The Cascadian Department of Bioregion is excited to share this personal essay by Andrew M. Tanner. Andrew is a veteran, Cascadian author, world builder, and cat fanatic. This post was originally shared on his website here. The views are of Andrew Tanner, and does not reflect any endorsement of any specific policies by the Department of Bioregion.
I was born an American, and like my father and grandfather before me, I served in the United States military during a time of war.
I used to feel pride in being an American. But I don’t anymore.
The fact of the matter is that the United States of America is a colonial empire no better than the British Empire that spawned it. After winning independence, the elites who have always run the show actively pursued wars of aggression, committed genocide against the indigenous inhabitants, and eventually seized colonies in Latin America and Asia to become a formal empire itself – a path that led the US directly into the atrocities of the Second World War. A conflict that culminated in the first-ever human use of atomic weaponry to murder a quarter of a million civilians at a point when the war in the Pacific was already a foregone conclusion.
And of course, they didn’t stop there. Hell, they built a few tens of thousands more, and thousands still sit, lurking, waiting to take a few hundreds of millions of lives.
The United States of America has, since the Second World War, directly caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It has indirectly caused the deaths of millions more. The War on Terror has simply continued a long, bloody history of slaughter. The bombs have never stopped falling for long, and although the citizens of the United States have two broad oceans protecting them from invasion, more than 50% of every single dollar paid in federal income taxes by all American taxpayers flow into a Pentagon bureaucracy so bloated and mismanaged that it cannot even be accurately audited.
This ongoing theft of our dollars by the Pentagon, and their ultimate destination in the pockets of a few privileged actors in the defense industry, directly connects each and every American taxpayer to an unending stream of atrocities. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – they never end, no matter which of the two major parties is in power or what personality occupies the Oval Office. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump – no President in my lifetime has failed to kill less than a few thousand innocent people around the world, and some (Clinton, Bush II) have killed far more. Neither party makes ending the nonstop violence a core component of its platform, and the US media doesn’t seem to care.
“American” is an identity that no longer contains the slightest shred of pride for me. The facts of history reveal that the United States of America is a vicious global empire, no less worth defeating than any that has come before. To put in Tolkienian terms: We are all Orcs. Sauron is our master. Barad-Dur belches wickedness into our skies. And Washington DC is the Ring of Power.
But all empires, due to contradictions in their internal structure and the detachment of their elites from the persistent degradation of material conditions experienced by the majority of the population, eventually fall. Leaving those of us stuck living in the aftermath with the difficult task of figuring out what to do next.
But, as the British say, sometimes you just have to get stuck in.
I believe that the time has come to recognize that we desperately need new principles of political organization to deal with the growing complexities of 21st century life. I believe the time has come to adopt the idea of the Bioregion as a natural and workable foundation for a nation held together by the vital task of collectively managing our common environment.
We in the Pacific Northwest, present-day Americans, Canadians, and First Peoples, live where we do because this land calls to us. Whether our ancestors came here millenia or decades ago, this place sustains our life, gives us air and water and food, and offers a soul the chance to experience some of the few remaining places on this Earth not entirely spoiled by industrial society.
In truth, our political, economic, and social systems are all bound to the bioregion and those things we need and value that can be sourced from it. Common management of collective resources is, as Nobel-winning scholars have persuasively argued, one of the fundamental reasons why a recognizable human society exists in the first place. And in an age of global economic turmoil and global climate change, comprehending this link is absolutely essential to our long term prosperity.
So starting with the idea of the Bioregion, I collected some basic data to create the broadest outline of my professional sense, as someone with graduate level training in policy and resource management of what an autonomous or independent Cascadia established along bioregional lines could – and I’d argue, should, look like:
This Democratic Federation of Cascadia would have a combined population of about 17 million people as of the mid 2010s, and it will likely reach 18 million in the mid 2020s. The total Gross Domestic Product would be almost $1.1 Trillion today, a bit larger than the Netherlands or Indonesia, a bit smaller than Australia or Spain.
