This is the real Cascadia:
And I need help building it.
The Long Version is here for the wonky types like myself.
This is the short version.
Having spent way too much of my life in higher education, I have a painful tendency to write dense, heavy stuff.
Which I am 100% aware the vast majority of people have no time or interest in wading through.
So here I’ll set aside my natural tendency towards imposter syndrome and simply state my case for building the Democratic Federation of Cascadia.
The time has come for Cascadia to become a self-governing territory within the United States and Canada.
Not independent from its parent countries, still legally tied to them, but autonomous within our own jurisdiction.
Governments in the United States and Canada have utterly, abysmally, criminally failed to protect their people against Covid-19.
This is unacceptable but also tragically predictable.
Both countries began as settler-colonies. Their governments were created to divide up territory taken from the natives who were already there and have the interests of the wealthy and well-connected at heart.
This heritage has directly led to the tragic loss of over 450,000 Americans and 20,000 Canadians — with many more yet to come. The death toll in the United States is among the world’s worst despite it being the world’s richest, allegedly most powerful country.
And it wasn’t only federal inaction that is to blame — the leadershiup in almost every state and province failed too.
Many other countries — Vietnam, South Korea, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore — have been dramatically more successful.
Covid-19, like any other pandemic, can be controlled and extinguished if you follow a few basic steps. Lockdowns are painful and paying people to stay at home is costly, but it is cheaper in the long run.
But despite promises to “follow the science” our government leaders have chosen to abdicate all responsibility for rising to the challenge. Their priorities from the start were minimizing the impact on the economy then protecting seniors and the vulnerable, not the other way around.
And it all goes back to their origins. The governments of the United States and Canada and their associated States and Provinces will never truly care about their people.
So it is up to the people to develop an alternative — real, working governments by and for the people.
But what is Cascadia, anyway?
Different interest groups, naturally, have different opinions:
- Bioregionalists define it as the watersheds of the Columbia and Fraser Rivers.
- Megaregion advocates view it as the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver urban corridor.
- Most people living here see it as British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.
But no country, no nation, is reducible in this way. It exists as a synthesis of geology, ecology, and the history of human occupation. Cascadia is a distinct region of North America physically defined by the Cascade Volcanic Arc and Cascadia Subduction Zone. These facts of the local geology have produced a distinct landscape shaped by the climate, which define habitat ranges for species — humans included.
Humans first arrived tens of thousands of years ago, their settlement and migration patterns shaped by the land. These First Cascadians and their descendents became an intrinsic part of the land, managing it to sustain dense populations. Cascadia became a Nation of Nations, each with their own language and customs, but aware of and interacting with one another across the centuries.
Europeans began to arrive four centuries ago, bringing with them new technology like horses and firearms as well as new ideas like white supremacy. The First Cascadians were struck by diseases to which they had no immunity, and when European settlement began in force two hundred years ago the remnants were forced to live on fractions of their former territories.
And Europeans had their own way of managing the land, first as a purely extractive resource, later setting aside areas as natural preserves where settlers with disposable income could travel to and commune with nature. They brought new ideas of what landscapes should look like and altered their function in countless ways.
In the 21st century a debt accumulated over two centuries is fast coming due. The climate is changing, new diseases can break out and cross continents in a matter of weeks, and political instability is on the rise.
Our governments are already failing to handle even the first stages of a fast-evolving global megacrisis. They simply weren’t designed to protect their people equally, and society is cracking under the strain.
For Cascadians this poses a clear and present danger to our lives and livelihoods. Because we face a unique set of threats that our governments are not moving quickly enough to face.
Wildfires, pandemics, volcanic eruptions, crustal earthquakes and subduction zone megaquakes — Cascadia is a beautiful, dangerous land. And pretty much all our basic infrastructure, things like buildings and bridges, were designed before most Cascadians understood the magnitude of the threats.
When the Cascadia Subduction Zone produces another massive earthquake and tsunami, tens of thousands of people are expected to die. Every time there is a massive wildfire that blankets urban areas with smoke, people die.
