Monday, May 11, 2015

Some Flags of Regional Independence

Bright burns the sun upon the misty mountain
Where the woodland waters run and tumble to the sea
With the force of your story, O Cascadia
Work of the ages, garden of our dreams
—"O Cascadia,"  Lloyd Vivola

Last time I talked about flag design, it was as preparation for a UK without Scotland. Sadly, the referendum on Scottish Independence failed, but with hilarious results for this spring's UK elections, which took place last week:

Left: "2010UKElectionMap". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Right: "2015UKElectionMap" by Italay90, recoloured by Cryptographic.2014 - This file was derived from: 2010UKElectionMap.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

You can check out the election in detail on the Wikipedia page, but suffice it to say that convincing a somewhat slim majority of Scots to vote against independence backfired a little bit. See how the north of the country, i.e. Scotland, switches from mostly mottled orange (the centrist Liberal Democrats) and red (the center-left Labour party) to yellow? That's Scotland sending a huge wave of members of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) to sit in parliament. In other words, 56 of Scotland's 59 representatives in the UK parliament are now from a party that doesn't think Scotland should be part of the UK any more

That's huge. I won't go into much detail on why this happened, mostly because I'm an American and I can't pretend to understand it all, but the basic point is that a lot of Scots were ready last year for some kind of independence from the United Kingdom—almost 45% of voters voted in favor of independence in a referendum. And many anti-independence voters may have changed their minds since then, because many feel like they were scared out of voting for independence by UK officials who came to them with empty threats and predictions of economic disaster and chaos. 
Left: flag of Scotland (source), right: one of my proposed flags for a post-Scotland UK

Unfortunately for the Scots, the majority of whom lean left politically, the result of the elections were that the Conservatives (blue on the map) will be leading the country, probably for the next five years. At least they totally stuck it to the man, though. 


Because of that dramatic result in the UK elections, regional independence movements were on my mind this week. Another movement I've been think about recently is Cascadia. On a map, Cascadia looks something like this: 

"Cascadia map and bioregion vector" by Lucas Thoms, CC license 

That's actually two maps stacked on top of each other, which is necessary because Cascadia is a bit more amorphous than Scotland. The green portion shows you the three main modern political units that compose Cascadia, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, while the dotted outline shows the ecological range of Cascadia. Cascadia, you see, is both a bioregion,1 that is, an area with shared geographical/ecological characteristics, and a social unit, a place where, even across the national border between the US and Canada, there is a shared culture and broad system of values; not coincidentally, these shared values include a specific set of attitudes about how humans should relate to nature, which is why a political independence movement around an bioregion actually makes a fair bit of sense, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where politics and the environment are closely linked.

The Cascadian bioregion by itself looks something like this, by the way:

"Cascadia bioregion map" by CatJar, CC license
(Here's a bigger and better version with more information.) The Seattle Globalist describes the Cascadian movement thus: 
At the heart of the Cascadian idea lies the belief that Pacific Northwesterners have more in common with each other than with people in other parts of the U.S. and Canada. “I align more with Vancouver B.C. than I do with most places in my own country, and I think a lot of people feel the same way,” says Max Shurman, one of many activists involved with Cascadia Now...Although the Cascadia concept is not a purely political one, supporters argue that secession would bring needed political and social autonomy to the region. “One of the reasons we never get around to fixing the social problems we care most about is because we have to worry about bringing places like Texas, Arizona, and Mississippi to the table,” Shurman said. “If you’re trying to expand social programs in these places, you’re going to lose every time.”
As with any reasonably strong independence movement, Cascadia has its own flag (called the "Doug Flag" after the Douglas fir it features), and it's actually pretty rad: 

"Doug Flag" uploaded by Lexicon and modified by Vanisaac, CC license

Blue is for the sky and the region's waters, including the Pacific Ocean; white is for snow and clouds; and green is for evergreens, while the tree is a Douglas fir, a tree common in the region, which symbolizes endurance, defiance, and resilience. It's a pretty great flag, and the movement is relatively widely known and popular, so it's not a big surprise that the Doug Flag will show up at big events on both sides of the US/Canada border in the northwest, most famously soccer games: 

"Cascadiasoccerflag" by cascadia dan - Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 


The third regional independence movement on my brain lately is the one that basically settled in there as a child and never really left: the Confederate States of America (CSA). I had a moderate obsession with the American Civil War throughout my childhood, which probably started with a trip to Gettysburg in elementary school, but reached as far as being the subject of my favorite book from the 5th through 8th grades, as well as a favorite video game for Windows 95 (that I still sometimes crave another session with, though it's next to impossible to play on modern computers). The Rebellion is especially present in my mind recently, however, as I have been reading about and reflecting on American slavery, and especially over the last year, since I moved to an area where the CSA battle flag is all over the place, especially on people's cars.

I see this flag a lot these days, and it's almost always shocking to me. Source
What many don't seem to know is that the typical "Rebel flag" pictured above was never the official flag of the CSA; it was, rather, a battle flag (this rectangular version belonged to the Army of Tennessee; a square version was used by the Army of Northern Virginia). That is, it was primarily intended for use for Southerners trying to make sure they were killing the right people on the battlefield. The official flag of the CSA changed several times, but it never looked quite like the battle flag above:

Left: "Stars and Bars" (source), Center: "Stainless Banner" (source), Right: "Blood-Stained Banner" (source)
These three flags were the official flags of the CSA. The leftmost was the flag from 1861 to 1863; when it was cast aside for looking too much like the US flag and confusing soldiers on the battlefield. The center flag was the flag until 1865, when it was discarded for looking too much like a flag of truce.

