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PNWER: Corporate Colony or Regional Autonomy?

In this analytical essay, Washington state anti-capitalist activist Jason Adams takes on the "new regionalism" of free-market capitalism, focusing on the Cascadia region and the recent PNWER protests.
In this analytical essay, Washington state anti-capitalist activist Jason Adams takes on the "new regionalism" of free-market capitalism, focusing on the Cascadia region and the recent PNWER protests.

A Corporate Colony or a Regional Autonomy?
PNWER Protests in B.C. Mark a New Turn in "Anti-Globalization" Targets

By Jason Adams

The protests against the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) that occurred Saturday, July 28, were not the failure that some (whose motives are far from clear) have declared - they were the visible, successful culmination of months of hard work by dozens of grassroots activists throughout the Northwest U.S. and Western Canada. The activists opposed the group because PNWER has been given statutory authority by both the U.S. and Canada and now consists of the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Alaska; as well as the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta - all without the consent of their respective citizens. They oppose the fact that as an organization PNWER seeks to eliminate barriers to free trade in the Cascadia region, and to "level the regional playing field" bringing environmental, labor, and other standards down to the lowest common denominator in order to maximize profit for the corporate colonialists of the region.

The goals of the activists, on the other hand, had been to raise awareness of PNWER's existence throughout the region, to build stronger regional solidarity and self-determination, to educate people on the relationship between regionalization and globalization, and to shut down PNWER's meeting in favor of a different vision for the future of our region. All of this was accomplished well, aside from the last due to what has become the predictable repression of the police.
But something was certainly different here - PNWER is a far more "local" organization than other targets of protest by the anti-capitalist movement. Many may wonder, where did this begin? Back in March I had been studying James H. Mittleman's book The Globalization Syndrome, which explains the origins, structure and function of many of the macro-regionally organized free trade organizations around the world including ASEAN, NAFTA, FTAA, EU and others. Chapters 6- 8 of Mittleman's book showed how the globalization of free-market capitalism is actually primarily facilitated by regional rather than "global" entities per se; this being a neccesity to integrate the cooperation of global, macroregional, subregional, and microregional entities in order to maximize profits. Mittleman specifically points out the importance of subregional economic zones (SREZs) which "transcened political boundaries but do not involve entire national economies" and "intersect only the border areas of the national economies" to this schematics of the new colonialism.

All of this led me to wonder - if globalization works through the growth and strengthening of NAFTA, FTAA, the various SREZs (such as PNWER) and the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) from above, then what is the counter-movement that comes from below to oppose it? Is it one that calls for one, unitary, homogenous, lock-step type of anticapitalist world organized at a global level, i.e., higher than the regional level? Or is the counter-movement also based on a type of regionalism, but in the opposite way, embracing ethnic, cultural, and regional multiplicity and self-determination in tandem with a decentralized, bottom-up, democratic, anti-capitalism?

Out of curiosity, I went searching for some background materials, beginning with the region in which I live, and was quickly discovered dozens of "Cascadia" websites demanding greater regional autonomy and self-determination. Having known about books such as Ecotopia, the bioregional movements of the 1970's, and the "Cascadia Free State" direct actions of recent years, I wasn't surprised by the existence of these. But I was surprised that my search for a Cascadian top-down SREZ as well as bottom up regional autonomy organizations had also landed me on the extensive website of this region's SREZ.

My suspicions which grew out of Mittleman's book had been confirmed; I was especially surprised to find out that it even had actual statutory power, though neither I nor anyone I knew had ever heard about despite it's almost10 years of existence. As I entered the PNWER website, I was instantly struck by the group's logo outline of the "economic region" in which we live. There is no other way to say it; the immediate sense that one gets while navigating the site is that a new governmental entity is being born in PNWER.

Indeed, according to PNWER head Matt Morrison, the organization was originally based on the structure of the European Union. And APEC has both supported and called for the strengthening and further development of SREZs in their "macroregion" induding the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT), the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA): the South China/Macau/Hong Kong growth triangle (SCMHK-GT) and the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER).
In a report entitled "APEC Means Business: Building Prosperity for our Community" ( http://www.apecsec.org.sg/virtualib/history/abacrpt/chap1.html) the motives of this support are made clear in their statement that "subregional growth areas have been established to maximize cross-border movements of goods, services, investment and human resources, and to exploit comparative advantages of geographical areas divided by political boundaries" Of course this "comparative advantage" refers to the advantage a region has in terms of resources that can be exploited by profiteers - whether this means the natural, human, or technological. In other words, the global elites are once again chopping up the world into "economic regions" in order to facilitate the new corporate colonialism every region in the world is now experiencing, in a way very similar as they did in the classical colonialism of the recent past.

This and other curious facts, such as the fashioning of a "Cascadia flag" by PNWER and the Cascadia Project has resulted in dozens of Canadian news articles accusing the SREZ of building a basis for secessionist sentiment in the West, drawing comparisons to Quebec. While that may seem far fetched, there is some truth there. For instance, certain state entities such as the Clean Washington Center (CWC) have already been transferred away from the democratic control of the citizens of the U.S. state of Washington to the unelected control of PNWER. This begs several questions. Are we who live in the region now considered citizens of PNWER?. What else will follow the CWC? How far will PNWER go in this project? Is this the beginings of a new nation? Morrison says the group has only "toyed" with the idea of working towards becoming an independent nation and has never seriously considered it, despite the rumors generated by the Canadian press.

