by Kevin Beals - November 2008
"WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness..."
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
Even if the language sometimes shows its 232 years, it's still not easy to re-phrase that statement any better. Contained within is the seed from which our entire "great experiment" has grown. The beauty, however, lies in the statement's inherently paradoxical nature: providing equal measure for its own destruction as well as creation. With a standing army both abroad and at home, and the economy diving into a gaping abyss larger than Madonna's crotch, it's not difficult to imagine those early statesmen might have in fact expected that experiment to be temporary. We can whine about the problems all day long, but ultimately the question still remains: what are we going to do about it?
For Brandon Letsinger and Alex Thomas of the Cascadian Independence Project, the answer is clear: have a back-up plan. Founded in 2005 by Letsinger, the Seattle chapter of the Cascadian Independence Project, or CIP, was originally a community-based organization designed to discuss the concept of "Cascadia," but has since grown tremendously in scope and attention. I had a chance to talk to both men in an October 21st interview about their roles in the CIP, its goals, current status and history, their outlooks on the future and the best places to view a Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, among others.
To be specific, the term "Cascadia" refers to the bio-region roughly between 42° and 60° north latitude, bordered by the Pacific Coast on the west and by Idaho and Canadian Alberta on the east - though individual estimates vary. It would roughly comprise the states now known as Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The original idea for having a more local, self-governed democracy in this region far pre-dates European involvement, however, with tribes ranging all the way from the Shasta and Umpqua further south, to the Duwamish in Seattle and the Haida and Tlingit further north, among many, many others. Most tribes in the region traded with each other in some form or another, many of the language branches were related and a great number relied on the same resources. After European contact and eventual American expansion westward, the area was first referred to as Oregon Country by the Americans and Columbia by the British, until it was officially declared Oregon Territory by the Americans in 1846. Even Thomas Jefferson envisioned an independent nation in the northwestern portion of the continent he dubbed "The Republic of the Pacific." Though the origin of the word "Cascadia" itself isn't entirely clear, it was actually chosen as the preferred word for the region in a number of Canadian and American newspaper surveys.
The idea proposed by the Cascadian Independence Project is fundamentally related to this history of self-government, and it's not difficult to find some eerie similarities with our own country's early history. Put more simply by Alex Thomas of CIP, "A foreign government thousands of miles away doesn't know what's best for us."
When I asked him about whether or not he believed that a self-sufficient, truly democratic local government was pragmatically possible, he simply replied, "I think that's inevitable."
"Considering national failure, there will be no other choice but to turn to your neighbor," Thomas added.
"We now have the technology to build a truly democratic society," said Letsinger, "The people need to choose what their government looks like."
The Cascadian Independence Project is a grass-roots organization focused primarily on strengthening community and neighborhood ties in order to decrease dependence on the federal government. While the actual governmental structure is the subject of much debate within the group, even those who disagree are united by a common thread: re-claiming a true democracy.
"We are not a political party, but rather the project is mainly designed to start a conversation," explains Thomas. "The organization is larger than any single unit, as all the branches of the group are self-organized. Anybody is welcome to organize their own branch."
Another thing both men agree on is the need to build an alternative infrastructure that would better meet the needs of its citizens.
"I oftentimes think about what we could do if all the federal taxes we paid were instead directed to this region," mused Thomas, "Why are we sending our money and National Guard to Iraq when we don't even have a viable option for the viaduct?"
The region's tremendous wealth in natural resources is perhaps one of the strongest practical arguments for self-determination, as with more than an estimated $589 billion of goods and services each year, it ranks in the top 20 economies of the world.
"There's no reason why you can't plan ahead," explained Thomas about the group's primary motivating factors. "There's no reason to fight for the government's collapse, as that is inevitable." "Think of it more like disaster preparation," he added.
I finally asked Thomas about how the group funded its operations. He laughed. "For the most part, we try not to spend money." Most everything in the organization has been funded entirely out-of-pocket, with the stickers, prints and buttons paid for by Letsinger himself. The group is currently working to attain 501c3 non-profit status, and relies entirely on donations for the remainder of its funding.
And the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus? Supposedly, the best place to spot one is somewhere around the southeastern portion of the Olympic National Forest, but their vast intelligence and natural agility can make them particularly difficult to spot. "Not ours, unfortunately," replied Letsinger. Apparently it's actually a creation of the Republic of Cascadia, a parody website responsible for the PNTO and the Sasquatch Militia, among others.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." While Santayana's famous quote has been said many ways, the meaning is nonetheless still true. If fascism is the new monarchy, something tells me that we're not too far away from an uncomfortably similar situation to the one the Founding Fathers found themselves in so many years ago. Even if things may turn out differently with this upcoming election, do we still truly have a democracy? Either way, I can't help but think of that old adage repeated by so many grandmothers, "Hope for the best - but plan for the worst."
To find out more about the Cascadian Independence Project, contact a member or become involved, check out one of these: