Welcome to Cascadia


Welcome to Cascadia


Sunday, 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 of conservative

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

Northern California, 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 don't

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.

Cascadians organize


In Portland, people interested in Cascadian independence have already

begun organizing.


"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 (,

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

throughout Cascadia.


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, some folks

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,, 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;