A City on a Hill: Cascadia and the limits of white progressivism

“White separatist” proponents have long seen the Northwest, or parts of the Northwest, as a likely place for a secessionist, explicitly racist nation.

  Now, some of them are using the “Douglas fir flag” of “Cascadia,” a movement founded with far different goals—to promote the idea of the Northwest as a “bioregion” with common goals and challenges.

Within this overall movement, some “Cascadian separatists” often talk about one day forming a self-contained nation. This “breakaway republic” could include part or all of Washington, Oregon, northern California, and/or southwest British Columbia.

To an outsider, that might sound not very different from white nationalists’ dreams of an all-white Northwest nation. That’s where the new group CAWS (Cascadians Against White Supremacy), an affiliate of the larger organization Cascadia Now, comes in.

Cascadia Now held a “Cascadia Anti-White Supremacy Summit” recently at a U District church. The purpose of the session: to teach members how to identify and stop the racist use of their name and icons, and to form an ongoing anti-white-supremacist subgroup within the Cascadia movement (at jointhecaws.com).

But the thing is: movements such as Cascadia, even while not explicitly racist, have always been pretty darn white.

One of original-flavor Cascadia’s inspirations, Ernest Callenbach’s “utopian travelogue” novel Ecotopia, imagines Washington and Oregon as the outer provinces of a San Francisco city-state. But even in its capital city, the ethinic minorities of the imagined Ecotopia largely “live among their own kind” in their traditional urban neighborhoods, and play no role in the overall story.

The US environmental movement as a whole has traditionally been less actively interested in, say, industrial pollution in inner-city areas, and more actively interested in, say, preserving hiking trails and other outdoor-recreation sites (which themselves have traditionally mostly-white user bases).

Around here, white outdoorspeople are one of the tentpoles of the traditional “progressive” Seattle electorate, as we’ve known it for the past four-plus decades. Some of the other local liberal-centrist core target groups include white feminists, white gays, and white stoners.

We’re a city where an out lesbian (Jenny Durkan) can succeed an out gay man (Ed Murray) in the mayor’s office—with some local commentators calling both of them pro-business, “establishment” politicians.

We could pass initiatives for gay marriage and legal cannabis in our state. But when two Black Lives Matter activists took over the stage at a Bernie Sanders campaign stop in early 2016, they got hostile looks from many of the “leftists” in the crowd.

Of course, reversing trends that see minority households “gentrified out” of the city, and attacking the lack of diversity in high-tech workplaces, aren’t things that simple legislation can immediately solve.

And, in the year since the far right took total control of the federal government, a lot of white folk (locally and nationally) have proclaimed themselves to be “allies” with people of color and immigrants. If this November’s “Black Lives Matter Friday” march is anything like last year’s, it’ll have a big proportion (maybe even a majority) of white radicals and anarchists within its numbers (though not necessarily with the same agenda as the black activists).

And utopian fantasies in general have long presumed an ideal world, whatever its form or location, that would be run (or solely occupied) by people just like the person doing the fantasizing. Thus, there are books imagining militia utopias, radical-feminist utopias, technocratic utopias, organic-vegan utopias, etc.

It’s always been harder to imagine an ideal world that’s full of people who are profoundly different from you.

I have an addendum to last month’s piece about Amazon’s HQ2 mania, in which the company said its new office campus would be “co-equal” in status to its Seattle home offices.

In that piece, I mentioned one major company (Shell) that used to have two head offices in different cities (in different countries), but doesn’t anymore.

It turns out there’s one big, still extant, example of a corporation with “co-equal” headquarters cities.

It’s Unilever. The owner of such well-known brands as Best Foods, Good Humor, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! has co-home offices in the UK and France, and has for 80-plus years.