The sun has been down for hours, and the streets of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood are quiet for a Thursday night. A small group of people stop to huddle around a lone streetlight. One of them places a flyer against the lamppost, lathers it in the wheat flour paste, and gets up to catch up with the others.
The light shines on the lamppost’s new addition: a green, white, and blue flag, a map of the Pacific Northwest, and the caption, “Cascadia Now!”
These posters have left Seattleites with a simple question: What is Cascadia?
“It’s an idea which, even if it’s not given a specific name, so many people already have,” said Brandon Letsinger, the founding director of Cascadia Now, a nonprofit group with over 200 participants. “We want to be more like the spine of the Cascadian movement. We want to empower everyone to actually envision bringing what they believe into reality.”
Cascadia is the bioregion of the Pacific Northwest, an area that encompasses British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and parts of Alaska, Idaho, and northern California. All Cascadians support a strong Pacific Northwest cultural identity. Some even want independence from the U.S. and Canada.
At the heart of the Cascadian idea lies the belief that Pacific Northwesterners have more in common with each other than with people in other parts of the U.S. and Canada. “I align more with Vancouver B.C. than I do with most places in my own country, and I think a lot of people feel the same way,” says Max Shurman, one of many activists involved with Cascadia Now.
Sewn into the breast of his coat is the movement’s flag: three horizontal stripes – blue, white and green – with a silhouette of a Douglas fir tree in the center.
The Cascadian identity has taken root with everyone from soccer fans to craft beer drinkers.
The Cascadia Cup, started in 2004, honors the Major League Soccer team from Vancouver, Seattle or Portland with the best record each year.
Although the Cascadia concept is not a purely political one, supporters argue that secession would bring needed political and social autonomy to the region. “One of the reasons we never get around to fixing the social problems we care most about is because we have to worry about bringing places like Texas, Arizona, and Mississippi to the table,” Shurman said. “If you’re trying to expand social programs in these places, you’re going to lose every time.”
“We have a lot to do. This can’t just be a political movement; it needs to be an everything movement. We need to do everything else that creates a culture, creates a society.” Letsinger.
Establishing a regional identity is an essential factor in building a nation, and so Cascadia Now works hard to promote involvement in all parts of Cascadia – even those outside America.
“We do a lot of bumper sticker drives, and through these orders we’re able to see where our support is coming from,” explains Letsinger. “While most comes from Seattle and Portland, Vancouver is a close third. We’re even pulling in a lot of people from around British Columbia in the more rural and remote areas, and that’s really exciting to me.”
In Canada, the Parti Québécois has been fighting for independence for Québec since 1968, so secession is a familiar political conversation. In the U.S. it’s a much touchier subject.
Time Magazine put Cascadia on a tongue-in-cheek list of the world’s top ten independence movements (Cascadia came in 8th, trailing Québec by only two spots) in 2011, dismissing the prospect of secession out of hand.
But Letsinger says the idea is much less political than people initially think.
“This isn’t about a like or dislike of federal government,” Letsinger said. “It’s about a common love for a place and the desire to see it become even better.”