Cascadia: a flag and a following
Bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Continental Divide to the East, stretching from Alaska’s Prince William Sound into the Klamath River in California, is the bioregion called Cascadia. Encompassing the cities of Juneau, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Boise and Missoula, the region is home to temperate rainforests, rivers full of trout and salmon, oak savannas blooming with camas and snow-peaked mountains.
Growing up in Portland in the subdivision boom of the 1970s, Oregon community college instructor and designer of the Cascadian flag Alexander Baretich felt a close tie to the beauty of the region since childhood and engaged in activism against developers as an adolescent. “I had real estate developers telling me ‘you can’t stop progress,’ and myself, being a kid, a high schooler, was like, ‘this isn’t progress, this is mass murder.’ I’d see a mother rat looking for her babies after a bulldozer had just gone through and thought, ‘this isn’t right’,” Baretich said. “I realized as I was watching the bulldozer drivers and the chainsaw operators, that they’re the owns who I need to contact, they’re the ones who are acting out because of money, because they’re seeing trees as objects and not as living beings… I realized that part of it, that we just needed a shift, and I started looking for an image that would be a paradigm shift.”
That image would be the Cascadian flag, the idea for which came to Baretich in 1994 as he was living in Hungary studying nationalism for his masters in political geography, and described the Cascadian landscape to his then wife. With horizontal stripes of green, white, and blue representing Cascadia’s forests, snowy mountains and skies, the flag is overlaid with a deep green Douglas fir tree, the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic image.
“The idea was a paradigm shift. You get people to identify with the flag, as an extension of themselves. So unlike nationalist flags, which tend to have red in them which represents the blood of the martyrs of the state, this has no blood in it, it’s purely a landscape painting to get you to connect with,” said Baretich.
“When I see the Doug Fir, I think of a spine, which is our connection, brain to earth, and in a very spiritual sense, the branches look like our nerves that radiate out to us, so it’s like we are that tree,” said a Portland Cascadian who wished to be identified only as Dale. “We are activists, protecting the forests, and all flora and fauna; but we have to be compassionate to people, and all people that are in this bioregion.”
From the Cascadian flag came the Cascadian movement, the basis of which is bioregionalism. Bioregionalism, an extension of the San Francisco Diggers and the hippie movement, is essentially proactive, anti-capitalist environmentalism. It sees the root of our environmental woes as post-industrial consumerism.
“Environmentalism is reactive. It’s reaction to environmental destruction, so it’s really trying to put out all these little forest fires that are all over the place, without actually going, ‘what if we had done something different?’ Bioregionalism is proactive. It’s about living in your place and trying to prevent those forest fires or even allowing certain forest fires to exist as fire ecology, but on its own terms with the environment,” said Baretich.
As bioregionalism denounces Western culture’s view of nature as a commodity, it also denounces colonization. The aims of bioregionalists- to end environmental exploitation- often line up with those of indigenous activists, and the groups frequently work together. “I say that bioregionalism is really a platform for decolonization, reinhabitation and resolution with settler indigenous culture. We are not separate from nature, but we are part of nature,” said Baretich.
Along with bioregionalism, the Cascadia movement is comprised of three other pillars of thought: regional-cultural identity, secession and the Cascadian innovation corridor, which refers to the celebration of Cascadian technology and the desire to connect its major cities with a high-speed train. Regional-cultural identity is, according to Baretich, the concept of “fly a flag, drink a beer, watch a soccer game.”
The Cascadian flag is meant to be a symbol of not only our ecological but also our regional, identity. This aspect of Cascadia is more easily absorbed by our society than bioregionalism because it is not at odds with capitalism. “The idea was that the flag was to get out there as a thing that can be consumed by the consumer mentality, and then the Trojan horse part of it is, ‘wait, this is about the earth, this is about nature,’ so that it would trick the mind into going ‘I can now identify with that: that I am an extension of the environment, and the environment is an extension of me,” said Baretich.
To his disappointment, the Cascadian flag has been appropriated by groups like the Portland Timbers, and now, quite ironically, is manufactured in China and sold for a profit.
The flag, and name “Cascadia,” have also been appropriated by white supremacist groups. Since some factions of Cascadians are secessionists, alt-right groups see Cascadia as an opportunity for a white ethnostate, and co-opt the movement by creating groups like “True Cascadia”. Most Cascadians, however, are anti-fascists and work to expose members of xenophobic groups like Patriot Prayer. “There’s gonna be people that are gonna act on this idea that there are people that have no value. And that is antithetical to what we believe: that we all have value, everything down to the [smallest organism],” said Dale.
In fact, many Cascadians, like Dale and Baretich, are not secessionists at all. “We don’t want independence, we want interdependence. We want to recognize the interdependence within all living things. We don’t want secession, we want ecological succession,” said Baretich. His focus is not secession, because secession alone would not guarantee an end to capitalism. The real aim of bioregionalists, and by extension Cascadians, is to “topple the system”.
Baretich encourages Cascadians to focus their efforts on free food services like soup kitchens, in order to not only feed the poor and homeless but to create a post-capitalist space where bioregionalist ideas can be discussed and a sense of community can be fostered.
Baretich and Dale consider social issues to be a symptom of consumerism, and, as Dale put it, a “fear of lack. That we don’t have enough to take care of immigrants. That we don’t have enough to take care of the homeless. I counter that we have plenty… this economy and that white dominant culture says, ‘no, we gotta keep this machine going.’ I say, ‘no, we need to slow it way down, and we need to start respecting all the signs that we’re being given from the earth, that this is not sustainable. Can we just stop consuming? Can we stop the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, please? And it’s as basic as that.”
To learn more about Cascadia and bioregionalism, visit FreeCascadia.org. The Cascadia flag rendering is by Lexicon from Wikimedia Commons.