Bioregionalism, the Path Forward

There is a path forward. We have all the ingredients on in this bioregion to build a society that is secure, resilient, prosperous and welcoming. But we need to stop waiting for and relying on others to do it for us, and for governments that actively work against the wishes of the citizens living here. We need to stop relying on the failed advent of the industrial nation state to provide for the solutions we need.

Bioregionalism reflects perhaps one of the most important, yet least known or understood philosophies that may exist today. It can be used by any organization or person.

It uses the idea of our bioregion as a framework, guided by key principles, to break global issues down to a local level and move our actions and impacts to where individuals have the greatest say in the issues that affect their lives. Natural borders ignores human boundaries and if we want to talk about what true sustainability looks like, or food sovereignty, or energy independence, those discussions must include everyone along a watershed. Beyond that, it is a philosophy and system that seeks to truly decolonize our boundaries and ways of living.

Bioregionalism was born here in the 1970’s. It has matured here, and now several generations of Cascadians have grown up with the idea. If it will happen anywhere, it will be here. There will be no one right answer, or one right solution. Rather it will be hundreds of solutions working together, adapting to fit different needs of different backgrounds, locations and contexts, to achieve the real change that we want to see. Together, bioregionalism provides a unifying set of principles and organizing methodology, and is a powerful tool for connecting and breaking down large, urgent global issues to specific areas, and creating simple, accessible pathways for action and change.

Building a Place Based Politic

For a place based political movement this means that we must be visionary and utopian in our long term approach, and pragmatic in adopting short term solutions. This means not just reacting against what we find negative, but building a positive vision that we can be working towards, with tangible and definable goals for how we get there.

Red or blue, conservative or liberal, democratic or republican. All are terms that stem from a dysfunctional political system that is negative, toxic and arbitrary, disconnected from place. Borders are redrawn to disenfranchise voters we don’t agree with and all attention focuses on the 2% wedge issues of how we are different, rather than the 98% of how we are the same. Money is dumped in from one area to drown out voices from another. Different areas, with different needs are pitted against each other. By breaking down issues by watershed, and decentralizing decision making powers to those most impacted, we can create systems that are truly healthy and representative for the place and the people living within it.

When wildfires strike each year, it affects all of us. When a drought strikes our farmers, it impacts all of us. When the Cascadia megaquake hits or a volcano erupts, it affects all of us.

Different watersheds will have different needs, and even those east of the mountains can agree with those west of the mountains that we all might be better off if we had a greater say in our own affairs, and that the needs of a rural area might be very different from that of an inner city or suburb. Right or left, on issues of environment, pollution, energy, food sovereignty, and so many others, each community along a watershed must be able to substantively participate in the issues affecting their lives.

The physical realities of where we live and our shared experiences creates the culture we live in. We have shared fears, shared hopes, shared vocabulary and language and a common bond that arises from sharing our land base. By connecting our politics to a place based movement and a regional identity, it means that even though different areas will have different needs and methods, we are all neighbors who want a better future for ourselves, friends and family. We are all working towards the same goal. Removed from our current political system, it means it doesn’t matter if you are a republican, green, progressive, conservative, republican, anarchist, communist, libertarian because we all identify as Cascadian, and have adopted the shared principles with what that term means.

For example, whether or not someone thinks that logging in the Pacific Northwest is good or bad, when it is held in the Cascadia bioregion we can have that conversation and directly affect policy one way or the other, as well as ensure ethical and responsible business practices. If it comes to it, we can go directly to the forests to take in a first hand account, go to the corporate headquarters, or the offices of the lawmakers who make the decisions. When hardwoods are being extracted from a foreign place, consumers have no say in the sourcing or labor practices that go into that product. Supporting this bioregional supply chain empowers communities, supports workers, encourages responsible sourcing and labor, grows local representation, is good for local business, gives higher standards for workers and reduces the carbon footprint.

What we do here is felt around the world

Stretching along more than 2500 miles and 4000 kilometers of rugged coastline, Cascadia sustains more than 16 million people and generates roughly $1.613147 trillion dollars worth of goods and services annually. As the world’s 9th largest economy, our bioregion has a larger economy than Russia and is roughly equivalent to that of Canada or Italy. Some of the worlds largest companies, including Amazon, Starbucks, Costco, Boeing, Microsoft, REI, Nordstrom, T-Mobile, Lions Gate, Nike, Adidas, and Columbia Clothing call our region home. With a GDP of 356 billion, the largest city Seattle has an economy slightly smaller than Thailand, but larger than Colombia and Venezuela.

These facts matter a lot, because ultimately, by living here, Cascadians have a disproportionate ability to effect and inspire global policy and imagination.

As a coastal bioregion, it is gateway for trade to and from North America, has the largest civilian ferry fleet in the world, holds nine of eleven deep water ports and dry-dock facilities on the West Coast, and is considered the ‘Thin Green Line’ between ecologically destructive resource extraction within the North America interior and heavily fossil fuel dependent economics on the other side of the pacific. Our region is the literal gate keeper between what arrives into North America, and what makes it there. In terms of Climate, our home contains the largest tracts of untouched old growth temperate rainforests in the world, 7 of the top 10 worlds carbon absorbing forests, 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 and other amazing, but rapidly disappearing creatures.

The local impact that we have here in Cascadia, reverberates around the world.

Cascadians are different. Cascadians are the same.

More than just a place based politic, Cascadians are
united by a shared identity and culture that clearly sets it apart from neighbors to the South or East and that arise by sharing this region together.

