Updates on the revolution brewing in the Pacific-Northwest from Alexander Baretich.
By Anatole d’Ecotopia
Photos by Tito Texidor III
For years, the popular perception of Portland, Oregon was ‘Portlandia’ — the quirky little hipster city where young people went to retire. More recently, thanks to the outlandish prevarications of Donald Trump and Fox News, that perception has been supplanted by the image of a post-apocalyptic urban hellhole, fraught with roving bands of arsonists and anarchists.
Neither of these mediated misrepresentations bears much resemblance to the larger reality of the gritty little city, formerly predominantly blue collar and industrial, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. But these misrepresentations have given the city an outsized footprint in America’s public dialog and popular imagination, outstripping other and larger cities in the region.
The more recent misrepresentation is in the process of unravelling, thanks largely to Donald Trump’s inability to coherently remember his own lies. In the aftermath of Trump’s gross slanders and failed attempt to institute martial law, is it possible that Portland’s outsized media footprint could be put to good use, for a change?
In consideration of this possibility, we are once again joined by Portland activist and educator Alexander Baretich, creator of the iconic Cascadia flag and staunch advocate of bioregionalism.
This interview was condensed/edited for clarity.
Let’s start with the obvious. What’s the latest word from the protest zone?
I just got back from meeting a guy from Corvallis named ‘Thor’, who wants to start up a Cascadia mobile med tent for Black Lives Matter. Brandon (Brandon Letsinger) also came down from Seattle to bring supplies — including a big gazebo, a bunch of medical supplies, Cascadia flags, and some stickers and other stuff.
Are there actually people working this aid station?
Apparently Thor knows an EMT who’s supposed to be helping. I didn’t meet that person, but they’re supposed to be there tomorrow.
Meanwhile, is there a secure place to cache the supplies? That would be my first concern.
Yeah, mine too, as well as finding Thor a place to sleep. Another activist had a hotel room and said Thor could sleep on the floor. So at least he has a place for tonight.
How would you gauge the current need for an aid station? Are things settling down at all?
No– they’ve settled down there (the Federal Court Plaza) , but last night there were activists at laurelhurst Park, and Multnomah Sheriff deputies came in and attacked them. It was pretty bad –. they were slashing tires this time. But downtown was quiet. So they’re going to continue this. And I don’t know what to say about it. If I was the governor, I would not have any patrol officers out there at all. I would send in social workers to say, “Oh, we feel your pain, we feel the pain too” — I would make it so fucking boring.
Have they actually stood up Oregon State Troopers to replace DHS?
I think I saw them the other day, I think it was Friday. They were keeping people out of the park for a while, then they left. And that’s how the state should handle it: Make it boring.
But speaking from the opposite side, as an activist who wants to challenge the system, I think the focus should be on the North Precinct or the ICE detention center. So yeah, it depends on what the goal is.
And that raises a really good question: What is the goal?
Well, there is no monolithic voice, there are many voices. And that’s the problem. There are the voices of the radical left, and then there’s the voices of both white and black liberals. What’s the goal? It depends on the group. I would say some are there for reform, others to challenge capitalism and the state itself. And, yes, they are using the Black Lives Matter logo as a shield for that.
They’re co opting it.
Yeah, but at the same time, state fascism uses racism.
That’s true, but many of the people who have gathered under the banner of Black Lives Matter are not speaking to larger concerns of capitalism and state fascism. They are looking at a very specific issue: getting cops to stop killing black people. They’re trying to reform the system. They’re not interested in revolution.
And this argument has been going on since time immemorial. I remember during Occupy speaking to someone who insisted on being called a “reformist”, not an “activist” — and was very insistent on it. “Look,” she said, “I’m here for reform. You’re here for a revolution. We’re not in the same thing at all.” And she was right. She hated the Cascadia flag, by the way. She hated the idea of Cascadia because she was like, “No, I believe in America. I believe in just reform.”
When I was six years old, I believed in Santa Claus. It was very satisfying.
Some of us still do, don’t ruin my image.