Depending on whether Cascadia maintains the US level of per-person military spending (over $2,000 even before the most recent increases, taking it close to $2,500) or drops it to the NATO-standard 2% of GDP, Cascadia’s Defense Forces (Mandates: protection of residents from aggression, and disaster relief), it would spend about as much as South Korea ($35 billion per year) or Canada ($20 billion per year) on defense.
Most of the population would reside in Rainier (5.20 million), Willamette (2.80 million), and Fraser/Okanogan (4.40 million together – not certain where the best BC split might be). Once split out, Okanogan would likely be the smallest state by population (Again sorry for the US focus, readers in Canada), followed by Klamath (.80 million), Missoula (.80 million), Teton (1.20 million), and Columbia (1.80 million).
The population distribution into these states is particularly important – in fact, I’d call it vital to the entire concept. One of the biggest issues with contemporary discussions of Cascadia is lack of a clear solution to what will always be the most fundamental challenge in uniting 17 million people across such a large, rugged area: political cultures.
The media-sustained narrative of the US having two ideological poles – left/liberal and right/conservative – with a pool of moderates in the middle, is complete and utter pseudoscience. It is endlessly-repeated nonsense with no basis in anything other than convenience. You simply cannot usefully describe a population, in statistical or functional terms, using a single-dimension metric. Politics in any place or time will always be about more complex than that. Politics is a human activity, rooted in human social and economic interactions. As such, it is subject to the same tribalism as any other aspect of our world. People vote based on how they perceive a candidate or issue is related to their people – whoever they are.
Where people live, the environment they’ve known – social, economic, and/or natural – in their lives, is a crucial component of their self and group identities, which are the ultimate drivers of politics in the real world. The paramount divide within Cascadia exists as a gap between two cultures, rural and urban, each of which is characterized by quite different patterns of existence, which produce different ways of looking at the world.
Cascadia, to function as a political entity, will have to be structured to take these fundamental differences in worldview into account. There is a strain of thinking about Cascadia and Bioregionalism more broadly, that more or less follows the lines of the Ecotopia ideal. The problem with this idea, from a political perspective, is that rural people very rarely see their Ecotopia as being quite the same as urban people. Those who grow up living and working in nature have a definite tendency to see it in different practical and moral terms than someone who has primarily experienced it through vacation trips to national parks. As a result, there is a strong urban bias inherent in the Ecotopia idea, that has absorbed a certain ideology about nature’s relationship with humans rooted in what amounts, to most rural folks, to an argument for their exclusion from the nature they’ve always known.
Anyway, my main point is this: the right-left divide in America is not a “natural” aspect of our society, but in Cascadia, this divide happens to follow geographic lines. And there is only one real solution to the problem of correlated political culture and geography: Federalism.
Cascadia will have to reconcile the differences in how local people want to see the environment managed, by maintaining a strict separation of political powers held by the state governments, and by the Cascadia Federal Government. The Cascadia map above draws on recent American voting records (British Columbia’s are more complex, but the broader urban-rural divide follows the same lines) to identify eight states where one of the two major parties – used here as a proxy for the urban-rural divide – scored a minimum 20-point margin over the other in the 2016 Presidential election (margins are closer in 2012, but the overall pattern is identical).
In other terms, in each of these states, either the democratic or republican candidate received a maximum of 36% of the total vote. Which basically means that this party, in this area, mostly because of its ties to national politics, is functionally non-competitive. You could have – as was the case in California’s most recent senate race – two candidates from the same party competing in a general election, without immediately losing to a solo candidate from the other ideological pole.
This is partly the case now, where it wasn’t 20 or 30 years ago, due to shifts in the values of the American electorate, which you can read more about in any of the awesome Pew Reports available. But now it is the case, and strongly implies that the two-party system simply no longer functions in American society.
