Alaskans: Our national democracy needs us, too

Growing up in Alaska, there were signs everywhere that Alaska wasn’t “real.” 

You could hear it in the language we used, signaling that if it was Alaskan, it couldn’t be the best. It was a different place before the film tax credit gave way to reality shows and my hometown mayor was launched onto the national stage.

If people were professors, writers or music makers here, it’s because they “couldn’t make it” anywhere else. Television was never in our time zone, our buildings are new and our history is different. In movies, students going to school had daylight in the morning and streets lined with trees that looked nothing like here and children trick-or-treated in their costumes without puffy jackets on. Presidential races are decided, people say, before our votes have finished being counted and I was about 22 when I learned that August is still considered summer. 

In many ways, we’ve internalized that while Alaska matters, it isn’t consequential. Our eyes and ears may full of what’s happening at home, but we must also recognize that what our country might need, is exactly us. 

At Colony High School in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, I had a great public education. I was privileged enough to benefit from strong Honors and AP social studies classes in US History, World History, Middle Eastern Studies, Anthropology, and more.

In school, we studied how democracies slipping happen incrementally; there’s popular support for an agenda, a dominant group feels the victim, politicians begin finding it safer to agree than disagree, the wealthy begin benefiting so they look the other way—everything we studied in school in World History is happening now in America. In every scenario, people sounded the alarm but were disregarded. In more anecdotes than I can remember, people believed “it couldn’t happen here.”

We read stories of survivors and asked our teachers in frustration, “Why didn’t people do anything?” 

And we have a President openly espousing racist remarks, the same refrain that has been spoken against waves of immigrants for generations. It is a sentiment predicated upon one’s heritage, or race. It is racist. 

The question that we asked teachers in history class is the question that we need to be asking now. If we cannot boldly and soundly say that the President’s remarks are racist, if we feel resistance to that even in our own selves, if we are hedging around the use of the term, then something is wrong. 

Alaska has more Independents than we do Republicans or Democrats; we have the privilege of calling out what is objectively wrong. We see that in our senior Senator who has had the freedom to act in the best interests of Alaska and the US knowing that Alaskans will work to re-elect her. 

All of the areas that capture politicians — America needs Alaskans because we have our own understanding of what it means to be rich. We can take risks because our communities support us. There are checks to our egos because the environment is humbling. And we know what it’s like to work together because we are 740,000 strong. 

We have an opportunity to draw from our strengths and be the voice that our country requires. 

Alaska just might be what America needs right now.

But we have to ask ourselves, how much of what we’ve internalized continues to drive our fate. We see injustices at the border and wonder what we could possibly do about it. We know we matter: but on the national stage, do we believe we are consequential? 

Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” 

We don’t want our grandchildren asking why we didn’t do something. Repeatedly call our representatives and sound the alarm.

Senator Murkowski: (202)-224-6665 

Senator Sullivan: (202) 224-3004 

Congressman Young: (202) 225-5765

Note: The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 advocated by the Federalists sought to limit freedoms to non-English immigrants and make it more difficult to immigrate; these were the same immigrants who were likely to vote for their political opponents, the Democratic-Republicans. 

Note: Quyanaq to Senator Murkowski for saying something. We must ask our other representatives to do the same. 

Also: Families belong together. Alaska Native Corporations should not be profiting from the detainment of other Indigenous peoples. When did asylum become a bad thing, and in the height of Ellis Island processed on average 5,000 immigrants a day, with almost 12,000 on its busiest. We can build the infrastructure, if we want to.

Finally: JFK said, “Freedom is indivisible. When one man is enslaved, all are not free.” 

Photo: Cordelia Kellie, 2011