portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts oregon & cascadia

actions & protests | community building | imperialism & war

Time to Revive Cascadia

That red/blue map of American politics invites new borders. Remember 'Ecotopia?'
Time to Revive Cascadia

That red/blue map of American politics invites new borders. Remember 'Ecotopia?'

Mon., Mar. 21, 2005

By Christopher Key


During my recent interview with CTV talk show host Vicki Gabereau, I mentioned the concept of Cascadia. Gabereau asked me to explain even though the interview was about my desire to move to Canada, a country I see as more compatible with my own political and social philosophy.

I'm not sure who originated the concept of Cascadia, although I suspect it has its basis in the Ecotopia books by Ernest Callenbach. If you haven't read these seminal works by the American visionary, it's worth tracking them down. Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging (Banyan Tree, Berkeley, CA) are not only full of revolutionary ideas, but cracking good reads, as well.

Cascadia is the name given to the region stretching from Northern California to British Columbia. It is a region that is united by geography, economy, social and political attitudes that transcend the artificial borders that were drawn without regard to such things a couple of centuries ago.

As one who has lived in both America and Canada, I find the borders as drawn to be both anachronistic and irrational. Consider the 49th parallel that divides our nations. Despite protestations of minor officials, the politicians of the day insisted on the arbitrary boundary. Thus, we are saddled with the geographical anomaly of Point Roberts that wreaks immense economic hardships on residents of both sides of the border. It has, of course, made Point Roberts unique and there are some arguments in favor of that.

The point I made to Ms. Gabereau is that residents of Cascadia have far more in common with each other than we have with our fellow countrymen living on the East Coast, be they in New York or Toronto. I feel much more at home in British Columbia than I do anywhere on the East Coast of America or Canada.

Child of Cascadia

I was born in San Francisco and, as fate would have it, ended up on the East Coast thanks to having been born into a military family. I grew up in Florida and hated every minute of it. I went to college in North Carolina and liked that even less. I spent eight interminable years working there before I realized that I just didn't fit in. I was a child of Cascadia, even though I didn't know it then. I just knew I yearned for the cool, rainy climate, the soaring mountains and the forest solitudes that no longer exist on the East Coast. Not to mention the less frantic approach to life.

In the early 1970s, I moved back here and have never regretted it. Since then, I have lived in Northern California, Washington, Alaska and British Columbia. I have come to know and love this region as perhaps only a native son can. Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again and it is the only place that you will be comfortable.

I suspect there are others like me who left Cascadia for one reason or another and who were either inexorably drawn back or who have spent many years feeling like they were out of place, out of time.

Dorothy, heroine of The Wizard of Oz, felt the same thing. Despite the wonders of Oz, she never felt comfortable until she was back in Kansas again. I have been in Kansas and can no more imagine living there than I can living on Mars. But that was home for Dorothy just as Cascadia is home for me.

The borders drawn a couple of hundred years ago make no sense today. They do not reflect the economic, political and social realities of the 21st century. If we were a rational people, we would redraw them. But that would require change and change is a fearful thing.

Adapt to survive

My fellow Americans exemplify this fear. Faced with incontrovertible evidence that their way of life is not only endangering the planet, but threatening their own well being, they hide their heads in the sand. They oppose the eminently sensible Kyoto Accords, support wars of aggression against paper tigers, and invest in corporate juggernauts that trample the rights of third world nations. This is not rational behavior. This is, indeed, self destructive.

Charles Darwin, that Victorian theologian, put it this way: "It is not the strongest, nor the most intelligent who will survive. It is those who are most adaptable to change."

I would suggest that it is time to change the boundaries that divide us and seek boundaries that unite us. Idealistic? Yes. Unrealistic? Only if we lack the will and the courage to do what needs to be done. The world as we know it is obviously broken. So let's fix it.

Not to suggest for a moment that this idealist has the answers about how to attack those monumental windmills. But I do have some ideas about where to start. Let's begin with redrawing our borders to reflect reality. It is obvious that giant federations such as the United States, Canada, and Russia cannot possibly govern their diverse populations efficiently. There are too many conflicting ideals and interests. Any government that seeks to address them all will inevitably fail.

