Cascadia: A Framework for Change

By Executive Director, Brandon Letsinger

As an Inter-dependence Movement

Cascadia, more than anything else, is a movement to help build the inter-dependence, sustainability and resiliency for the Cascadia bioregion. We use Cascadia as a framework guided by principles to break global issues down to a local level, increase the accountability and transparency of our regional economic and food systems, and move our actions and impacts to a watershed first, community approach.

As an inter-dependence movement, we talk about a social and cultural movement - as the sum of our interpersonal interactions, and in which every person can take responsibility - and towards a model for watershed governance, a holistic approach, rather than a political one in which we send people to a voting box every four years, or wait for someone else to do it for us. With this, a regional identity, rooted in a love of place, a vision we can be working towards, and a movement that empowers every person to walk out their front door, make a difference about what they care about, and connect with the people already in their community making that change happen.

Together, this creates a rubric that guides our actions, organizational decisions, and movement, to:  

  • Educate or raise awareness about Cascadia, bioregionalism or CascadiaNow!
  • Shift our impacts or actions locally, or into a bioregional framework. Uses the Cascadia bioregion as a framework to break global issues down to a local level, and can help connect people with those already making changes happen, which can help citizens or consumers have a greater say over their buying decisions or impacts, and works to increase transparency and accountability. 
  • Support the sustainability, autonomy, independence or interdependence of the Cascadia bioregion.
  • Increase the resiliency of the Cascadia bioregion.
  • Devolve power from existing state or national actors towards watershed governance, that help move us from national/state borders, boundaries or representation which is arbitrary, negative or non-representative towards local and community empowerment, and bioregional and watershed borders that better reflect our ecology, geography, culture, economy and the people living here.
  • Increases the livelihood or well being of the people living within the Cascadia bioregion. 
  • Support native sovereignty and work to build a just, equitable society that addresses injustices and inequality in the past, present, or in the future - and that celebrates the amazing diversity of our bio-regions inhabitants - people and other.
  • Create a movement that actively supports traditionally marginalized, under-serviced, at-risk, people of color, LGBTQ and front line communities, by creating safe spaces in our organization at every level, and movement, and by letting communities take the lead and supporting where they identify and need. Within this to create space for every community to have a voice, and lead on issues that are important to them.
  • Reject any effort to disenfranchise or target any particular group or community based on gender, race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or ability.  
  • Build a positive or inclusive regional identity, rooted in a love of place or rooted in a vision for the future for something we can be working towards.
  • Build responsible and ethical models on a local level, which we can share with other bioregions, or that help us fit into a global framework in a way that is responsible, ethical and sustainable.  
  • An Open Source Movement - CascadiaNow! and all affiliates operate under a Creative Commons license that ensures all work, research is open, public and available for educational purposes. We want every person or group to be able to re-use the work we do and help build greater resources available for education and action.

Why Bioregionalism

Our Theory of Change

To understand Cascadia a bit better, it helps to learn not just what bioregionalism is, but why we talk about bioregionalism as our model for change.

At it's root - bioregionalism argues that watersheds better represent the geography, people and physical realities of a region, and that culture stems from place - through shared values, and common concerns, rather than arbitrary lines on the map. It seeks to replace both nationalism, and capitalism, with a shift to a more watershed based, community first approach, with the argument that the people living in a place are the best able to handle issues in that area, and that only examining the whole watershed, and using our bioregions as frameworks, can we begin to address fundamental and systemic issues facing our communities and planet. 

Bioregionalism emerged as an idea in the 1970's from notables like Kirk Patrick Sales, as well as Peter Berg and the Planet Drum Foundation. It was quickly embraced by authors, poets and academics like Gary Snyder, Carolyn Estes, and given vision through books like Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia or Joel Garraeux's Nine Nations of North America giving voice to the different cultures and people's that helped define distinct regions of the continent. Through the 1980's, the the concept moved northward where it was embraced by a rapidly growing Cascadia Bioregional movement, that first met in 1986 at Evergreen State College for their first ever Cascadia Bioregional Congress. 

This theory of bioregionalism incorporates several different fundamental principles. 

  • The world is made up of bioregions, and represent a return to a more natural approach to regional organizing and thinking. Bioregions exist right here, right now and will exist into the future, well after people have disappeared and are defined through geography, environment, geology, topology, and from that - distinct social, cultural and economic regions, the largest space where connections make sense. It is our goal to create a network of bioregional movements, that are each building models that can be openly shared with other movements, and incorporating lessons and models already functioning around the world. Within this, to fit into a global supply chain in a way that is sustainable, ethical and responsible, in which we are more accountable for our actions and impacts.  

  • Bioregions are a framework for change, and are the connection between global and local. Because of shared resources and interdependence, watersheds and bioregions are often the most efficient form or planning and organizing, and serve as an intermediary that lets us break down large scale, global and intangible issues to a local level, at a scale where real impact can be achieved by each of us. By breaking issues down to a local level, we can connect people with those already working to make a difference, and by shifting our impacts locally, it also mean more of us can have a direct say in this supply chain, and can more easily hold businesses, organizations and governments accountable, impacting greater change. Bioregionalism says that change starts at home, and that each of us can be that difference. Bioregionalism also says, it's the watershed silly! Take whatever group, issue or cause you are working with, and think about the issues using a watershed model. For example if a group is working only in Washington state, then you will miss all of your natural allies only a few hours away North, East and South. 

  • A bioregional movement is a gateway movement, and serve to educate about issues important in their region, get people excited and passionate about being involved, and to help root people in place. They are place based hubs, and will only ever exist in the watersheds they function in, and rather than expand outside of it, will work to build partnerships and mutually beneficial relationships with other movements in other areas, who's problems and issues will be distinct and specific to each area and community.  

  • Culture Stems from Place, and arises from having shared principles and concerns that come from living in the same place as your neighbors, and others who share your passions. 'Bio-Region' is simply short for Bio-Cultural Region - highlighting both the diversity of the place, and the people who live there. Together, we have shared principles and values, common concerns, and all want a better life for our family, friends, and neighbors - and to protect the things we find special. Many of these traits stem from sharing a land-base together. We grow the same crops, deal with the weather patterns and climate. If there is a wildfire east of the Cascades, that affects all of us. If there is a drought impacting our region, again that affects each of us. One of the core principles of bioregionalism is that those directly affected by those issues are the best able to represent the needs of their community, and to find pathways forward, rather than by representatives often thousands of miles away, with little vested interest in that region. 

  • A regional Identity rooted in a love of place, that shift us away from the negative associations of American or Canadian, and towards a new culture in which we get to embody the principles we want to see for a society. A bioregional movement works to create a regional identity that is positive, inclusive, and grounded in the principles we want to promote into the world. We talk about this as a social and cultural movement because culture is the sum total of our interpersonal interactions, and by shifting our behaviors, each of us can have an impact about the issues we care about right here, right now, without waiting for others to do it for us. Culture means food, drink, our music, sports & recreation, and the issues we choose to be active about. To create real and lasting change in this region, and be the rapid change our world needs, - that means that we need to reach out and connect with each one of the 15 million people living in this region, have that be a positive interaction, and shift their habits, spreading it on to their friends and family. 

  • Bioregionalism seeks to move us away from boundaries that are toxic, negative and arbitrary lines on a map, and instead to boundaries which are fluid and dynamic, that better represent the physical and cultural realities of an area. By thinking within terms of an entire watershed - we are better equipped to deal with issues upstream, and how our own impacts flow downstream. Just because there is an international border between the United States and Canada, doesn't mean that Seattle and Vancouver don't share the same watershed, and that our actions don't impact each other. If Vancouver is polluting into their waterway, or Seattle is, it affects us both equally. If there is an earthquake - it affects all of us, and we need to be able to effectively communicate and work together to solve those problems. The renaming of the Puget Sound in Washington, and the Prince Georgia Straight in British Columbia in 2012 to the Salish Sea - as a reflection of the entire watershed, is one of the best examples of bioregional principles being incorporated by regional tribes, policy planners, academics and community groups. Bioregionalism seeks to break down those types of national and state borders to a watershed level, able to empower communities to better work with each other.

