Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye! – Scottish for ‘What’s meant to happen will happen”
As Scotland votes today for or against independence from Britain, it’s worth looking at other movements – or notions – promoting the idea of what skeptics tend to call ‘secession’ or ‘separatism.’
There are always a number of independence movements underway around the world, from the coming vote on Catalonia in Spain to less-organized and spontaneous eruptions like the Arab Spring, to violent conflicts dubbed coup d’états. The U.S. has such movements as well, from the Confederate hold-outs in the deep South to the Second Vermont Republic.
And there’s always Texans, of course.
“The words people use often carry a certain amount of stigma, at least as a political idea,” said Brandon Letsinger, executive director of Cascadia Now – an organization that’s about a decade old and promotes dialogue on the idea of creating an independent country based on the Pacific Northwest’s cultural, environmental and bioregional identity. (See map at right.)
The idea of breaking away to form a new nation, Cascadia, may sound radical or goofy to most people (and remind them of that somewhat goofy, granola-head 1970s novel Ecotopia). But the basic concept of Cascadia is actually widely accepted by planners, economists and think-tankers as a useful framework for even the most staid and mainstream needs.
It’s when people talk about creating a new political entity, or nation, that scares people off, Letsinger said. He noted there’s some level of irony that, in a country that loves to celebrate its historical independence movement, it’s almost taboo to talk about doing it again.
“The political boundaries we have were drawn a hundred, or hundreds of years ago,” he noted. “These boundaries were often established arbitrarily, without much regard to the local people, cultures, economies or geography.”
Africa provides a great example of the lasting harm such arbitrary boundary-making can do.
“Many of the nations in Africa were established through the colonial process, either in ignorance or in disregard of the region’s existing cultural, social and economic systems,” Letsinger said. Just drawing a line around a place does not create a coherent or even rationally defined community, he said.
Cascadia Now was launched in 2005 out of a failed attempt to create a viable political movement. That lasted for about three months. The goal of the organization, he said, is not to simply resurrect the political movement but rather to educate people about the value of thinking along these lines.
“It starts with our environmental, or bioregional, identity and builds out from there,” Letsinger said. And it’s hardly radical or forcing a new framework onto what already exists, he said. If you look at how our economic and commercial activities correspond to, say, the Columbia River or Fraser River watersheds, they match up fairly well. Our environmental and geographical identity is intimately tied in to everything we do, he said, even sports.
“Remember those articles that talked about how all of America hates the Seahawks?” Letsinger said. “One of them mapped where all the supporters lived. It was Cascadia.”
No matter what happens with the vote in Scotland, he said this represents a positive step for what he and his colleagues at Cascadia are trying to do.
“At the very least, it generates interest and attention to the idea of regional, and bioregional, independence,” Letsinger said. “People tend to dismiss it off-hand, as impractical or impossible even. But it actually makes a lot of sense, especially as Americans become increasingly disenchanted with how our federal system works, or doesn’t really.”
Worldwide, he said, pushing for local empowerment and re-defining political systems according to the people and their environment could reduce conflict and empower communities who are now mostly exploited or woefully under-represented by their governments.
Cascadia Now isn’t going to be pushing for an independence referendum any time soon, Letsinger said. The organization sees itself as mostly educational in nature, for the time being. They want to help create a mindset, and tools, that promote local and bioregional empowerment before trying to challenge the political establishment.
But Letsinger said he wouldn’t be surprised if the first (or next) seriously considered independence movement in the U.S. catches on here in the Pacific Northwest, given our history of innovative and independent thought.
“We are looking at what it means, what it will take, to be truly independent,” he said. “It’s not an ideology or just about politics. It’s about getting people to look at the world in a new way.”