Common interests

Perhaps a commonwealth of nation states along the lines of the ancient Grecian city states is more likely to succeed. The nation state of Cascadia is a starting place. Take Northern California, excluding the residence of The Governator. Add Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and the panhandle of Southeast Alaska. Here is a nation state with common interests. Cascadia has a resource based economy that is having to transition to a more sustainable model. Our national governments, based as they are in the East, are focused on maximizing the bottom line.

Smaller national entities lend themselves more easily to Callenbach's ideal of a stable state economy. Our present carcinogenic paradigm of unlimited growth is so blatantly irrational that it beggars the imagination how so many people can accept it. There is more to life than the stock exchange and nowhere is that belief more evident than in Cascadia.

We are united in a love of the land that transcends short term economic interests. British Columbia's motto is Super Natural. If you want to keep it that way, don't expect Ottawa to cooperate. No more than I expect Washington, DC, to keep Washington The Evergreen State.

Governments were established where settlement began in the New World. At the time, no one could have imagined that the West Coasts would become the thriving populations that they are today. So do we accept the realities of the 18th century or do we accept the realities of the 21st century?

Throw in Siberia?

Imagine, if you will, a nation state comprised of those northern people who find themselves so marginalized in our current society. The natives of northern Alaska, Yukon, Nunavut, Greenland, Northern Scandinavia and Siberia. They are united in their common ancestry, their reliance upon the environment and their rejection of the values we Southerners espouse.

I've already described Cascadia, but what about New England? Those fiercely independent Yankees have almost nothing in common with the Americans of the South, so enamored of the glories of their slaveholding past. Utah is the stronghold of the Mormons, originally committed to the nation of Deseret. Why not let them have their nation? It seems to me that it would decrease friction, in the long run.

Let people of common interest join together. They will then have to work out their differences with the world as a whole in order to insure their own survival. Just like the existing nations do today, but without the fiction that they represent often conflicting internal interests.

It is interesting to note that many of the people in America who decry my desire to move to Canada are also espousing the move to split Washington into two states. One, to the west of the Cascades, and one to the east. One wants to represent the liberal, urban west. One wants to represent the rural, agricultural east. They want to have a choice, but brand me a traitor, or worse, for the choice that I have made.

Cascadia is a nation of common interests whose boundaries supersede the artificial lines that a bunch of 18th century politicians drew. I know that the readers of The Tyee are good at thinking, pardon the cliché, outside the box. My purpose in this essay is not to proselytize my own ideas, but to engender a discussion of concepts like Cascadia and beyond. Have at it, Tyee readers.

Christopher Key is a writer in Bellingham who occasionally contributes to The Tyee while planning his move to British Columbia.

Good Boundaries Make Good Neighbors 21.Mar.2005 20:58

Idaho Under Military Occupation!

You really are going to include Eastern Washington and most of Idaho in Cascadia?

Er - aren't they going to object?

re: Idaho Under Military Occupation! 21.Mar.2005 22:55

a cascadian

Idaho Under Military Occupation!

Well actually the people of Eastern Washington and even Idaho as well as all of us are seduced by these media hype of red/blue politics. The reality is that prior to the propaganda campaign which can be traced back to the "Reagan Revolution" (and mostlikely father back). It has been media hype and I think out of region reporters looking for news by claiming there was a divide. And now there is an illusion of division. There was a time that most of the region projected a unity (sure there was political division, but it was never so divissive by party lines). We, Cascadians need to find those commonalities again and we must educate the people that even local media has created this illusion of west versus east and urban versus rural and even north versus south. This was a game of divide and conquest. Just as much as it has been a game of deleting common history by whitewashing it with a pro-Amerikan narrative and pro-corporation. To stop this divide and conquer we Cascadians need to deconstruct, recover and restore the history of the region. And yes that history will reveal racism, sexism and lots of other forms of chauvanism which as Cascadians we must come to terms with and make that effort to honour our ghosts and ancestors.

Remember the Orwellian dictum:

Who Controls the Past Controls the Future. Who Controls the Present Controls the Past.