  • Bioregionalism challenges us to envision what is truly sustainable, autonomous, resilient or independent. If we ever want to talk about true sustainability or independence, than that conversation also must include the entire watershed.  If we ever want to have a discussion about salmon habitat recovery, un-damming the Columbia, Hanford Reservation or pollution - that conversation must necessarily include all states and provinces that share that river. If we ever want to talk about food sovereignty, that conversation can never only include western Washington or Oregon, but must necessarily include both sides of the mountains.

  • Building the models we want to see in the world, not waiting for others to do it for us. While bioregionalism helps us provide a framework for creating a bioregion that is sustainable, autonomous, resilient and independent, it argues for a model which is much more holistic than just a political movement. Some say if the Northwest were to break off tomorrow, we'd be better off. While this might be technically true, many of the root causes for the problems we discuss, and their effects - environmental degradation, poverty, gentrification, lack of access to key services and many others - would all still be here. Bioregionalism challenges us to build the models that we want to see in the world. By moving away from national politics, which can be incredibly dis-empowering, or disenfranchising - we instead seek to empower people in their communities locally, right here right now, rather than waiting for someone else to do it for us, or sending people to a voting box every four years. Every community will have their own needs, and best be able to represent that, and know the best approaches to solving issues in those communities. Together, we are working to create a bioregional movement that is a place based hub that allows for every group to represent those issues, have the services and tools they need, find solidarity and support, and maximize their impact.

  • Bioregionalism can provide an alternative pathway to addressing systemic injustices, of which we all live in and are a part of. Because of this, and the ways that power and oppression can exist and manifest within the institutions we often rely on, bioregionalism can become a model for real and systemic change in which true reconciliation can be possible.  

Why the Doug Flag

Cascadia is a movement that was born in the northwest throughout the 1980's. It is a gateway movement, that was created by people who live here, are from here, and both inspires those born here to protect what we love, and allows those moving here to hook in with something real, authentic and fun. Much like the Rainbow Flag, or the Occupy Fist, symbols can be an incredibly potent means for making a public and visible statement about the values and principles that we share and identify with. With so many brands now being manufactured for our consumption, with global climate crises, and a rise of intolerance, now, more than ever, it is important that as citizens of this world, we have also have our own community inspired and created symbols, that can support the issues and causes we need, around the shared values and principles laid out here, that are driven by a love of place and our neighbors - something authentic, rather than rooted in a profit basis.  

The Cascadia Doug flag is nothing more than a symbol for our landscape and is a direct representation of the bioregion, and for our movement.

An Open Source Symbol & Brand

The Doug flag is an open source, not for profit symbol for the Cascadia bioregion, and the Cascadia movement. CC Use License: CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0. It is a grassroots, and people powered brand for every person interested in protecting our bioregion, improving our livelihood, and helping make the world a better place. We encourage every community, business, organization and individual to modify it for their own eco-region or cause, to help share the idea, around the common principles and values laid out in our Theory of Change. We are all the Cascadian, and together, we are the Cascadia movement. 

A Symbol Against Hate

CascadiaNow and the Cascadia movement  actively works to create a safe space for frontline and traditionally marginalized communities and voices. We reject all forms of hate, prejudice, and believe in an inclusive movement, that shows the beauty of this region, it's people and our incredible diversity. We reject racism, hate, fear, sexism, white supremacy, or any type of discrimination based on sexual orientation, religion, personal beliefs or choices, and these stances are reflected at every level of our organization as a 501(c)3 non-profit. We look forward to building a coalition movement that empowers every person and community, and provides space for indigenous, POC, and traditionally marginalized communities, and of course the millions of amazing Cascadians who live here, to advocate with their own voices, find solidarity and support, and break down boundaries which are harmful and negative . Thank you!

Meaning of the Flag

Designed in 1994 by Portland native Alexander Baretich, the blue of the flag represents the moisture-rich sky above, and the Pacific Ocean, along with the Salish Sea, lakes, and inland waters. Our home is a place of continuous cascading waters flowing from the Pacific to the western slopes of the Rockies and Cascades where water cycles back to the Pacific. The white represents snow and clouds, and the green represents the evergreen forests and fields of the Pacific Northwest. The lone-standing Douglas Fir symbolizes endurance, defiance, and resilience. All these symbols come together to symbolize what being Cascadian is all about.