power it could bring. Courted by both the North and the South, it eventually joined the Union cause, and its northern gold mines funded the Civil War effort. The infamous San Francisco Robber Barons leveraged their political clout to help fund their preferred northern route of the transcontinental railroad, bringing the traffic and trade to them, and leaving the southern half of the state to languish for decades longer.
Fast forward through the influence of the movies and television, the automobile culture, the growth of trade unions, the development of the transistor and electronics, free speech protections, environmental regulations, organic food, gay marriage. Trend-setting and innovative, yes. Yet the strength and scope of these movements grew partly because of the sheer geographic size and ever-growing population, dominating the rest of America’s elected officials.
As a long-time transplant, I sometimes wonder how I would feel if I didn’t live in California. How much would I resent the constant change, the myopia of the technologists, the “holier-than-thou” attitude of so many living in this weather paradise?
At some point, California visionaries and moneymakers need to have patience, and wait for the rest of the world to catch a breath and learn how to adapt.
At some point, they need to keep their vision balanced with the perspective of others sharing the same Constitution, the same set of federal laws, the same political process to accomplish goals.
Or, at some point, they may find themselves labelled bullies, not leaders, the few rich and powerful so out of step with the rest of us that their influence will be a historical footnote…or a storyteller’s dream.
Author Ann Bridges writes untold stories of Northern California. Just released, Kit’s Mine: A Daring California Novel, explores the fight of the Gold Rush losers for justice and respect.