At a certain point you have to wonder what’s reformable. I also have to wonder at what point activists acquired an aversion to being identified as revolutionaries.
I can’t even bring up the word “revolution” without someone saying how much they don’t like that word. Right.
Because Ronald Reagan’s counter revolution worked so fucking well.
Yeah it did.
Is it time to start looking past the arc of Black Lives Matter? What if the election goes horribly wrong? I keep thinking in terms of a “color” revolution. Are we in a situation where that is applicable?
Actually, I think it is. That kind of revolution can blend into this. But then you need to build something from that. There were a lot of failed revolutions that were “successful” until the real work began, which was building a new society, trying to break away from the structural violence that was there before. They may have had their day of revolution, but the following years did not reflect that.
For the benefit of those who may not be completely clear on the concept, could you define “color revolution”?
A color revolution is a non-violent revolution of transformative change, that gathers up as much popularity as possible to take on the dictator or oligarchy and dismantle their power.
A key goal in this is to constantly be recruiting, growing numbers to undermine the system. And to do that requires taking on what the theory of nonviolent revolution calls “the pillars of support”.
Let me take one step back. Often the way we see dictators is as some all-powerful Darth Vader character who has some kind of magic, when the reality is that most dictators tend to be incompetent. They don’t make their own coffee, they don’t do their own photocopies, they don’t drive their own cars.
What they do have as a superpower is having people obey them. And so the goal is to undermine that obedience. And that’s where the “pillars of support” come in. The pillars of support are the bureaucracy, the tax collectors, the police officers, the street sweepers, they are the segments of society that serve as pillars that keep the dictator going. And if you can actually weaken those pillars and pull them down, your dictatorship is gone.
The way to pull them down nonviolently is to constantly bring people into your movement. And you do that by making your movement — and I’ve been attacked by leftists for saying this — you make your movement sexy. “Sexy”, in this case, isn’t misogynist or objectifying, it just means that you make it look good, that everybody is like “I want to be a part of that.” There’s a great example from OTPOR–
The Serbians. You’re talking about the t-shirts.
Right. They had t-shirts with the OTPOR! logo, and the shirts were color-coded for the number of times you’d been in jail.
And black was the ultimate, meant you’d been busted ten times or more. That shirt would get you laid.
Yeah, exactly. They made going to jail popular. I think it’s going on down at the Justice Center downtown — people are showing their wounds and talking about getting hit with rubber bullets — not they’re enjoying it, but there is kind of this charisma to being able to say “Hey, I was in the front line”, as well as respect. So yeah, I think that we should do a T shirt thing, or maybe something like lapel pins — you know, the more times you’ve been in jail the more pins you have.
But circling back around to BLM — they’re not interested in a “color” revolution.
I would say they’re interested in reform. But some of them are conscious of a larger context. I ran into a rapper from California who came up to do a video. And he wanted to ask me some questions. I told him about the really short history of the modern concept of race — maybe 400, 500 years — and how it really did grow in tandem with capitalism. I think there are those within the BLM movement who are aware of that history, but I don’t see it as a dominant theme. It comes up once in a while from radicals within the movement. So yeah — it’s a reform movement.
At what point do the reformists wind up becoming revolutionaries? At what point does it become obvious that reform is just not gonna happen?
I don’t know– how many years have people voted for the democrats thinking things are gonna change?
The criticism can be made — I’ve made it — that a lot of the color revolutions wound up being neoliberal. But we could take the tools of color revolutions and have our own.
How many examples of this actually working can we call on?
Again, there was OTPOR! in Serbia. There was the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia and the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, and about that time Russian media came up with “color revolution”
But we had color revolutions before the name. There was a “Carnation Revolution” that happened in Portugal in the Sixties. There was the “people power” movement in the Philippines in the Eighties, also called the “yellow revolution”.
So it’s not all tied to OTPOR! or Gene Sharp— even though OTPOR! has more or less gone into business — well, a nonprofit business — as a kind of launching pad.
