Onward to Cascadia: Toward a Worker’s Ecotopia

Editor’s Note:

I grew up in the so-called “Pacific Northwest,” and I’ve heard a lot of forgettable myths about future anti-authoritarian ecotopic societies. But for some reason, Cascadia and its mythos sticks around.

I’ve witnessed the Cascadian Separatist Movement grow from hushed tavern conversations in Seattle, to drunken proclamations on sailboats in Bellingham Bay, to protestors waving Cascadian flags during massive labor marches in Portland, Oregon. Numerous workers’ cooperatives have sprouted up inspired by the Cascadian Dream of removing bosses and the state, the dream of creating a meaningful relationship with one’s workplace and bioregion. Perhaps the incredible growth of this movement has something to do with the Cascadian flag.

Unlike so many radical visions these days, Cascadia is not merely a project of negation. Cascadians allow themselves to indulge in the symbolic things that have been ascribed to modern imperialism: flags, anthems, mottos, and maps. Some criticize this. But I’ve come to wonder: As activists, are we merely fighting the flags and symbols of capitalist imperialism? Or are we actually attempting to confront the mechanisms of oppression beneath the flags? Humans have united around symbols since long before the first capitalist bought the abstracted labor of a worker, and symbols will remain long after the last growth-oriented workplace is dismantled. Perhaps the Cascadians are on to something: they have stolen the symbolic language that gives power and legitimacy to empires, and applied it to a network of workers’ coops engaged in environmental stewardship. But Cascadia isn’t just about putting good ideas in fun packaging.

There is something magic about the dream of Cascadia, something sentimental–it evokes a sort of longing for an ideal future of the past (the blueprint for Cascadia was, after all, largely inspired by the bestselling 1975 science-fiction novel Ecotopia). And I’ll admit that sometimes, while walking under a water-laden sky, I find my imagination spilling onto the canvas of grey clouds, my mind suddenly alight with visions of a free Cascadia, and a global network of Bioregional Cooperative Commonwealths.

I stole the text of this article from a zine that’s been circulating for about 20 years called “FREE CASCADIA! WE ARE CASCADIAN.” I’ve revised parts to better reflect the scope of conversations I’ve had in with people who dare to dream and call themselves Cascadians. As we develop our theories and perfect our practices, I hope folks will continue to revise this manuscript.

-Samara of the Slingshot Collective

By Alexander Baretich
Cascadia is a region that extends west from the Rockies, following the flow of water all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Why not call it “the Pacific Northwest”? Because that is a geopolitical description based on an Atlantic-centered map. The “Pacific Northwest” is a nameless object at the distant corner of Atlantic empires, an object of second thought to the power centers in Washington DC & Ottawa. We have a name: We are Cascadians! And we have a home: It is called Cascadia! By giving ourselves and our home a name, we begin the process of empowering ourselves and restoring the land as a place of home and sacredness, and not a place for “resource extraction” for empire or greed. In Chinook Jargon, the name of our bioregion is Chinook Illahee. We honor and use both names of our home.

Bioregionalism is the consciousness or awareness of the interconnectedness of the water-life cycle within a given region. The great water-life cycles are actually the generation and transfer of energy. So each bioregion is a living system of interconnected communities and churning energy. In Tao philosophy, the flow of energy in bodies and systems is ascribed to chi (Qi) or often translated into English as “life force.” The water-life (within the great water-life cycles) is like the chi of the biomass of the Earth. It is a flow of energy and living beings that are dependent on those life cycles, and it is crucial that we sustain, maintain, and preserve those cycles in conscious, healthy ways. Within each bioregion, there are many ecoregions with unique habits and microclimates, but those ecoregions are all connected by a shared water-life cycle. The actions in one part of a bioregion have consequences downriver and upwind. As bioregionalists awakened to the importance of these cycles and their regional interconnectivity, the work of stewardship becomes part of who we are. The bioregion permeates the very soul of the awakened inhabitant, the bioregionalist. Hence a bioregionalist is one who advocates for the expansion of consciousness and the protection of the water-life cycle.

Some envision a future Cascadia as a social democracy akin to some of the northern European countries like Finland or Denmark. Others envision a representational democracy that could be called a Republic of Cascadia. But many of us are tired of Western models of nation-states. We envision a Cascadia that is radically counter to the nation-state and counter to the control of transnational corporations that have inflicted so much direct & structural violence around the world. Our vision is anti-capitalist, decolonialist, and the end of exploitation of all kinds. This new model is one of horizontal structures, cooperative relations (mutual aid), and resilient communities. It is a decentralized network that branches out like a nervous system throughout the bioregion. This new approach is called a Bioregional Cooperative Commonwealth (BCC).

A Bioregional Cooperative Commonwealth is not a centralized socialist system, but it takes ideas from socialism and turns them inside out & upside down. Instead of an overarching centralized management bureau redistributing wealth, controlling the means of production & the commons, a BCC would be locally and horizontally managed. It is a network, with local nodes of autonomy working together in mutual aid. The model of the BCC is inspired by two historically successful movements: the Mondragón Cooperative Federation in Spain, and the Swadeshi Movement in India.

The Mondragon Cooperatives arose in the Basque Country of Northern Spain in the late 1950s as a mode of economic resistance to Franco’s fascist regime. Mondragon started with a polytechnic school and paraffin heater making cooperative, and eventually grew into to a complex network of cooperative workplaces. By the end of 2011, the Mondragon Cooperative Federation included 83,869 people working in 256 companies. These companies are all owned and democratically managed by the workers. They manage the means of production themselves, without intervention by bosses or the state, and coops support each other in mutual aid. This is perhaps the world’s best functioning model of anarcho-syndicalism, an economic model which facilitates the formation of a non-authoritarian society.

The Swadeshi Movement in India arose in the early 1900s as a strategy to dismantle the colonial rule of the British Empire. Following the principals of swadeshi (Sanskrit for “self-reliance” or “autonomy”), folks boycotted British products and revived domestic production. This was a Localization Movement that was carefully aimed at undermining imperialist power structures, and it was a key strategy of Mahatma Gandhi, who described Swadeshi as the soul of Swaraj (self-rule). Gandhi’s economic model is central as we restructure our workplaces to build a Bioregional Cooperative Commonwealth.

Gandhian economics diverge from both Smith (capitalism) and Marx (communism) because those models operate through a system of ownership. Gandhian economics promotes a social structure based on trusteeship. In ownership-based systems, one can legally use, misuse, abuse, and even destroy what is owned. (In capitalism, this is done by individuals. In communism, it is done by the state.) In a trusteeship-based system, the trustee cannot misuse or destroy property because there is no property; there are only resources that have been temporarily entrusted to individuals and groups. This reflects reality. We live temporary lives within a deeply interconnected biosphere. The lie of private property conceals this reality, and enables destructive ownership-based systems to direct people away from their own happiness in a destructive race for temporary gain.

As humans, we are entrusted with an incredible amount of power over our bioregion. Those who cannot speak for themselves–future generations of humans, as well as non-human people (called “animals” by those who exploit them), depend on us to make responsible choices. Our choices deeply affect all living things, particularly those within our bioregion.

Our home is of continuous cascading water, and as trustees of this water-life cycle, our highest incentive is stewardship, autonomy, and the process of building meaningful lives. The matter in our bodies is on loan to us, and will soon return to the biosphere.

The lone-standing Douglas-fir on the Cascadian flag symbolizes endurance, defiance, and resilience against the forces of imperialism.

The Nine Dieta of Cascadia:

For Ecology, Equality & Equity

With Respect, Reverence & Responsibility

In all Commons, Communities & Cooperatives