But just like in the Covid-19 pandemic, federal and state governments won’t do what is necessary to prepare and respond.
This is why Cascadia needs its own government: The Democratic Federation of Cascadia.
After winning approval from the United States Congress and Canadian Parliament the Democratic Federation of Cascadia will move to take over all federal and state responsibilities in our jurisdiction. Over a four year period agencies and assets will be slowly transitioned and reorganized to make sure there are no gaps or cracks people who depend on them fall through.
During this transition period elections will be held to fill seats in Cascadia’s federal and state governments. To unite a diverse population of 16 million people Cascadia will adopt a federal system with strict separation of powers between Branches of government and the States of Cascadia. States will be given as much autonomy as they can handle, required to follow federal rules but able to implement them as best suits their residents.
There will be nine states at the start, with borders drawn to separate predominantly urban, suburban, and rural regions from one another. This reflects the existing cultural and practical divides within Cascadia and limits the power of one region over the others.
Each State will elect its own Executive to serve on the Executive Council. Its job is to oversee State and Federal government agencies, preserving each State’s autonomy while at the same time allowing it to be overriden if one State’s actions are at odds with the whole.
The Legislative Branch will provide the unifying political center for Cascadia. A 259-member Parliament will be elected every 3 years using proportional representation rules, giving rise to a multi-party system. 200 of the seats will be directly elected, 32 will be reserved for First Nations members, and 27 will be appointed by State Executives (3 each).
The party or coalition able to win support of 130 members forms a government, electing a First Speaker who appoints a Cabinet to set and administer the legislative agenda. The Legislature has the power to set laws and fund programs, however all spending is done at the state level, with the Federal government forwarding tax revenues to the States on a per-person basis.
There will naturally be a Judicial Branch too, each State served by its own Federal Circuit Court with as many members as are needed to handle the caseload. When a Supreme Court is needed, one Judge from each of the nine Circuits is randomly selected to serve.
Finally, Cascadia will have a co-equal fourth Branch, the Cascadia Defense Forces. They will be under the command of the government and overseen by a Secretary of Defense appointed by the Executive Council.
The Cascadia Defense Forces will be responsible for responding to any and all hazards threatening the lives of Cascadian residents. Tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, wildfire, pandemic even the unlikely event of a foreign attack — the Democratic Federation of Cascadia needs to be prepared to protect Cascadians from them all.
85% of the residents of British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington as a group live in the jurisdiction of the Democratic Federation of Cascadia. With a nearly $1 Trillion economy, we have the resource base needed to protect ourselves from both the physical hazards of the world as well as economic.
Cascadia is an idea that can benefit everyone — the USA and Canada have fewer people to govern, but Cascadians will remain American or Canadian citizens, able to move freely across the borders. Cascadians will have a more democratic, accountable government, insulated from the growing chaos afflicting the national political scene in both countries.
And it can also go a long way towards atoning for the crimes committed by the United States and Canada against the First Cascadians. The First Nations will retain all existing sovereign rights as well as gain a permanent, meaningful political bloc in the federal government. This will provide an enhanced pathway for reclaiming their ancestral lands.
So what stands in the way of Cascadia becoming a reality?
- Most Cascadians don’t yet see Cascadia’s full potential,
- There isn’t yet any clear proposal to advance Cascadian autonomy, and so
- Insufficient resources and organization are dedicated to a difficult task.
Part of the problem is that discussion of Cascadia have to date been dominated by advocates of bioregionalism. And while the idea of the bioregion is fascinating, the language used by most environmentalists is deeply alienating to a substantial fraction of Cascadians. Bioregionalism, like the environmental movement more broadly, has many troubling racist roots and is proving vulnerable to being co-opted by alt-right and white supremacist elements.
A truly pluralistic approach is needed, similar to the approach used by advocates of Scottish Independence in the United Kingdom. The Scottish National Party is not ideologically limited or restricted to a focus on environmental issues, though these are very important there as well as here.
