A growing number of people are recognizing that in order to secure the clean air, water and food that we need to healthfully survive, we have to become guardians of the places where we live. People sense the loss in not knowing our neighbors and natural surroundings, and are discovering that the best way to take care of ourselves, is to go out, and take action for ourselves. News of crisis permeates our society daily and is slowly seeping into the consciousness of America and Canada, and after many years of denial and willful ignorance, many are finding latest barrage harder to deny or ignore.
No longer restricted to isolated areas, threats assume regional and global proportions. Warming caused by greenhouse gasses has wide spread implications, while a pandemic challenges assumed realities and status quos – and the interconnectedness of all of our movements, human rights, climate change, economic justice, criminal reform, racial and social equity is on display like it never has been before. Together, Cascadia is on the front lines of each major crisis and issue currently facing our world. We contain 7/10 world largest carbon storing forests, are the thin green line between resource extraction in the east and booming global markets in Asia, are a patchwork of nations and cultures, an epicenter for the discussion of surveillance and digital rights as we host the wealthiest corporations and individuals while others struggle, starve and die in our streets due to extreme inequity. Every year forest fires and droughts are becoming a yearly norm, while heavier flooding, natural disaster and waves of economic migration increasingly strain our food, resources and ecosystem.
Everywhere in the world right now, and everywhere across our countries and region, people are saying that we need a change, but no one is saying how, or presenting a real way of how to achieve it.
To begin discussing these issues, and what actions they should take, more than 100 individuals gathered at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington on a sunny day in July to help shape a positive future for the Cascadia bioregion. They met deliberatively, in a participatory process that included representatives from watersheds, towns, organizations, groups and species, examined challenges to the region, and explored strategies and goals to overcome them. Over that weekend, bioregional organizers, policy planners, feminists, anarchists and indigenous leaders gathered with the first Cascadia flag, bearing the stars and crescent, for what became the first ever, Cascadia Bioregional Congress, hosted in 1986.
In the midst of widening and deepening crises, and over the last 40 years, a new movement is emerging across the North American continent that offers solutions — solutions not only to ecological problems, but social ones as well. In the face of a society growing ever more centralized, bureaucratized, homogenized, militarized, industrialized, and beyond popular control, this movement calls for a scaling down of human institutions, the decolonization and dismantling of colonial and arbitrary constructs and borders, technologies to be more rooted in, and controlled by local communities, and more adapted to local environments. It calls for more participatory democracy, more equity, justice for past wrongs, more cooperation, and more awareness of our interconnectedness — with other people, other cultures, other species, and our planet.
It can be difficult to put a single name on such an all-embracing, still-coalescing movement, but “bioregionalism” and “Cascadia” serve as useful umbrella terms* that include many strands of the movement, such as appropriate technology, permaculture, feminism, Black rights, Indigenous nationhood and community self- reliance and empowerment, civil rights, Black rights, privacy and digital rights, LGBTQ2A rights, equal representation and equity, social justice, and peace.
The Cascadia movement does not seek superficial reforms, but a fundamental rethinking and restructuring of our society. Here the task is to think globally, and also think, plan, and act locally. The bioregional perspective not only criticizes prevailing mass institutions, but creates positive alternatives that can be controlled by the local community and adapted to the constraints, opportunities, and rhythms of the local environment, people and its inhabitants.
Seeking Sustainability and Self-Determination in Cascadia
People living in Cascadia, the bioregion west of North America, have begun coming together in gatherings during the past several years to discuss how to bring about some of the needed changes in our own region and home. We find that from northern California to Southeast Alaska we are faced with many similar challenges and opportunities.
For example, what is an appropriate and sustainable balance between getting jobs and useful products from our forests and preserving the wilderness unique to our bioregion? How can we manage our rivers in a way that balances hydroelectric energy, fishing, recreational uses, and wilderness? How can we build communities that can provide for all of the people living within it and account for historic and systemic imbalances? How can we meet our region’s energy needs without dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels or nuclear power? How can we reduce our economic dependence on economic systems we don’t like? How can we create community economies that provide sustenance and dignity for all without dependence on unsustainable growth and environmental abuse? How can we honor, learn from, and include the many First Nations indigenous to this bioregion in both the stewardship of our land and represented in government? Can we find a new way before it’s too late?
While the states of Washington and Oregon are known as belonging to the Pacific Northwest, this term “Northwest,” is only a framework that makes sense in respect to the 48 contiguous states of the United States and to our relationship with Washington DC. The boundaries of this enormous nation-state constitute the frame of reference within which the designation “northwest” makes sense, but for us, it is time to begin to break away from this juggernaut and rethink our own relationship as citizens of our watersheds and place. Instead, we choose to use rivers and mountain and the Earth itself as a frame of reference we find important. Unilateral borders imposed by the United States and Canada are irrelevant, arbitrary and non-representative of the people, inhabitants and place. Where you were born matters less than where you choose to live, and the watershed you live in now.
When we use the continental landmass of North America as the frame of reference, we find that the “Pacific Northwest” is not in the northwest at all. That’s why people who use the Earth as the frame of reference have begun to refer to the region as “Cascadia” in reference to the major land form in the region, the Cascade Mountains, and also in reference to the plentiful waters cascading from the mountains to the sea. First Nations of Cascadia have similarly come together to call this region “Salmon Nation” in reverence to the rivers that flow and stretch from Northern California to Alaska, and where the Salmon ran at their fullest extent before colonial contact.
Clearly, Earth-based affiliations do not stop atthe 49th parallel, which forms the border between the United States and Canada. To say that the cities of Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C., have more in common with Washington, D.C., and Ottowa, respectively, than they do with each other just doesn’t make good sense. To create a political system that links Seattle with Washington, D.C., but not with Vancouver does not make sense either. Cascadia is a place that crosses a patchwork of dozens of nations and cultures. Our largest watershed by itself spans parts of six US states and one Canadian province and is traced, “not by governments or treaties, but by every drop of liquid that finds a common path to the ocean”.
We contain some of the largest tracts of untouched old growth temperate rainforests in the world, including 7 of the top 10 worlds carbon absorbing forests made of fir, cedar, hemlock, redwoods, alder, maple, the worlds tallest trees, thousands of volcanoes, hot springs, rivers, lakes, inlets, island and ocean, and some of the last diminishing, though still impressive wild habitats of salmon, wolves, bear, whale, orca. In all – more than 350 bird and mammal species, 48 reptiles, hundreds of fungi, lichen, and and thousands of invertebrates and soil organisms and now more than 16 million people call Cascadia home.
When we define our places using the Earth as the frame of reference, taking into account flora, fauna, landforms, climate, and so on, we are talking in terms of bioregions. Can we move from our status of internal colony of the American industrial system, used for resource extraction, technology services and holiday vacationing, to a more self- reliant and self-determining bioregional community? Can we gain greater control of our common destiny at the local level?
Can we? Perhaps. But it all depends. It depends on what we do and how we do it. The challenge of change is great. Without a clearly articulated, collective vision for what we want to do and coordinated strategies for how to move forward, our ability to effect deep and widespread change is stymied. Is there a way to create greater “connective tissue” between various parts of our movement for change, so that we can strengthen and nourish one another? Can we interject a clear and comprehensive agenda for change into the stale debate that passes for politics these days?
These are the questions and challenges that we must face, and it is in that hope that we have drafted and created these documents, not as an answer to this debate, but hopefully, to open up a conversation. It is up to Cascadians, each in their own way, to create and promote these changes, and lead the way forward, rather than wait for someone else to do it for us.
After nearly forty years, Cascadia is a movement that is ready to begin.
We hope you join us.