Those in British Columbia identify with the term Cascadia & Washingtonians more than those in Ottawa, just as Washingtonians are more likely to identify with British Cascadians and Oregonians than it’s counterpart in the very different Washington nearly 3000 miles away. Seattle, Vancouver and all the communities around the Salish Sea recognize the importance of working together around watersheds because despite being divided by an international border, they share one.

In British Cascadia, a recent Research Co. poll shows that 66% of British Columbians say they have more in common with the people of Seattle and Portland than with other Canadians. Even at a moment when views of the United States have soured considerably over the presidency of Donald Trump, British Columbians appear to keep the dream of “Cascadia” alive. Executive Director Sachi Kurl of research firm Angus Reid says “It is a province that looks to the south, to the idea of Cascadia — having more in common with Washington state, with California — indeed, with the pacific, given our very diverse population in B.C.” Their research shows a ‘new western identity forming’ in which British Columbians see themselves as having more in common with Washington State (54% say this) and California (18%) while only 15% say Alberta or any other Canadian province.

Throughout our bioregion and home, these sentiments are echoed strongly. Sports rivalries, tourism, tech industries, regional foods and beverages, music preferences, academic and research partnerships, aspirations for high speed rail and an increasing interdependence in the Cascadia megaregion and along the Cascadia Corridor fostered by those living here and our elected officials continue to grow these bond.

What does a Cascadia Political and Bioregional Movement look like?

Which brings up the question then, what does a Cascadia place based, bioregional or political movement actually look like? Well, working with the principles that we have outlined so far, below are a few simple steps that a regional movement would incorporate:

  1. Independence and Autonomy for the Bioregion of Cascadia. To move us away from boundaries, borders and systems that are harmful, negative or non-representative and towards healthier ways of living together. More than anything else, we believe in Cascadia and are working towards it.

  2. Participatory Democracy. Cascadia is fundamentally a pro-democracy movement. We support systems of direct, decentralized democracy for communities, candidates willing to be delegatives of their constituents rather than representatives, elected officials and cultural leaders promoting bioregional policies, and use initiatives and referendums to reflect the will of the people and accomplish the goals of the Cascadia movement. We support anything that increases citizen and community empowerment, participation and representation, implements new models of government that are decentralized, delegative, democratic and open source, or that increases transparency and accountability. We reject the influence of foreign (outside-of-Cascadian) money and political influencing.

  3. Bioregional not Federal. Bioregional movements work around shared principles to to shift the context of our organizing into watersheds, and units within watersheds that make sense based on community, physical similarities of areas and cultural similarities as defined by those living there.

  4. Privacy Civil Liberties and Personal Freedoms. Cascadians believe there are personal guarantees and freedoms that the government cannot abridge, including freedom of expression, speech, the press, religion, assembly, the right to privacy, to control one’s own body and data, and the pursuit of happiness, so long as it does not infringe or violate the rights of others. We will continue to work to expand personal freedoms, privacy and protection, and civil liberties.

  5. Indigenous Sovereignty. Cascadians believe in indigenous sovereignty for the dozens of nations, groups and tribes within the Cascadian bioregion. We believe in a confederation of these peoples with a Cascadian government, working together around common shared principles we have all worked to establish. This starts with round table discussions with each First Nation and group to explore what this future looks like and to come to agreements with each, and majority and consensus approval from all. 

  6. Bioregional Sustainability, Economy & Energy Independence. We believe in a bioregion that lives within its means, is energy independent based on renewable resources, puts more back into the soil then we take out of it, and fits into a global system of interconnected movements all working to build a better world. This includes keeping our wealth local & independent, supporting a bioregional supply chain, building disaster preparedness networks, supporting local fibersheds, farmers and businesses.

  7. Livability and Well Being of the Cascadia Bioregion. We support, partner, connect and help raise awareness for anything that improves the well being of the inhabitants of the Cascadia bioregion and for the region itself.

  8. Platforms for Diversity. The Cascadia Movement creates a platform where every community can take the lead on issues they care about, especially those most often marginalized or excluded. This includes standing in mutual aid and solidarity with those communities, creating spaces where each can take the lead if they so choose, and standing clearly against hate and intolerance, misinformation, or actions that clearly inflict harm on another person or group.

  9. Positive & Holistic Cultural Movement. Politics, Environment, Housing, Homelessness, Labor, Energy, Human Rights, Government, Economy. None of these are separate issues, and will never be solved if divided. Rather than treat the branch, we are interested in building a holistic movement able to deal with the root issues, and use Cascadia as a framework to break intangible things down to a local level where every person can get involved in them. We say a cultural movement because culture is the sum of our personal and interpersonal interactions, and it will take all of these working together to make the change we need.

This Change Starts Now

This change starts today.

Using these outlined principles, it is time for a stronger Cascadian political identity, a true confederation of people working for these goals and a more assertive relationship with our local leaders, and with those currently claiming to represent us in Washington DC and Ottawa. Each of us has more power, knowledge and technology at our finger tips than any other generation i
n history. The answers we need will come from no where else, and from no one else, other than ourselves, right here, in this place, right now. Inaction now will lead to consequences for generations, and as long as we continue to live in a political system derived from arbitrary boundaries not representative of the place we live or the people living here, drawn along colonial borders by people who had never set foot here, we will never have a truly democratic government, or the solutions we need.

If there’s one thing that can unify our region around a common sense of purpose, perhaps it’s Cascadia and a positive vision that we can all be working together to create. In the meantime however, we must be pragmatic, and build a movement that can effectively defend our values, our inhabitants and way of life we have built for ourselves and a government that can speak with our voice.

To build a real Cascadia political movement it will take all of us. Not one voice, but thousands all working together for one goal.

Will you join us?