Interview with Alexander Baretich on the topic of Cascadia
The first part of this interview was published in our July 2012 issue. The complete interview will be available soon on our website.
Emily: What are some Cascadian or bioregional views on people’s relationships to nature, to land and resources?
Alexander Baretich: Bioregionalism itself started with Peter Berg in the 1970s, and he had written that basically what we see as environmentalism is dead, that environmentalism really comes out of … post-destruction of the environment, almost out of a position of privilege. He believed that bioregionalism wasn’t so much reactionary… as proactive.
… Bioregionalism says that we live in communities. It’s not just one community; it’s overlapping communities coming together. So it sees things in very dynamic forms. … We need to go from seeing things [in terms of] commodification to seeing things as living things again. We need to see things from an organic [view], multiple communities living together in one space at one time and sometimes over different times in one space.
E: Many of the people who live in Cascadia are people who emigrated, who are of European descent, and who displaced indigenous peoples. How do you reconcile the idea of the Cascadian bioregion with anticolonialist critique?
AB: That’s a complicated question. … First nations people …have a … sovereign right to be here. I don’t want to say [this is] their land because I don’t believe in ownership to land but … all of us whatever our background … need to acknowledge them. … The biggest problem is that we need to listen. …The other big problem is that a lot of [Cascadians] … stereotype native peoples as … the noble savage or whatever the image [is that] we have this year of the native people. And they are people with dynamics. They have completely their own history, and not all that history is pretty, and it’s not all living in paradise. And we need to acknowledge that they are a diverse people. …
Also … [be] prepared to be told to shut up sometimes, too. Be prepared that it’s not going to be that easy… There’s a lot of … collective cultural trauma that a lot of people have experienced under capitalism, under empire. They have … probably a lot of anger and a lot of distrust, which is understandable. We need to really recognize that. …. We’ve had … at least 200 years of hurt that we’ve caused on this land. So, “we” being whoever we are. Even if you came here last year.
… What this is really all about is decolonizing the imperialism that has been put into our brains. … Let’s say the United States all of a sudden collapsed [and] we formed Cascadia. If we still have this little empire concept in our heads—and when I mean empire I don’t just mean going and conquering other countries buy the idea of hierarchical structure, dominance over another—if we still have that in our heads we’re just going to recreate that whole American empire over again. … Decolonization … is something that we need to do on a personal level and on a paradigm shift level which means a mass level of shifting our perceptions of the world.
E: Many people perceive the idea of Cascadia [as] involving secession from the United States and Canada. What does the process of forming Cascadia look like to you?
AB: The popular notion might be Cascadia in secession, putting those things together, especially, you know, if you have a beer company… [laughter] but I’m actually totally against it. I think it’s a waste of energy to put into the secessionist movement. … For me Cascadia’s about survival, survival [after the collapse] of the empire, survival [after the collapse] of the petroleum age. … How we could come about with this is to focus on localization, focus on creating cooperatives, focus on food, fiber, fuel (the three “F”s), focus on not so much how to fight against an empire which is one of the most brutal empires that’s ever been in recorded history… To jump into the whole thing saying, “Oh, we’re just going to secede” is, I think, very immature, very irresponsible, and really foolhardy.
E: So do you see this collapse then taking the form of an economic collapse, an ecological collapse, or do you see a revolt happening?
AB: I see a combination of all. I see this hitting us first as mostly… economic collapse. The fact that student debt is so high that it… could cripple the country, could, you know, cause a major problem. The fact that we do this whole shell game about debt. So that’s probably one of the first things that will hit, as well as maybe a fraudulent election coming up in November. That could cause a revolt depending on what happens. If Romney… supported by Karl Rove does steal the election… it may cause a reaction.
The other thing is the environmental disaster is really, really bad. … We have so many environmental crises hitting us at once. … Plankton might be dying in the oceans. We have a nuclear spill in Japan that is going to possibly get worse. … We have global warming where we can seriously now cross the Arctic on ships.
E: You are speaking favorably about a revolt. What does revolt look like that is different from secession?
AB: Let’s look at it this way, it is a vertical civil war that we’re possibly looking at. What do I mean by vertical civil war? Well, we believe in class systems—which we are against, class systems—but it is the poor versus the upper class. … I would say that it’s going to be global at this point … a global revolt against … corporatism, against cronyism, against greed. … What I’m presenting in the idea of Cascadia and bioregionalism, here is another solution … that should be in all arenas… by understanding systems in a different way, understanding systems in a holistic way and then using that energy to go against a cancer, which is what capitalism is.
E: So you don’t sound like you’re against expropriation.
AB: I believe in the commons. … Ultimately… what I’ve been advocating is … a bioregional cooperative commonwealth. Which is completely different structures from the system that we have. … It believes in smaller communities. It believes in networks of communities using mutual aid. It also strongly believes that we have a responsibility to the commons. Now the commons are of course the natural commons (water, forests, and so forth) but also it believes in social commons. So taking away from the rich or the elite and, yeah, not necessarily giving it to the poor but … using this trusteeship, what we call stewardship of the commons.
E: Considering that you’re talking a lot about collapse and that people are going be displaced, what do you see in terms of immigration or aid from one bioregion to another?
AB: I hope that Cascadians would have … the awakenedness to… to export ideas, to help others, maybe even have an emergency task group that would help … prevent environmental collapse or fix environmental collapse. … But as for … a bioregion that can’t support its current system … that kind of system will not survive. That whole lifestyle cannot survive.
… The question was: What can we do with 7-8 billion people and issues of resources and living within their limits on a planet with dwindling resources? Do you have mass migration?
I’m not totally against that. I know a lot of my Cascadian friends would probably strangle me for saying that, but we need to live within our bioregion and I think we do need to be… willing to accept others coming into this bioregion who are… basically ecological refugees. That also means that … those people coming in need to learn to live within this bioregion as well. And we need to let go of a lot of cultural baggage that we brought in. A lot of that is racism, [and] a lot of that is cultural elitism, ethno-chauvinism.
E: Tell us about your class, Alexander.
AB: What Memetic Cascadia was about was how you take this concept of Cascadia—again, as I mentioned earlier, it was stuck in this abstract idea with geographers and a few sociologists… How do you take that and make it into a viral idea? How do you make it very contagious? … We need to spread the idea of Cascadia using things a sticker shock project. We need to use viral videos if we can get them. … But the thing is that’s selling a product, and again I’m not in favor of selling; no money is made off of this for me… but the idea is using the tools that cause us this problem of consumerism … against the elite, by having that paradigm shift using the same mechanisms that they used against us.
… Our goal this summer is to energize and cross-pollinate and to propagate the idea of Cascadia, and then when fall hits, it’s going to be hell… We’re going to have lots of students who will not be able to go to university because of Pell grant issues. We’re going to have a lot of people, so-called 99ers, on the unemployment lines… probably being kicked out of their… payments from the government to survive. We’re going to have Trimet raising fares and cutting routes, which will cause a lot of people who are already marginalized economically to… suffer more. So probably August, September, October is going to be a very interesting, pissed off time. And then we get the elections, and hopefully people will be so angry with the… puppet system, uh, I mean the two-party system that we have that maybe people will finally say enough is enough.
E: Thank you. It’s been really interesting.