Developing that is a challenge, to be sure — but it is not insurmountable. And it can begin small: to foster a better public understanding of what Cascadia is and can be, there needs to be an independent, comprehensive platform that lets all Cacadians digitally explore their own land in detail.
Think a hybrid of Google Earth with crowdsourced data collection, all pulled together to produce an interactive geographic information system — a digital National Atlas of Cascadia.
This would act as a focus for meaningful organization — first social, then political, opening a path to actually achieving Cascadian self-governance this decade. Here’s the basic battle plan, broken down into levels (I’m a gamer, obviously!)
Level 1 $20,000–$30,000
The Democratic Federation of Cascadia begins with the National Atlas of Cascadia. This will pull in census, economic, and political data as well as geophysical and environmental, displaying them all on a customizable interface. ArcGIS Online might be an ideal host or partner, but there is plenty of open-source stuff available that a web developer can work into something cool. Users could explore Cascadia and develop their own maps, serving as a content hub to get people excited and willing to donate to advance the mission.
Level 2 $250,000–$300,000
With a proven product and reach, within a year we could be expanding fast, to the point that it makes sense to establish a board and register as a non-profit. This opens up more donation streams as well as grant funding opportunities, which can pay for the administrative costs and substantial expansion of the Atlas to handle more users. This level of funding would allow for the hiring of contractors able to produce professional products to further solidify out presence and expand our reach. The Covid-19 pandemic has proven that people are hungry for data and visualization, and this demand can easily be filled once the right platform is in place.
Level 3 $2 — $3 million
When our Foundation can amass a warchest of this magnitude through a combination of donations and grants, it becomes ethical to hire full-time, long-term staff. This is the point where we begin to develop and publish bigger projects — artwork, a Cascadia Broadcast Network, anything that expands our reach and gets people excited about Cascadia. With an enduring physical presence the Democratic Federation of Cascadia will be in an excellent position to obtain large grants and partner directly with prominent organizations across Cascadia — especially those affiliate with the First Nations — to begin the work of building the formal architecture of government.
Level 4 $25 — $35 million
Truly beginning the push to self-governance requires a competitive political party. One of the tasks of the Foundation will be laying the groundwork for this independent political organization, the Cascadia National Party. It will be able to receive political donations and channel them into winning key state-level elections at first, more as we can build on our early successes. The Foundation and Party will be separate but allied, able to support one another financially and professionally. This combination will ensure that everyone in Cascadia hears about what we are trying to accomplish, which in and of itself will be a huge victory for anyone who hopes to see Cascadia thrive.
Level 5 $250 million
These are the big leagues, opening the door to the endgame: forcing legislation through the Canadian Parliament and United States Congress that authorizes the Democratic Federation of Cascadia. This will almost certainly require winning over at least a plurality of voters in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, if not an outright majority. An effort that will involve defeating candidates from opposing parties, which can be expected to fight to protect their interests. That means raising and spending money — a lot of it. Fortunately, with a population of 16 million and a robust economy, the funds are there, if Cascadians can be convinced to part with them in order to pursue something I am well aware is wildly ambitious.
But A unique moment is approaching where the United States and maybe even Canada may fragment. There is nothing truly natural holding them together, and identity everywhere is becoming strongly local, with people rejecting narratives foisted on them by the establishment. Once a historic process like this is triggered, a shift to an entirely new and unpredictable system state becomes possible.
But location is everything, and proximate bonds tend to hold tighter than all others, so it is entirely possible that a self-governing Cascadia lies on the other side of the difficult decade ahead. To make it through this period as intact as possible, to protect ourselves from the many hazards we face in the wake of our governments’ effective surrender to Covid-19, Cascadians must organize as Cascadians, recognizing the close ties that will link anyone who lives in the shadow of the beautiful Cascade volcanoes in the days ahead.
And that’s what the Democratic Federation of Cascadia is about.
If you want to help make it happen, spread the word.