Time to Revive Cascadia
That red/blue map of American politics invites new borders. Remember
Mon., Mar. 21, 2005
By Christopher Key
During my recent interview with CTV talk show host Vicki Gabereau, I
mentioned the concept of Cascadia. Gabereau asked me to explain even
though the interview was about my desire to move to Canada, a country
I see as more compatible with my own political and social philosophy.
I'm not sure who originated the concept of Cascadia, although I
suspect it has its basis in the Ecotopia books by Ernest Callenbach.
If you haven't read these seminal works by the American visionary,
it's worth tracking them down. Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging (Banyan
Tree, Berkeley, CA) are not only full of revolutionary ideas, but
cracking good reads, as well.
Cascadia is the name given to the region stretching from Northern
California to British Columbia. It is a region that is united by
geography, economy, social and political attitudes that transcend the
artificial borders that were drawn without regard to such things a
couple of centuries ago.
As one who has lived in both America and Canada, I find the borders as
drawn to be both anachronistic and irrational. Consider the 49th
parallel that divides our nations. Despite protestations of minor
officials, the politicians of the day insisted on the arbitrary
boundary. Thus, we are saddled with the geographical anomaly of Point
Roberts that wreaks immense economic hardships on residents of both
sides of the border. It has, of course, made Point Roberts unique and
there are some arguments in favor of that.
The point I made to Ms. Gabereau is that residents of Cascadia have
far more in common with each other than we have with our fellow
countrymen living on the East Coast, be they in New York or Toronto. I
feel much more at home in British Columbia than I do anywhere on the
East Coast of America or Canada.
Child of Cascadia
I was born in San Francisco and, as fate would have it, ended up on
the East Coast thanks to having been born into a military family. I
grew up in Florida and hated every minute of it. I went to college in
North Carolina and liked that even less. I spent eight interminable
years working there before I realized that I just didn't fit in. I was
a child of Cascadia, even though I didn't know it then. I just knew I
yearned for the cool, rainy climate, the soaring mountains and the
forest solitudes that no longer exist on the East Coast. Not to
mention the less frantic approach to life.
In the early 1970s, I moved back here and have never regretted it.
Since then, I have lived in Northern California, Washington, Alaska
and British Columbia. I have come to know and love this region as
perhaps only a native son can. Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home
again and it is the only place that you will be comfortable.
I suspect there are others like me who left Cascadia for one reason or
another and who were either inexorably drawn back or who have spent
many years feeling like they were out of place, out of time.
Dorothy, heroine of The Wizard of Oz, felt the same thing. Despite the
wonders of Oz, she never felt comfortable until she was back in Kansas
again. I have been in Kansas and can no more imagine living there than
I can living on Mars. But that was home for Dorothy just as Cascadia
is home for me.
The borders drawn a couple of hundred years ago make no sense today.
They do not reflect the economic, political and social realities of
the 21st century. If we were a rational people, we would redraw them.
But that would require change and change is a fearful thing.
Adapt to survive
My fellow Americans exemplify this fear. Faced with incontrovertible
evidence that their way of life is not only endangering the planet,
but threatening their own well being, they hide their heads in the
sand. They oppose the eminently sensible Kyoto Accords, support wars
of aggression against paper tigers, and invest in corporate
juggernauts that trample the rights of third world nations. This is
not rational behavior. This is, indeed, self destructive.
Charles Darwin, that Victorian theologian, put it this way: "It is not
the strongest, nor the most intelligent who will survive. It is those
who are most adaptable to change."
I would suggest that it is time to change the boundaries that divide
us and seek boundaries that unite us. Idealistic? Yes. Unrealistic?
Only if we lack the will and the courage to do what needs to be done.
The world as we know it is obviously broken. So let's fix it.
Not to suggest for a moment that this idealist has the answers about
how to attack those monumental windmills. But I do have some ideas
about where to start. Let's begin with redrawing our borders to
reflect reality. It is obvious that giant federations such as the
United States, Canada, and Russia cannot possibly govern their diverse
populations efficiently. There are too many conflicting ideals and
interests. Any government that seeks to address them all will
Perhaps a commonwealth of nation states along the lines of the ancient
Grecian city states is more likely to succeed. The nation state of
Cascadia is a starting place. Take Northern California, excluding the
residence of The Governator. Add Oregon, Washington, British Columbia
and the panhandle of Southeast Alaska. Here is a nation state with
common interests. Cascadia has a resource based economy that is having
to transition to a more sustainable model. Our national governments,
based as they are in the East, are focused on maximizing the bottom line.
Smaller national entities lend themselves more easily to Callenbach's
ideal of a stable state economy. Our present carcinogenic paradigm of
unlimited growth is so blatantly irrational that it beggars the
imagination how so many people can accept it. There is more to life
than the stock exchange and nowhere is that belief more evident than
We are united in a love of the land that transcends short term
economic interests. British Columbia's motto is Super Natural. If you
want to keep it that way, don't expect Ottawa to cooperate. No more
than I expect Washington, DC, to keep Washington The Evergreen State.
Governments were established where settlement began in the New World.
At the time, no one could have imagined that the West Coasts would
become the thriving populations that they are today. So do we accept
the realities of the 18th century or do we accept the realities of the
Throw in Siberia?
Imagine, if you will, a nation state comprised of those northern
people who find themselves so marginalized in our current society. The
natives of northern Alaska, Yukon, Nunavut, Greenland, Northern
Scandinavia and Siberia. They are united in their common ancestry,
their reliance upon the environment and their rejection of the values
we Southerners espouse.
I've already described Cascadia, but what about New England? Those
fiercely independent Yankees have almost nothing in common with the
Americans of the South, so enamored of the glories of their
slaveholding past. Utah is the stronghold of the Mormons, originally
committed to the nation of Deseret. Why not let them have their
nation? It seems to me that it would decrease friction, in the long run.
Let people of common interest join together. They will then have to
work out their differences with the world as a whole in order to
insure their own survival. Just like the existing nations do today,
but without the fiction that they represent often conflicting internal
It is interesting to note that many of the people in America who decry
my desire to move to Canada are also espousing the move to split
Washington into two states. One, to the west of the Cascades, and one
to the east. One wants to represent the liberal, urban west. One wants
to represent the rural, agricultural east. They want to have a choice,
but brand me a traitor, or worse, for the choice that I have made.
Cascadia is a nation of common interests whose boundaries supersede
the artificial lines that a bunch of 18th century politicians drew. I
know that the readers of The Tyee are good at thinking, pardon the
cliché, outside the box. My purpose in this essay is not to
proselytize my own ideas, but to engender a discussion of concepts
like Cascadia and beyond. Have at it, Tyee readers.
Christopher Key is a writer in Bellingham who occasionally contributes
to The Tyee while planning his move to British Columbia.