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If at first you don't secede... - Curt Yeomans

People can be so ingenious on occasion.

Picture it. April 23, 1982.

The leaders of Key West, Fla., are fed up with U.S. Customs officials conducting vehicle checks on U.S. Highway 1, on the mainland, at the entrance to the Florida Keys.

The vehicle checks were designed to weed out drug smugglers, and people who were attempting to smuggle other people on to the mainland. The result was long lines of traffic.

Tourism was drying up in Key West, which is at the far end of the Keys from mainland Florida. Key West's leaders pleaded for help. They pleaded for the end of the vehicle checks. No one was listening to them, though.

Something had to be done, and leaders of Key West decided it was time to do something bold.

It was time for Key West independence.

It was time to declare war on the mean U.S. government.

It was time for the dawn of... The Conch Republic.

Next week will mark the 26th anniversary of the founding of The Conch Republic. The story of the republic's brief existence involves a proclamation, stale bread, a man in a U.S. Naval uniform, a one-minute war, and a surrender.

Key West's leaders never wanted to break away from the U.S. on a permanent basis. They just wanted to embarrass the federal government into submission. They figured a temporary secession and a very brief war would bring national attention to the island's plight, and shame the Feds into giving up on the vehicle checks.

The mayor of Key West read a proclamation declaring the island's independence at noon on April 23, a day after attempts to stop the vehicle checks had failed in a federal court in Miami, according to conchrepublic.com. The mayor immediately elevated himself to the position of "prime minister."

Officially, the Conch Republic was made up of all of the Florida Keys, but Key West was the heart of the new "nation."

The civil war began when the "prime minister" broke a loaf of stale Cuban bread on the head of a man dressed up in a naval uniform. Members of the new government then began to use stale bread to beat federal agents who showed at the secession announcement.

All that broken stale bread, and no records of any wine being available.

One minute later, the Conch Republic's leader turned to the commander of the naval base in Key West and surrendered, but not before demanding "$1 billion in foreign aid and war relief to rebuild our nation after the long federal siege," according to conchrepublic.com.

I haven't been able to find out if they ever got the money, but the vehicle checks stopped shortly thereafter.

I'm pretty sure it goes down as the shortest war in history, though.

The lesson we can learn from the Conch Republic is whenever the government fails us, we can always shame it into submission. The conchs felt ignored by the higher levels of government, so they went to extremes to force the federal government's hand.

A simple press conference was one option the leaders of Key West could have taken, but press conferences have become so routine that they have lost their effectiveness.

Granted, the conch rebellion was done in a mocking nature, but the Feds got the point.

Sometimes, we don't need to attack the government to get our way. We just need to find a creative way to highlight the failings of those who swore to protect us.

It's often those who think outside the box who are the most effective.

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247 or via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.