Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Washington State's 120th birthday

Perpetual tension keeps the Evergreen State young, restless
by Hans Zeiger
The News Tribune, November 10, 2009

Now in my mid-20s, I have spent good parts of my education in the upper Midwest, Southern California and the East Coast. I have learned something about the virtues and vices of the various regions, and I have learned to love the country for its people and its central idea: that all of us are created equal, that all of us can pursue our American Dream.

But for all the loveliness of America, there is nothing lovelier than Washington state. My travels have only deepened my affection for home. I hope to spend the rest of my life studying it and learning its secrets.

At 120 years old, Washington is maturing. It became a state on Nov. 11, 1889. Unlike older parts of the country, our identity is still being shaped. We are always in a process, a process of figuring out our relationship to the environment, to the rest of the country, to each other. We are a people who alternate between restlessness and rootedness.

When I think of the classic restless, rooted Washingtonian, Ezra Meeker comes to mind. He was the quintessential pioneer – rugged, daring, ambitious to get ahead in business, thinking always of the future. He was also the quintessential settler – he founded Puyallup, built enduring local institutions and wanted younger Washingtonians to remember the lessons and challenges of the past.

So Washington is in perpetual tension: between sunshine and rain, between individualism and community, between change and preservation, between the Norwegians and the Californians, between West of the Cascades and East of the Cascades. If this is the state that Postmaster General James Farley once described as the “Soviet of Washington,” it’s also the state that has proven the genius of the free market time and again.

Unable to settle with a single identity, our people are fundamentally independent. Our political culture has produced liberal Republicans like Dan Evans and conservative Democrats like Scoop Jackson and Dixy Lee Ray. Our economy is built by independent people: loggers and fishermen, engineers and software designers, farmers and entrepreneurs.

Yet, more than others in the American West, we see the sense of working together toward big goals: educating our children, harnessing the power of the Columbia River, protecting the environment. We are a diverse and conflicting group of citizens who usually get along because of our common affection for our common resources: the mountains, the water, the coffee, the human potential.

We’re generally not opposed to government – in the tradition of Sen. Warren Magnuson – but we also love liberty. The framers of our state constitution wrote in the beginning of that document, “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”

In earlier days, we depended on each other because of our relative isolation. But in an economy where cyberspace and the Pacific Rim matter as much to the rest of the world as East Coast boardrooms, Washington’s geographic remoteness is not as culturally and politically consequential as it once was. Today, we depend much more on the rest of the world, and the rest of the world depends on us. What would the global economy look like without Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks?

The perpetual tension that is Washington is best summarized in our nickname: The Evergreen State. When you think of the Western Red Cedar, the Douglas Fir or the Western Hemlock (our state tree), you think of freshness. You also think of permanence. In more deciduous parts of the world, life moves in predictable patterns – sometimes living, sometimes dying. Here, life never stagnates. Here, something new is always going on, but the new always owes its growth to old and deepening roots. There is something both new and continuous about the idea of an “Evergreen State.”

At 120 years, the Evergreen State lives up to its nickname. If that means we’re getting old, it also means that we’re just getting started.

Hans Andreas Zeiger is a fourth-generation Washingtonian who writes a column about hometown heroes in the Puyallup Herald, and he is the author of two books about young Americans.Read more: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2009/11/10/948325/your-voice-perpetual-tension-keeps.html#ixzz0xxp9rY9M

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