Your ad hominem slam is unwelcome and unproductive 21.Mar.2005 22:57

Binyamin freebinyamin@hotmail.com

Kat, I feel that the tone of your attack is also unbecoming of someone who claims to be progressive by working on the Cascadian issue. However, your comment is, I believe, an indirect example of the problem that my stance is in response to. Once more I'll try to respectfully summarize. Since the terms "nation," "nation-state," and "national" appear nearly a dozen times in the original post, it seems only appropriate, in my opinion, that we have some discussion on the topic of nationalism.

Let me first explicitly state that this criticism is directed at a certain tendency that I believe to be counter-liberation that I've seen and heard on occasion. It is entirely possible that this tendency doesn't even exist beyond those circles, in which case the purpose of my criticism is to keep it that way. My criticism is not straw man - it is preventive. It is not directed the attendees of certain meetings, except insofar as they might exhibit this tendency. No persons should think that my criticism is directed at them specifically. Moreover, I am interested in the truth (even though I can only speak it as I see it, not "objectively"), not hating. Also, I am very much PRO-Cascadia, I just have a perhaps different approach to its further creation. Finally, I apologize if the following comes off as arrogant or is too theoretical. That said, here goes!

Just because someone puts the umbrella of a good cause over themselves doesn't mean they are really contributing to liberation; more to the point, I mean that abstractions such as "nationality" mean nothing unless they are founded on a culture of genuine participation and freedom - a culture continually built by our direct, concrete, day-to-day relationships with each other and the environment.

Unless and until this a priori, non-symbolic, momentum consciously exists on a large scale in society, I feel it's pragmatically unwise, and perhaps even vanguardist, to pursue an explicitly secessionist agenda. Better to expand the BORDERLESS culture of mental and material freedom, which can spontaneously give rise to independence when the time is right. And of course, if it were up to us, the "right time" is already here and has been for a long while. But it isn't just up to us, it's up to everyone who lives here - and some of them have told me in no uncertain terms that they do not identify with the cities. Recall that measure 36, "One Man, One Woman," passed in Oregon.

This is NOT to say that country residents wouldn't benefit from autonomy or independence. On the contrary. I am not writing rural folks off as "rednecks" as many progressives/leftists/ urbanites smugly do. What I am saying is that we need to evolve a new culture of liberation with them, build common perspectives and common projects that solve the real economic problems they face before we can talk about an as-yet-nonexistent "Cascadian nation." I believe, as you probably do, that urban and rural interests (like clean water, adequete food, self-determination, etc) are fundamentally the same. The thing is, we need to make sure we don't put the cart before the horse. I'll elaborate:

The words "extreme" and "radical" have different, though at times overlapping, meanings in my usage. The first term means views and tactics that only a small minority accepts consciously. The latter means views and tactics that actually pertain to the roots of our society. Thus, a truly democratic revolution would by definition be entirely radical - but no longer extremist. My concern is that is by making the perhaps radical but nonetheless "extremist" aspects of revolution central to our language and practice (specifically, the overt goal of "secession from the union"), we undermine the other radical aspects. Namely, these other aspects are changes in concrete economics and culture that can occur NOW and not simply after we "declare independence." Such a misemphasis would be unfortunate, since the latter radical, non-extremist aspects are those developments NECESSARY to the "final" goal of liberation! To sum up this tangent: we need to begin radical work today, and the extent to which the currently "extremist" aspects cease to be considered extreme by average folks will be the measure of our success.

In other words, overt secession/explicit independence is a side effect of revolution. It is not at all a necessary incubator of revolution. Indeed, if world history is any guide, revolutionary struggle when wrapped within nationalist movements often gets sidelined if not deliberately sabotaged. As Ashanti Alston (former Black Panther and anarchist) observed, nationalist movements usually end up substituting a new "native" set of rulers in the place of the colonizers (abetted, of course, by the same colonizing power).

