The Cascadia movement wants to unite the Pacific Northwest from Northern California to Alaska. Ideas on unification vary from separatist factions to those seeking a broad cultural identity.
SEATTLE — “Organic Secession: Cascadian Dark Ale,” reads a label on one of Portland’s Hopworks Urban Brewing Company’s popular brews. It’s also a logo on a shirt worn by University of Washington senior Robert Foxcurran, head of the UW chapter of CascadiaNow!
Cascadia is the proposed name for an independent state composed of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Some maps include portions of California, Idaho and Alberta.
You might have seen the Cascadian flag flying somewhere around the region; most likely at a Major League Soccer match in the Northwest. The blue, white and green striped flag sports a large Douglas Fir tree in the middle, which has garnered it the nickname, “the Doug.” Just last week fans unveiled a 60′ Doug flag at the Seattle Sounders v. Vancouver Whitecaps game. The Portland Timbers have used the symbol in many displays, and every year the three teams compete for the “Cascadia cup.”
Despite having an alternative flag and online chatter of independence, the University of Washington group says Cascadia isn’t about secession for them. Not right now at least.
Members of the group define it as a “cultural bioregional cooperative dealing with the connected ecological, environmental, economic and cultural ties that are prevalent throughout the Pacific Northwest.”
“Currently we have a system where politics creates culture,” said UW graduate student Mike Hodges. “We’d like to invert that relationship and shift to a system where culture will inform politics.”
The group says there are other factions of the movement vying for a referendum vote on secession in the immediate future, but Brandon Letsinger, the director of the Seattle chapter of CascadiaNow! says he doesn’t know of any people seeking independence in a radical or violent way.
“Folks from here, Spokane, Bend, Eugene and Portland see the way things are going in the U.S. and see it having the potential to collapse at some point,” Letsinger said. “If there’s a big disaster like an earthquake, I don’t think people feel comfortable relying on FEMA — we need to prepare ourselves and become more self-reliant.”
The current CascadiaNow! group connected through the popular website Reddit, which has helped to catalyze action for a number of political issues in the past year. The first CascadiaNow! website started in 2006, and members say there have been numerous iterations of a similar idea in the past.
“There are historical references dating back to Thomas Jefferson suggesting a Pacific Northwest state when he heard of Astoria forming on the coast of the Oregon Territory,” Foxcurran said.
The group’s communications director, Adam Munson, said that he sees Cascadia as a new way to frame political issues.
“The two-party system is broken,” Munson said. “Locally or regionally, we think that more than 90% of people agree on things. It’s just that national politics tends to focus on small, wedge issues.”
The group’s popularity has expanded in the last few months, with chapters springing up at the UW, in Spokane, Bellingham, and even a high school chapter in Oregon. The Seattle group had an information table at the recent May Day rallies downtown, the UW chapter placed fliers around the area and has tabled at a few events.
Despite being inherently political, the group has not put a fine point on the political issues that estrange them from the rest of the country.
“We cannot release a platform prematurely,” Munson said. “We want to raise awareness and get more people involved. This way, we can get a better spectrum of what people want in order to make a better Cascadia.”
“Most people think of us as left-wing extremists,” said Foxcurran. “But when most people hear about our actual goals, they say, ‘Oh, this makes sense!'”
The group says they haven’t received any negative responses, yet. But legally speaking, talk of secession and independence could lead down a slippery slope to charges of treason, if the members ever organized to actually fight for secession. However, even separatist factions of the movement advocate for a referendum process, similar to the kind used in Quebec, instead of violence.
The UW group meets Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. in the upstairs portion of Cafe Allegro. They’re planning a Seattle-area barbecue on June 30 and a regional meetup at the Peace Arch Park on the Canadian border on July 1, Canada’s Independence Day.
The group joked about draping the Portland Timbers’ and Vancouver Whitecaps’ 60-foot “Doug” flags over the Peace Arch on the border. If they choose to do so, we’ll see if the United States and Canada accept it as a mere cultural symbol and not as an act of treason.