Whether the Rebel flag is being seriously displayed today as a symbol of a modern regional independence movement is doubtful in almost every case. Mostly, it seems to be about pride in a region's culture.

Regardless, I am one of the 30% of Americans who have a negative reaction when I see it. Many Americans believe that the Civil War was primarily about states' rights for self determination rather than slavery, and this is simply historically not true. Listen to Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the CSA, if you won't take it from me; he said in a public speech, describing his new country and its constitution, that "Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [of the equality of all human beings]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition."

It makes my blood boil a little bit every time I see this battle flag, because at its origin it specifically represents a willingness, not just to separate politically from, but especially to kill one's neighbors over the right to keep black people as property and exploit them for material gain.

So I have mixed feelings about movements to secure regional independence: the motives for independence are more important than the concept itself.2 With the Confederacy, Cascadia, Scotland, and regional independence in general swirling in my brain this last week, I headed over to the Vexillology subreddit to look at flags, and think about what might be and what might have been. (If you're unfamiliar with Reddit, I wrote some things about navigating it here.) While I was there, I stumbled on a request for a flag for the bioregion of Laurentia, which I happen to live in:
"Bioregions and Biotones of North America" by Decadeologee. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia

Activist Peter Berg describes bioregionalism, which is what both the Cascadia movement and the proposed Laurentia movement are all about, this way:
Because it is a cultural idea, the description of a specific bioregion is drawn using information from not only the natural sciences but also many other sources. It is a geographic terrain and a terrain of consciousness. Anthropological studies, historical accounts, social developments, customs, traditions, and arts can all play a part. Bioregionalism utilizes them to accomplish three main goals:
  1. restore and maintain local natural systems;
  2. practice sustainable ways to satisfy basic human needs such as food, water, energy, housing, and materials; and
  3. support the work of reinhabitation.
The latter is accomplished through proactive projects, employment and education, as well as by engaging in protests against the destruction of natural elements in a life-place.
It's not at all clear to me that a Laurentian bioregional movement would go anywhere; it seems a lot more spread out and multi-cultural than Cascadia, for one thing (though I suppose it really only consists of two of America's 11 cultural "nations," the Midlands and Yankeedom), and I'm not sure the region is really prepared for or interested in an ecological approach to socio-politics. The sparsely populated r/Laurentia subreddit, at any rate, is evidence that any such movement has a long way to go (compare it to r/Cascadia to see what I mean).

That said, I jumped at the chance to make a flag, especially one that's relevant both to the place that I live and my interests. I decided to try to represent the St. Lawrence river, the Great Lakes, and forests and plains, which are all features of the region. My first draft was pretty rough:

...but once I refreshed my memory of how many Great Lakes there actually are (turns out, there's five!), and did some hunting for better colors (yellow in particular), I came up with a submission I was pretty proud of:

Here's my original description:
Flag meaning: The dark blue stripe from bottom left to top right represents the St. Lawrence River, which flows southwest to northeast. The color recalls both the flags of the US and Quebec. Green represents forest, burnt yellow represents plains and farm land; green above represents the more forest-dominated Canada in the north, while yellow below represents the more plains- and farm-oriented US section in the south.
Five white circles represent the five Great Lakes, as well as five of the most populous North American cities that are found in the region (New York, Toronto, Chicago, Montreal, Philadelphia). These circles also subtly suggest a broken chain, recalling the region's history as a home for escaped slaves. The white color again recalls both the US and Quebecois flags (their white stars/fleur-de-lis, respectively), while also standing for both the clarity of the region's water and its cold, snowy climate. The flag's 2:1 ratio is the same as that of Canada's national flag. Importantly, the flag adheres to the principles of good flag design: it's simple, uses meaningful symbolism, has few colors and no lettering or seals, and it's both distinctive from and related to other regional flags.
I was pretty proud of this design, but while I think I did a good job creating meaning, it lacks a little something in visual flair: the Doug Flag this ain't, at least not yet. So I made some variations; you can find all of them here, but below are a few of my favorites.

In this simple variation, the white above represents the cold, snowy climate of the bioregion, and its placement on top represents Laurentia's northern location. It also has the same three colors as the Doug Flag, which serves to connect the two movements iconographically as well as ideologically. 

For this one, I tried to add some visual interest by curving the center line representing the St. Lawrence River.

For additional interest in this variation, I changed the Great Lakes' circles into fleurs-de-lis taken from the Quebec flag. They represent the region's early French explorers and settlers, who also gave many of the region's places their modern names (or, alternatively, their still-used French spellings of Native American names--this is especially noticeable in place names where "ch" is pronounced like English "sh," as in Michigan and Chicago). I also made variations with the US flag's stars and the Canadian flag's maple leaf, but none was quite so pleasant looking as the fleur-de-lis.

This last one was just for fun. Its literal representation of the Lakes recalls the finely detailed picture of the Douglas fir on the Doug Flag. 

1. The bioregion of Cascadia is described thus on its Wikipedia page: "The Cascadia Bioregion claims the entire watershed of the Columbia River (as far as the Continental Divide), as well as the Cascade Range from Northern California well into Canada. It's also considered to include the associated ocean and seas and their ecosystems out to the continental slope."
2. There are so many more interesting movements out there that I could go into; in particular, Transnistria comes to mind (because I know people who have actually been there), as do its fellow non-UN member states, most of which are regional independence movements of one kind or another.

No comments:

Post a Comment