Welcome to Cascadia
November 14, 2004
Nearly three decades before the 2004 elections, author Ernest Callenbach
asked a prescient question: If we Oregonians, Washingtonians and Northern
Californians were in charge, what would we do?
His answer: We'd leave the United States to its own self-created woes and
build Ecotopia, our independent utopian society.
The idea was a fringe notion in 1975, when Callenbach's classic novel
"Ecotopia" first captured a young generation's imagination.
But in the wake of recent national elections, a sovereign Ecotopia -- or
Cascadia, as it is now widely referred to -- is re-emerging as a subject of
interest for some. Long bandied about as little more than an engaging thought
experiment, the secession of Oregon, Washington, northern California and
possibly British Columbia from the United States and Canada suddenly is
intriguing everyone from whimsical Web masters to earnest political activists.
That's right: Cascadia, our Cascadia, a new peaceful, sustainable, neighborly,
environmentally friendly strip of fir green and fog gray that stretches anywhere
from southern Alaska to northern California.
That is, except for the proposed state of Jefferson, an island
red in a liberal blue sea at the Oregon-California border. But more about that
"Ecotopia," set 20 years after the secession of Oregon, Washington and
describes a land of electric mass transit, outdoor
recreation, video-conferencing and a 20-hour workweek. Freed from the
political controls and traditions of the United States, Ecotopia develops an
ecosystem that is a perfect balance between humans and the environment.
"It focuses the mind to think about separatist sentiment," Callenbach says
now, "regardless of whether it ever gets serious."
As he prepares a 30th anniversary edition of "Ecotopia," Callenbach says the
book has become popular again among young people, who don't see its
original environmental messages as impractical fringe theories.
Callenbach also sees a long-term trend toward smaller, localized
"The U.S. is too damn big," he says. "Small countries are best. They
have armies careening around on the other side of world."
Callenbach points to collaborative governments, such as Oregon's watershed
councils, which bring ranchers, environmentalists, recreationists and Native
Americans together to attempt consensus on contentious issues.
"That kind of thing will grow a lot, no matter who is in office," he says.
In Portland, people interested in Cascadian independence have already
"There's a huge buzz in the activist community about Cascadia rising," says
Bryan W., an 18-year-old Portland State University
freshman who asked that
his last name not be used for fear of reprisals from the federal government.
"There's a large section of Cascadia that I've been in contact with," he says,
"but with Bush being elected, it has gotten even moderates involved."
The Cascadia Confederacy message group on Yahoo has seen a minor
explosion in e-mail traffic, from eight in January to 69 in October and 42 so
in November, according to Yahoo statistics. The confederacy is seeking full
sovereignty and self-determination for its citizens, according to its
self-description. Cascadia, it says, would move away from capitalism and a
nation-state form of government to "a social organizational form that allows for
autonomous direct democracies and the flourishing of indigenous culture."
The Cascadian National Party, a tiny, near-dormant political party launched
the day before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, also has seen a recent surge of
interest, says Brandon Rhodes, a 20-year-old college student who is the
party's Eugene representative.
It's not exactly a groundswell: Rhodes' in-box has gotten about half a dozen
e-mails on the subject in the past week. Nevertheless, that's up from the usual
pace of one a month.
The party's ultimate goal is for Oregon and
Washington to secede peacefully
from the United
States and form
the sovereign nation of Cascadia. The party's
priorities would be decentralized government, greater civil liberties, less
control by corporate interests and more environmental safeguards.
"Right now, it's still a matter of kind of saturating the market with the idea
instead of running to Canada,"
says Rhodes, a third-year student in political
science and environmental studies at the University
of Oregon. "The
Democratic party disappointed a lot of people. A lot of people didn't like
(Kerry) at all. I didn't vote for him." Auto sticker sales increase
One of the most whimsical efforts is being waged by Lyle Zapato, who
suggests that the sovereign nation of Cascadia already exists in spirit, if not
yet in the world atlas.
His Web site, Republic of Cascadia (http://zapatopi.net/cascadia.html),
defines the country as Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
"The Republic of Cascadia," the Web site acknowledges, "is not yet officially
recognized by Canada,
the United States
of America or
the United Nations.
Not that it is any of their business."
Zapato, who reveals his geographic location as central Cascadia "near the
surface," created the site in 1998, he writes in an e-mail. The purpose is "to
help bring about the revolution to liberate the people of Cascadia from remote
Federalist control" -- a sentiment also expressed by other, more serious
Zapato says orders for his Republic of Cascadia auto sticker hit 63 between
Nov. 2 and Nov. 5, up from a handful prior to that. Orders are coming from all
over Washington and Oregon, with one person ordering 12.
Not exactly huge sales, Zapato writes, "but considering I didn't do any special
advertising of them other than the link on the Cascadia page (that's been
there for well over a year) or try to tie them into current events, it's kind of
amusingly unexpected." Linking Cascadia by rail
A much more serious effort to link Cascadia together is under way at the
Cascadia Center of Seattle's Discovery Institute. The center doesn't advocate
secession, but rather cooperation among Oregon,
Washington and British
"The reality is that opportunities lie not in political union, but in strategic
alliances," says Bruce Agnew, the center's director.
The center's overarching goal is to promote the notion of a land without
borders. Specifically, the think tank is targeting the development of a better
transportation system, such as high-speed rail, for people and goods
The 12-year-old center also keeps its eye on the Northwest's tourism,
economics, technology and alternative energy.
Not to mention health care.
"Hordes of people are going to Canada for flu shots and prescription drugs,"
Agnew says. "The Bush administration will have to deal with the drug issue."
Reviving Jefferson state
Toward the opposite end of Cascadia, in Northern California,
embrace the idea of secession, but not with the rest of Cascadia.
Brian Petersen, a 38-year-old landscaper, tractor mechanic, promoter and
part-owner of a car wash in Yreka, Calif., would rather see Northern California
merge with Southern Oregon to form the new state of Jefferson.
Petersen lays out his vision on his Web site, www.jeffersonstate.com, which
has existed since 1998.
Fed up with what they see as liberal control from far-flung state capitals, the
citizens of Jefferson would constitute a conservative new red state. The
driving issues are property rights and local government control.
"Jefferson went for Bush," Petersen says.
The Jefferson secession effort is hardly new. On Nov. 27, 1941, four Northern
California counties, plus Oregon's Curry County, declared themselves the
49th state of the union. (Alaska and Hawaii had not yet been admitted to the
"Patriotic Jeffersonians intend to secede each Thursday until further notice,"
read the declaration, which was handed out to motorists stopped at highway
blockades outside of Yreka, the state's interim capital. Ten days later, the
United States was plunged into World War II, and the Jefferson movement
Today, Petersen suggests that Jefferson could incorporate the 12
northernmost California counties, along with Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson,
Josephine, Klamath and Lake counties in Oregon.
"All the pieces are there," Petersen says. "It's just a matter of sounding the
In the San Francisco Bay Area, at the far southern end of Cascadia,
"Ecotopia" author Callenbach says he's now writing a piece about where the
United States is in the evolution of empires. Titled "Going Down With the
Empire," the piece notes that, as always, old institutions crumble and new
ones rise up.
"There's a reasonable chance of an ecotopian empire rising up," he says.
"We have to keep our spirits up," he adds. "This country has been crazy for a
long, long time."
Steve Woodward: 503-294-5134; firstname.lastname@example.org