Ultimately, my concern is that by focusing on "official," far-off, petty, and abstract aspects of liberation, like "what our flag should look like" or "what should our exact boundaries be" or "what should our new entity be called," we are overlooking the direct, concrete society we could be building on the local level of our communities. Let me be clear here: it ISN"T that anything is wrong with such abstract speculation. I do it myself. What matters is that without a real, ongoing process of creating liberating relationships and dissolving our oppressive relationships, then fanciful speculation will REMAIN mere speculation. And if that happens, then it is possible that the only red flag which will fly over rural Cascadia is one that includes a white disk and swastika.

I again urge you to remember that this criticism is not directed against any specific people or groups, but rather against a trend that I have observed in some exchanges on the subject of Cascadia, EVEN IF the majority of Cascadian activists/sympathizers don't exhibit it. Since the above criticism is essentially the identification of a problem, the more obsolete or "unnecessary" it is, the better.

"The citizen of even a dictatorship can be free, on one condition: that she fights the dictatorship." - Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine

Happy equinox, - Binyamin

Let's solve this. 21.Mar.2005 23:11


Kat, because a significant portion of our dispute might come down to semantics, could define "nation" as you use/understand it? Thanks, -B

Binyamin 21.Mar.2005 23:24


Progressive?? I hate that new label! How many of us Cascadians have heard its related version "Progress" in the past in relationship to subdivisions and suburban sprawl. I know its the new revival of the old "Progressive movement" that launched massive public works programs that damed the Columbia and every other river. Binyamin you again do not understand Cascadians if you this it is nationalism and every time you post that same message in any Cascadian post you do not read other people's dislike of the idea of nationalism.

right, 22.Mar.2005 02:37

sticking with "America" will reduce nationalism (?)

Destroying nationalism is a separate problem.

It's hard to think of any group in history that was more nationalistic than the Republican Party of the U.S. is now. Separating from the madness dominating the debate Back East certainly couldn't make anything worse.

Biny 22.Mar.2005 04:56


I hope you know that a nation is not the same as nationalism, Nation is from the Latin "natio" meaning birthplace. A nation has changed over the centuries, but when we talk of a nation in the modern era its generally agreed as a people who share a commonality of either language, ethnicity or shared historical experiences. A nation is determined by a people claiming a commonality as opposed to ethnicity which is often a group label imposed on a people by other people. Nationalism is the group identity the emerged out of the Enlightenment and Industrial Age. Nationalism often seeks exclusion of diversity. A trademark of most nationalistic movements is an increase of stratification of the gender roles with the portrayal of the masculine gender image as warlike, militatant and "macho" where as the feminine gender tends to be increasingly objectified. Those that nationalist project as enemies of the nation often are shown as barbarous and effeminant or breakers of civilized behavior. Nationalism often seeks territory and exclusion from other nations of space.

So by remaining in Amerika I guess we do not get tempted to be nationalistic?

I would recommend reading the National Project  http://www.nationalismproject.org/what.htm


"The Trillium is found throughout wooded areas of the Northwest..." 22.Mar.2005 13:36


In no way am I saying that we should continue to take orders from Pennsylvania Ave or Wall Street, one reason being, of course, that they are about nationalism and imperialism. What I am trying to communicate is that I feel we are emphasizing the wrong aspect of Cascadia.

Hypothetically, I could identify with the "American Nation," or I could identify with a "Cascadian Nation," or with another or multiple other nations, or no nation at all. But none of this really has any bearing on whether or not I am free or whether I am helping others get free - because freedom is not a result of distinguishing between membership in this nation or that nation. It is the result of distinguishing between oppression and liberation.

That's what Cascadia means to me, and to a lot of other people. It's about a "liberation-generating" culture or community, rather than our current atrocity-generating one. Let me say it the simplest way that I can think of: this thing called Cascadia is as much non-national and trans-national as it is national. So let's simply shift the emphasis to the real issue.... ie, not shifting national identity to get free, but getting free REGARDLESS of national identity.