Amazed, and eager to get the information out, I posted a summary of my findings from the PNWER website, Mittleman's book, and other Cascadia autonomy sites on the Seattle, Portland, Calgary and Vancouver Indymedia Center (IMC) websites. I included the date and location of the next PNWER meeting, a link to the PNWER website and a brief suggestion that maybe this would be a good thing to organize a protest around. At the same time, I also started an email list around the subject of organizing for greater self determination for the Cascadia region and all of it's peoples; the list quickly grew to around 40 active participants ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cascadiaconfederacy). But as for PNWER itself I heard nothing back from anyone for months, until mid-May when several activists from Vancouver emailed me saying that they had formed a collective to organize a protest at Whistler during the meeting in late July.

From that point on, I heard much from Vancouver activists and was constantly amazed at how quickly they pulled together a top-notch website, a convergence space, online PDF flyers and posters, and other promotional material. Word spread around the region on email lists, websites, by flyer, and word of mouth yet Vancouver by far dominated most of the mobilizing and organizing for the demonstrations. It seemed before the event occurred that it would go off quite well, without many problems.

But as the date drew nearer, strange things began to occur. In the city's core, flyers were anonymously posted on dozens of street corners saying that the PNWER protests had been cancelled. On the Vancouver, Calgary, Seattle and Portland IMC sites, over 50 separate postings (all containing a suspiciously similar writing style) claimed the protests had been cancelled, that the buses to take people up had been cancelled and that training sessions had been cancelled when they clearly had not been. On the sites, prominent activists in the Vancouver community were impersonated and "made" to say things they would never say. The uniformity and consistency of the false messages suggest that probably one individual was being paid to use the IMC sites to spread lies in order to ruin the protests in whatever way possible.
Luckily, those who posted such lies weren't usually sly enough propagandists to convince most people of their authenticity and thus did not succeed in scaring too many people away. This became clearly evident when on Saturday, July 28 over 200 people from around the Northwest U.S. and Western Canada finally converged on Whistler to protest the closed-door meetings of PNWER. The crowd was pretty diverse, encompassing a broad range of people from the region including union workers, indigenous people, students, and youth. Local indigenous people fighting the building of a ski resort on their land gave moving speeches in opposition drawing the thunderous support of the crowd. At one point, the crowd engaged in mass simultaneous civil disobedience to a bourgeois city ordinance banning "swearing" by raising middle fingers and shouting in unison "FUCK PNWER!" The beginning of an organized opposition to SREZ-style regional corporate colonialism had been inaugurated.
Shortly after this, several people were suddenly arrested for no apparent reason other than their dress, in this sea of elitist conformity. The crowd became angry and many people began to call for a mass march to the Whistler police station to support those who were arrested. But police moved in, forming a line to block the crowd from marching in the streets. Confrontations ensued and more were arrested, and then police began to back off. At this point the crowd made good on it's promise to take the streets of the elite ski-resort town and filed onto the main street leading towards the police station.

At the same time, hundreds of wealthy tourists who had been milling about in the corporate faux-village atmosphere began to fill up the bridge that went above the street the protestors had occupied. Giddy, wealthy lips and ears whispered to each other, laughing out loud at the sight of the unwashed masses taking over the streets in protest. One overly-privileged blonde kid in a GAP shirt leaned over the bridge and spit on the protestors as they marched by noisily below, with no opposition from anyone in sight. At another point, yuppies lobbed eggs at the protestors and shouted at them to "get a job."

The ironic clashing of the lifestyles of the region's overly-privileged and the angry protest of some of those who lived lives of exploitation as a result was definately the most memorable aspect of the day. After marching to the next corner, police surrounded the crowd on all sides, and over the course of an hour forced them off the road and into the parking lot where many of them had parked earlier. During this process of neutralization, in which police used dogs, pepper spray, helicopters, visible handguns, and nearly a dozen false arrests, the leisure class resting in Whistler continued on unimpeded in their consumption and privilege. Over the next hour, a sound system was set up, and the microphone was passed around to people from around the region who talked to each other about the meaning of the protest and where to go from here. Shortly afterwards, most people filed into the yellow school busses for the trip back home, the march to the police station subverted.

But at the same time, though the march itself was repressed, something new was definitely demonstrated at Whistler. That the "anti-globalization" movement is not just organized to fight "global" capitalism, but actually to fight all forms of capitalism; global, regional, local, big, medium, and small. This is a movement that actively opposes the subjugation of any individual, group, or region to the domination of any other individual, group or region. In the confrontation at Whistler, veterans of North American battles against mammoth organizations such as NAFTA, APEC, WTO, and FTAA affirmed their commitment to fight not only the corporate colonization of the far off hyper-exploited regions of the world, but also of the region in which we live, that of Cascadia as well. And since that bridge had already been crossed by those whose only goal is profit-making nearly a decade ago, it was vital that those fighting from below cross that bridge as well.

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