Cascadia & Bioregionalism: A Rejection of Exclusionary Identity Politics

north cascade mountains

Cascadia is not a liberal idea. Cascadia is not a conservative idea. Cascadia is not a capitalist idea. Cascadia is not an anti-capitalist idea. When it comes to political ideology, Cascadia is not a partisan idea. Cascadia is a bioregional idea.

So long as you embrace that Cascadia and being Cascadian is inherently tied to, and a result of, the natural essence of this region itself, then personal political ideology is not a qualifier which either precludes or excludes authenticity to being Cascadian. You can be liberal and be Cascadian. You can be conservative and be Cascadian. You can be libertarian, socialist, anarchist, or almost any other political affinity and be as legitimate of a Cascadian as any other.

I say “almost any other” because there are some elements of political affinities, and a select few ideologies in and of themselves, which fundamentally reject the premise of bioregionalism and, thereby, the very idea of Cascadia. These elements are attributed to a subset of identity politics which argues that auxiliary human characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion, or personal political affiliation have essential power in defining a civic community or civic belonging in general. When such elements are embraced, the result is a tendency for groups of persons to form exclusive political alliances based on such characteristics. A given race or ethnicity, for example, is used to preclude or exclude other people from being a member of that community; “we” is exclusive and “the others” don’t belong.

One key component of bioregionalism is recognizing and acknowledging that our societal identity—our shared sense of civic belonging—is shaped from the bioregion itself. Our shared traits and values as one common civic community comes in part from our shared geography, climate, flora, fauna, et cetera. Place shapes identity. This is why the shared culture and values of our region exist as they do and are recognized as they are.

By accepting this, you inherently reject this exclusionary subset of identity politics. By accepting this, you affirm that auxiliary human characteristics do not define who belongs in Cascadia and who doesn’t. Bioregionalism intrinsically affirms that characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, or personal political affiliation are irrelevant when defining our common sense of civic belonging. Thereby, when Cascadia is embraced as a bioregional idea, it cannot be limited or preferential to any person or group(s) of people based solely on auxiliary human characteristics. I would argue that any ideology which pushes for Cascadia and the Cascadian identity to be exclusive based on these traits is inherently “un-Cascadian”.

Bioregionalism, in its essence, is an inclusive idea. Anyone from any background can come to Cascadia and “be Cascadian” should they choose to embrace the region and share in the ways which allow society to thrive here. The individual whose ancestors have lived here since time immemorial and the individual with ancestral roots half a world away can both be as equally “Cascadian” as each other. The native-born and the immigrant can both “belong.”

This does not mean everyone who identifies as Cascadian sheds all individuality to think the same things and behave in the same ways. Rejecting the form of identity politics I’m talking about results in any individual, from any ethnic or cultural background, being fully accepted as their true authentic self and being acknowledged as fully equal member of the same civic or national community. Furthermore, the vast array of differences in individuals’ race, ethnicity, cultural background, family history, religious beliefs, political affiliations, and so forth are not cause for any to claim differentiation in civic or national identity.

Using myself as an example: I, as a white male with western European ancestry who identifies as Cascadian, must fully accept the immigrant born in South America, and the black woman whose ancestors were brought to this continent as slaves, and the First Nation member whose ancestors have been buried here for 50 generations, and the gender non-conforming person, and the devout Muslim who worships five times per day, and the white man whose political beliefs are very different from my own, and all other Cascadians as being as legitimately Cascadian as myself. We are all Cascadians because we call this region home.

There’s one clarification I want to make to avoid confusion around this “hot button” term: not all forms of identity politics are inherently bad. For example, when individuals of a specific marginalized community are treated unjustly and unequally, because of a given auxiliary characteristic (i.e. skin color), by society, or when society tolerates their mistreatment by other individuals-at-large, then forming a political alliance based on such a trait to empower members of this community and arguing for their equal treatment can be a positive form of identity politics. There’s a difference between using identity politics to empower those oppressed and using identity politics to define and exclude communities; my argument is solely against the latter.

The goal of all those in the Cascadian movement should be to reject exclusionary identity politics and affirm Cascadia is open to all. If we are to succeed in affirming bioregionalism and establishing Cascadian unity, to quote a paragraph in my book, Towards Cascadia:

“[The Cascadia movement] will not be based in ideology or focused on the exclusion of others. It will be based on affirming the reality of our regional ethos and including everyone in this region. Radical acceptance of different viewpoints will be needed in order for this movement to grow and succeed…Even if someone does not realize it yet, anyone living in this region has the potential to embody the Cascadian ethos and identify as Cascadian, through and through. A movement that tries to promote only a ‘certain type’ of Cascadian or exclude those who ‘aren’t Cascadian enough’ will maintain division in this region and play favor to the status quo.” –Page 173

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