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Washington Cultural Symbols

Washington’s official cultural symbols are about as inspirational as the homeless people that have come to define the state’s de facto capital, Seattle.

Cultural Symbols  
Ship President Washington 1983
Tall Ship Lady Washington 2007
Sport pickleball 2022
Arboretum Washington Park Arboretum (University of Washington, Seattle) 1995
Tartan 1991
Folk Song Roll on Columbia, Roll On 1987
Dance square dance Redundant Symbol 1979
Washington Cultural SymbolsThe Lady Washington and Washington’s state tartan.

The state is named for George Washington, an aristocratic slave owner who never traveled west of the Appalachians. George is the centerpiece of the state’s ugly flag and seal. Washington also has an official ship and tall ship, named the President Washington and Lady Washington. The latter is a sailing ship, but the President Washington was a container ship; how exciting is that? It’s a reminder that the Pacific Northwest is ruled by corporate Seattle. The President Washington isn’t even listed on the Washington State Legislature’s state symbols website.

The official state tartan is a monotonous green. My vision of a Washington tartan (below) includes lots of yellow, representing Eastern Washington, which The Seattle Times likes to deride as “the hinterlands.”

GeoTartan

The state dance is the ever redundant square dance. The state sport is pickle ball. If you’ve never heard of it, join the crowd. I’ve lived in Washington far longer than I care to admit, and I never even heard of pickleball until it was designated the state sport in 2022.

Corporate Folk Song ˆ

Symbols of The ArtsCenter: Corporate song-writer Woody Guthrie. Microsoft co-founder and children’s whore Paul Allen (second from left) forced taxpayers to pay for his sports stadium, which he used to advertise everything from Xbox to Pepsi. The stadium is also used to promote the military and America’s sleazy wars. Not surprisingly, many people cheered when Allen died. (Clint Dempsey (let): CC BY-SA 3.0 (site terms) — link; Paul “Elephant Man” Allen: By Miles Harris, CC BY-SA 3.0link Note: I modified this image, erasing most of it.)

Washington’s official folk song might be its most controversial symbol if the media didn’t protect it. “Roll On, Columbia” was written by Woody Guthrie, a famous songwriter and folk singer. He’s probably best remembered for his song “This Land Is Your Land.”

Unfortunately, Guthrie isn’t as wholesome as you might think. Racism, arson, and maybe even murder were prominent traits in his troubled family. In fact, his father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Guthrie was a big fan of the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin, who may have been history’s biggest monster.

“Roll On, Columbia” has a few warts as well.

The federal government recruited Guthrie to promote a grand New Deal project—the taming of the Columbia River. More precisely, the Bonneville Power Administration hired Guthrie in 1941 to write a series of songs about the federal projects to gain support for federal regulation of hydroelectricity. In other words, Guthrie was a paid propagandist.

Today, “Roll On, Columbia” is sung by soccer fans in tax-subsidized CenturyLink Field, formerly owned by the famously weird Microsoft multi-billionaire Paul “Elephant Man” Allen. But not everyone is a fan of Paul Allen—or “Roll On, Columbia.”

In 2018, seventh-grade students at Lake Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School in Grand Coulee, a small community in Eastern Washington, made a surprising discovery. The students were studying state symbols in Washington state history when they heard lyrics in “Roll on, Columbia” that are not listed in the Secretary of State’s web page about the song.

The original song refers to hanging “every Indian with smoke in his gun,” after an 1856 attack on settlers in Oregon. “The Injuns rest peaceful on Memaloose Isle” in another verse refers to islands in the Columbia between Oregon and Washington that were the final resting place for the dead. Most of these burial grounds were flooded after the Columbia River was dammed.

The original sixth and seventh verses are obviously racist. The song also includes a reference to Phillip Sheridan, who was not a very nice person.

Sheridan’s early military career was devoted to fighting Indians in the Pacific Northwest. He later gained fame as a Union general in the Civil War, where he was one of the first to use scorched earth tactics. Encouraged by Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, Sheridan laid waste to a hundred-mile swath of the Shenandoah Valley leaving vast numbers of women and children at risk of starvation. It was one of the worst of the war crimes that vanished into the Memory Hole.

After the Civil War, Sheridan returned to the West. He famously advocated the extermination of the bison as a strategy in the ongoing Indian wars. Sheridan is thus linked to both genocide and ecocide.

The students decided to compose a petition, get it started locally, then ask students in other school districts to join in the effort. A partial draft of the petition states,

“Due to the racist terminology (“injuns”) and the content, we respectfully request that the Washington State Legislature act as soon as possible to eliminate this song as the state folk song.”

The people who run Washington State and the media probably just ignored the students. Still, it was a commendable effort.

You can see the original lyrics at woodyguthrieinthepacificnw.omeka.net/roll-on-columbia-roll-on.

Mickeysoft ˆ

Washington State Food

One of Washington’s most familiar unofficial symbols is the god king Bill Gates. In fact, he’s probably Washington’s second best known citizen after George Washington, even if he no longer lives in Washington.

Gates is the de facto CEO of two major corporations, Microsoft and the Gates Foundation. He also has many other business assets. In particular, Gates has invested heavily in genetically modified food (GMO) and has reportedly acquired a vast amount of prime farmland.

Bill Gates was probably the most famous symbol of nerddom on the planet until his handlers gave him a makeover. Today, Mr. Nerd is St. Bill Gates, the world’s most famous philanthropist. Or is he?

Just as Microsoft raked in a fortune with crappy software, so is Gates’ philanthropy awfully suspicious. The Gates Foundation is an investment firm with a tax-subsidized headquarters, and genetically modified food ranks with climate change as one of the scariest problems facing the children Gates claims to care about. Today, Gates’ home town looks like a sewer. Maybe that’s why Gates spends so much time in California these days.

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