Hugs, Binyamin


"Like most serious students, I do not regard the 'nation' as a primary nor as an unchanging social entity. It belongs exclusively to a particular, and historically recent, period. It is a social entity only insofar as it relates to a certain kind of modern territorial state, the 'nation-state', and it is pointless to discuss nation and nationality except insofar as both relate to it. Moreover, with Gellner I would stress the element of artifact, invention and social engineering which enters into the making of nations. 'Nations as a natural, God-given way of classifying men, as an inherent ... political destiny, are a myth; nationalism, which sometimes takes preexisting cultures and turns them into nations, sometimes invents them, and often obliterates preexisting cultures: that is a reality.' In short, for the purposes of analysis nationalism comes before nations. Nations do not make states and nationalisms but the other way round. "

- Eric Hobsbawm, quoted on the Nationalism Project website

so Binyamin 22.Mar.2005 15:44


so Binyamin I do not see any Cascadians spouting off about Cascadian nationalism. Yes there has been flags and symbols, but the people I have met are all focused on the oppression of American fascism, consumerism and globalization or are devoted to biodiversity. So out of curiousity where are those chauvanistic Cascadians that you seem to fear?

I dunno about the rest of you but... 22.Mar.2005 16:41

this Binyamin guy...

...is making serious sense about some of what our more immediate concerns should be, as Cascadians that seek liberation and autonomy. What our flag should look like or what our solid borders ought to be are pretty irrelevant right now if we haven't made an agenda yet of what our real work is at this time, the present. So much needs to be done before talk of our symbolism or national character can have any value beyond its romanticism.

Let's focus on stuff we can actually do to make Cascadia truly ours. Let's do things, let's stage events, actions, and initiatives which point to the irrefutable truth that we Cascadians will lose everything that's dear to us if we don't free our land and its resources from all aspects of government and corporate control.

It's not all darkness and impending doom either, this message. There's plenty of positive and empowering aspects to this as well, to the work we must do, most of which deals with ppl having an effective say in the determinination of their affairs. If we can all see what's at stake in this fight, we'll soon enough be aware of what there is to celebrate with one another too.

[end transmission]

this Binyamin guy... aka Binyamin? 22.Mar.2005 17:09


listen sweety,

Every Cascadians I know or read their posts talk of the institutional oppression that is endemic of all the structures that we have inherited whether that is consumerism, patriarchy, human-centred worldviews, nationalism, sexism, racism, prolatariatism, elitism, socialism, capitalism and all the other chauvanism that we hide our low self esteem in.

Why I start this thing about Biny is that "he" always posts the same crap that Cascadians are nationalists with this silly document he once posted. Biny do you actually talk to other Cascadians?

Final 22.Mar.2005 23:18

Binyamin freebinyamin@hotmail.com

I believe I have said everything I need to say at this point, including responses to most of Kat's concerns, thus unless some extravagantly misrepresenting comment is posted I will refrain from further discussion on this thread. Props to those who took the patience to listen to all involved. - Binyamin

"We are you." - Subcomandante Marcos

So Biny... 23.Mar.2005 01:33


So Biny do you consider what is going on in Chiapas with the Zapatistas nationalistic? Personally I would argue that Cascadianism and the Zapatistas have much in common. Such as the struggle against Neoliberalism, centralization and destruction of the forest. Sure most Cascadians are of European stalk, but Cascadia is about social justice for all as well. In fact the more I think of it the more angry I get at your suggestion of Cascadian nationalism. Is the group Cascadia Rising nationalistic? Is the battle over the Biscuit nationalistic? Where is these Cascadian nationalists you fear? If you point to any self proclaimed Cascadian the odds are overwhelming that that Cascadian could careless for national pride over sustainable forests or clean air or unpolluted water. Show me a Cascadian who puts regional identity over the whole planet's biosphere or over the rights of any oppressed people.


Nationalism can be great Depends What it Stands for 23.Mar.2005 13:11

yo himbe

both side s in this rambling debate misss all of the points of course.