Including consulting services for people involved in the Arab Spring. Let’s just say they built on their success.
I want to move on from Color Revolutions in general to a specific term you and other Cascadians have used repeatedly: The Evergreen Revolution.
If it happened, to what extent is a “color revolution” in the Pacific Northwest a thing that could extend to other parts of a possible collapsed American Empire?
It depends. I think there are certain specific points we need to address. Obviously, one is democracy, real democracy– ideally, direct democracy. Another is decentralization, another one is decolonization.
And there’s different levels of decolonization. There’s decolonization in the sense of not listening to Washington, DC. But there’s also decolonization in the sense of acknowledging indigenous people and acknowledging the environment.
And with that comes bioregionalism, a sense of the environment, having an obligation to that. That might not seem political, but it is — what does this fascist regime want to do? They want to remove environmental restrictions, food restrictions, so that we’re eating literally lead paint and being sold lead paint. Those are key points needed for a revolution.
And how well does this map onto other regions of the United States?
It varies. I think you probably would see it being embraced on the northeast coast. I think Vermont would embrace it.
I can’t speak for Texas or that region. I can’t speak for Arizona. But California might embrace it. Now, California is really split. There are some very conservatives right wingers in California. But there’s also the left.
Midwest around Michigan where you know, where you have issues like Detroit and water, that might actually catch on.
So I think all those points are equally valid and map outside the region. Decentralized democracy is equally valid. Actually addressing systemic racism also needs to be a point, and it also maps. And that should include gender as well as race. So a list of points, a list of — What did Martin Luther, the original Martin Luther, call his?
Theses — there were 95 of them.
So let’s say 10 points. And another point is the need for a post capitalist system that actually values life. So, Yeah — a revolutionary/populist movement that has 10 key points to it. And that heads off the media saying, “well, we don’t know what they really want, and neither do they” — that’s what they did with Occupy.
Speaking of the media: Does the disproportionate amount of attention that’s been given this region — and this city, particularly — over the last two months, does this do an ‘evergreen revolution’ a favor?
Oh, yes, 100%. This is why I’m kicking myself in the head because I didn’t want Cascadian flags at the protests. Or at the CHOP in Seattle. Because I felt we should be focused on Black Lives Matter.
I think your initial instinct was correct.
I still think it’s correct, because to me, it’s really about respect.
It’s about respect — it’s also about not being one more white radical trying to co opt someone else’s protest.
Yeah, exactly — because we are there for Black Lives Matter. We are there in solidarity.
Going back to the original question about the media image of this region being revolutionary, I think it has also internalized us to become revolutionary — and that’s kind of a good thing. And you know, again, not to favor violence, but I do think we need street combat training. I think we need to be making as many gas masks as possible to be prepared.
Which somewhat brings us back to the question of what may or may not happen in November.
I personally think that we’re gonna have another disaster come up, maybe before then — and that’s Ruth Ginsburg. Let’s say she steps down or worse, the election gets thrown to the Supreme Court, and McConnell pushes a fast-track appointee to decide the election…
That’s a recipe for Civil War.
And that’s why, even though I say publicly I don’t believe in secession, maybe we really should form a completely different system.
At that point it is no longer about trying to get cops to stop killing black people. It’s about the fundamental and systemic failure of the American political system, far more than when Trump got elected in the first place. At that point, the system cannot be reformed.
I would argue that the system is already beyond reform, but definitely at that point.
And that’s why we need to be thinking about an ‘evergreen revolution’ now, and thinking about what that really means.
As always, thanks. When you figure out what those “ten points” are, let us know — we may be about to need them.
Agreed– and thank you!
At literally no point in this article do you discuss the fates of people who don’t want to live in your “Revolution”, though knowing leftism I can bet it involves a wall and a gun.
Your attempts to censor comments simply proves my point. This “Cascadian” revolution will end in death, if it ever gets off the ground at all that is.
So I’ll ask again. What happens to the people who do not want to live in your “Revolution”. Historically speaking, leftist hardliners usually just exile, imprison, or kill them.