This is why I argue for Cascadia to be organized as a Democratic Federation. Like the United States, it will preserve separation of powers between state and federal, and between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches within each state. It will have a national legislature comprised of a 200-member multi-party Parliament and 10% of seats reserved for members of First Nations, as well as a Senate with a fixed number of Senators from each state - as few as 3 (24 total) or as many as you'd like - depends on how small you want an individual senator's constituency to be. It will have a Presidency, however this office will be restricted to supervising the federal bureaucracy, which will be tasked with carrying out the will of the Legislature. And, naturally, it will have a Supreme Court, with members selected by the President – who will be elected by direct popular vote.
To be clear on one point in particular: Cascadia should not be seen as a secession movement, but a reform movement. The Constitution of the United States can be legally Amended by a convention called at the behest of a sufficient number of state legislatures. I believe the simplest and best way forward out of the present political crisis for all Americans is to pass the necessary identical legislation in the necessary number of states, calling for a convention to enact the following Amendment (or an equivalent variation, if advised by legal scholars):
Any contiguous group of counties may demand, via public referendum, full and permanent devolution of all powers and responsibilities presently held by the Federal Government of the United States of America, including the right to Amend the inherited Constitution, save the right to declare war on any part of the United States or its allies.
This will allow for any American region to go its own way, without anyone seceding or sparking some massive Constitutional Crisis – or in the worst case, a Second Civil War. California (Calexit!), Texas (Texit?), independent Alaska, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, Vermont, Deseret (couldn’t keep constructing exit puns) – if the people want it, it should be allowed to happen, under the authority of the Amended Constitution.
Ideally, all the Post-America successor regions would maintain the existing customs and currency union, and citizens of one would remain a citizen of all. It could even retain parts of the existing DC infrastructure to handle big things like management of the nuclear arsenal and continental defense affairs and the space program that all regions could agree should still be managed at the DC-level. But there are no guarantees in America anymore, so Cascadia would need to be prepared to go it alone.
This same model could work for Canada, too, opening up other opportunities for Cascadia if a customs union and free movement could be established/maintained. In my ideal world, devolving federal powers from Ottawa and DC to more rationally organized successor entities would actually be a more sustainable governing solution for everyone in the long run, and would let all of North America perhaps move towards an EU-like arrangement (though with far less bureaucracy). People can still be American or Canadian if they like, but the identity can become less political, and more social – as it should be.
As for Cascadia, my goal is to make the shift to a regional federal government as smooth as possible, hence wording my Amendment such that it simply devolves powers, allowing successor regions time to work out the details to minimize disruptions. Once established, Cascadia would then need to take the inherited US Constitution (and for British Columbia, all their fun legal stuff) and amend it locally to produce the specific structure we as Cascadians decide we want.
Well! Since this is running long, I’ll leave it at that rather than dive into ridiculous details, like I instinctively want to (but who would want to read?). My goal for this essay was to articulate the political structure I think is necessary to make Cascadia a reality. I hope it is a useful discussion piece, and I’ll send it to some forums (fora?) and folks to see if it interests anyone. I have a book project in mind based on this concept, but that’ll probably have to wait until 2020 or so, when I’ll have Bringing Ragnarok done.
But the bottom line, to conclude, is that I believe the Democratic Federation of Cascadia represents the best way forward for residents of the Pacific Northwest who want to live in a country that doesn’t function as an engine of death, transforming your labor to tax revenues to bombs that never seem to stop being dropped. I don’t want to be an American, and rather than accept the bullshit "then get out" argument, I take a different approach: I deny the legitimate right of the United States federal government to continue to lay claim lands it originally stole through deliberate genocide.
So to hell with the blood-drenched stars and stripes I once proudly wore. That symbol no longer deserves our honor or affection. It is too stained with the blood of innocents, and its nature is so manifestly pernicious that it cannot be allowed to continue. The time has come to throw the Ring of Power into the flame, and move on to build the world that-should-be.
I am Cascadian.