Waht is your goals. stratyegy to achieve it and what sacrifices are you ready to make now ??

so far you have saud nothing important or relevant to the world...

its not nationalism! its bioregionalism! 24.Mar.2005 16:01

a cascadian

Why do you two (Binyamin and Kat) not understand who the Hell is calling Cascadians nationalists? My educational background and what i teach is on nationalism. I keep talking of bioregionalism which is focused of eco-systems and people's identity (and very being) becoming one with their natural surroundings. It does not matter if it is Cascadia or the Great Lakes bioregion. Its about new paradigms that seek to remove the structural violence that has existed in almost all cultures dominant and conquered. Ofcourse I believe there is a "spiritual" element to it. Some would call it Gaia others would say Maternal Pantheism and others would point out religious paths that are Native People's, Gnostic Christianity, some forms of Buddhism, Tantraism and on and on. I would also add a political-social justice aspect of bioregionalism. Recently I have been exploring the merger of bioregionalism with the idea of cooperative commonwealths. Both systems see the world as commons that must be maintained and have a strong focus in the idea of responsiblity.

Here in case anyone is too lazy to look it up:


Bioregionalism is a movement suggesting the organization of societies by commonality of place, the immediate and specific places in which people live. We all live in areas that have their own unique physical and cultural geography. This base provides us with a common heritage and framework for building economically and socially sustainable systems of living.

Peter Berg, Director of the Plant Drum Foundation, and Raymond Dasmann, wildlife ecologist, have offered the
following definition:

"Bioregions are geographic areas having common characteristics of soil, watershed, climate, native plants and animals that exist within the whole planetary biosphere as unique and intrinsic contributive parts. A bioregion refers both to geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness -- to a place and the ideas that have developed about how to live in that place. A bioregion can be determined initially by use of climatology, physiography, animal and plant geography, natural history and other descriptive natural sciences. The final boundaries of a bioregion, however, are best described by the people who have lived within it, through human recognition of the realities of living-in-place. There is a distinctive resonance among living things and the factors that influence them which occurs specifically within each separate place on the planet. Discovering and describing that resonance is a way to describe a bioregion."

We are not organized by bioregions at present. Political divisions of nations, states, counties, water districts, sewer districts, voting districts and so on have nothing to do with inherent geographical physical, cultural and economic patterns. Many of our political subdivisions actually make management of our resources and our opportunities for social involvement more difficult.

Kirkpatrick Sale states the rationale for bioregional organization in terms of scale, economy, polity and society in Dwellers in the Land, Chapters 5-8:

Scale: People can understand issues and their connections to them at a scale "where the forces of government and society are still recognizable and comprehensible, where relations with others are still intimate, and where the effects of individual actions are visible; where abstractions and intangibles give way to the here and now, the seen and felt, and the real and known."(pg. 53)

Economy: "... a bioregional economy would seek first to maintain rather than use up the natural world, to adapt to the environment rather than try to exploit or manipulate it, to conserve not only the resources but also the relationships and systems of the natural world; and second to establish a stable means of production and exchange rather than one always in flux and dependent upon continual growth and constant consumption..." (pg.. 68-69)

Polity: "... a bioregional polity would seek the diffusion of power, the decentralization of institutions, with nothing done at a higher level than necessary, and all authority flowing upward incrementally from the smallest political unit to the largest." (pg. 94)

Society: "... symbiosis is as apt a model as any for a successful human society, which we may envision as a place where families operate within neighborhoods, neighborhoods within communities, communities within cities, cities within regions, all on the basis of collaboration and exchange, cooperation and mutual benefit, and where the fittest is the one that helps the most -- and of course is thereby the most helped. The most important instance of such an interaction on a bioregional scale would be the social symbiosis between the city and the country ..." (pg.. 113)

Planet Drum has published a Bioregional Directory and Map (Raise the Stakes, #24). It contains over 200 contact individuals, groups and publications that consider themselves to be bioregionally oriented. A Bioregional Association is being formed to provide links between bioregional groups.


____ my group:  http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Cascadian_Bioregionalism/

PS... why do all the phucking journalist that write articles on Cascadia skip "Cascadian Bioregionalism" which is a larger group and they all instantly think "oh the Civil War with the Confederacy". Listen all the yahoo groups "Republic of Cascadia" and Cascadia Confederacy" as well as the "Cascadian Natioanl Party" are all defunct and have been over a PHUCKING YEAR!!!! And the "Republic of Cascadia" website is SATIRE!