Alexander Baretich is an unemployed teacher and long-time advocate for bioregional awakening. He can frequently be found engineering Cascadian memes at the Occupy Portland office at St. Francis Church and reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.
What is a bioregion?
Some people define it based on watersheds; some people define it based on what species are in a region. It literally means “life region.” I really define it based on water cycles, so not so much where the water is under the ground, that watershed itself, but that flow of water through the region.
So in the case of Cascadia, our bioregion starts off with the Pacific. It’s that evaporation of the water that flows above us in the form of clouds, comes back down as rain, snow, ice, and all that stuff onto the Western side of the Rockies, which is that natural barrier flows and then back as rivers, streams, creeks into lakes and eventually back into the ocean to restart the cycle over.
What is bioregionalism?
Bioregionalism is the awakening or consciousness that you live within a bioregion, that… your bioregion is where you eat, sleep, or defecate (I use usually another word for that) and it is that awakening that my existence extends into the existence of others around me, and that whatever I take away or add to my environment, that’s an extension of me. My community is me. I am my community.
Kropotkin … saw things with mutual aid, where there are organisms working together to have the survival of the community. I would say bioregionalism adds another element to that… because it sees symbiotic relationship between trees and salmon and between bears and grass… that it’s a much more complex community [that] is not simply horizontal but … much more rich, much more dynamic… If we take on a bioregional perception, we will put our economic model into that and we will end up having a model that is community-based, cooperative-based, and… horizontal.
Would you tell us about Cascadian bioregionalism? What has your involvement been?
Well, the history of Cascadian bioregionalism really starts with David McClosky. Currently he’s a retired teacher from the University of Seattle. And he was the one who actually connected the bioregion with the name “Cascadia.” So you could say that starts in the 1970s. And then there was actually a newspaper, a quarterly that was in Portland, called “Cascadia” … [a] back-to-earth movement at that time. … There was kind of a background idea that was left with geographers and some sociologists, this fantasy world that maybe we could create a country called Cascadia, but it was not really taken seriously.
In the 1990s I was in Eastern Europe as an exchange student and I was homesick and realized we need a flag. So I designed the flag. The reason for that flag was to take an abstract idea and make it a little bit more concrete. And after that I just kept on pushing it. I made sure that there was always… a dialogue about Cascadia online.
I wouldn’t call myself a leader–I don’t believe in leaders at all in this movement. As an anarchist, I especially don’t believe in leaders, but I count myself as a catalyst or an inspirer. This is a decentralized, leaderless movement… about paradigm shifts on how we see ourselves and our relationship to each other and to mother nature. … Things have their own reason to exist. They don’t have to exist for man, or humans. We need to go from seeing things [in terms of] commodification to seeing things as living things again.
Based on what you’ve said here, it sounds like you would be challenging traditional capitalist notions of both private property and personal property possibly.
Yeah, I wouldn’t say all bioregionalists believe in this, though I’ve talked to several who…lean toward what Gandhi believed: …that you are entrusted with something as opposed to owning something. In ownership (and this is, again, mostly me saying this)… when you own something you can control it, you can destroy it, you can manipulate it, you can… abuse it. In trusteeship … when you are entrusted with something you have responsibility. … If I’m not doing my part of my responsibility then in some sense [the thing with which I am entrusted] should be taken away from me, or it can be taken away from me. Now the question then is power issues of taking away. That’s a whole other issue. But as a society, as a community, we can create community norms; we can have dialogues about that.
You’ve mentioned that you identify as an anarchist. How do you see anarchism intersecting with bioregionalism?
Well, both of them strongly believe in decentralization. Anarchism really is totally against hierarchical structure. It tends to be against linear ideas. And bioregionalism is really the same thing. It doesn’t believe in hierarchical structures; it actually believes in something like holons… Arthur Koelster came up with that term. Holarchy is not hierarchical structure but more horizontal. The parts equal the sum of the whole. And the idea of decentralization is really crucial in bioregionalism. You could, I guess, have bioregional capitalists, but given the fact that bioregionalism really focuses on localization and that relationship with nature and given the fact that capitalism is about exploitation, I would say there would be a conflict there with those who call themselves bioregional capitalists. So I tend to obviously lean toward anarchism or horizontalism.