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Alaskans need only look to themselves

Shannyn Moore

Have you ever noticed how many Alaskans wear Alaska-themed gear? We're so proud of our state, we wear the same stuff tourists take home to their dog sitters. New York has the Yankees, Boston has the Red Sox, Alaska has . . . well, Alaska!

This week a friend described Alaska in a way I can't stop thinking about.

"I love it. It's the last place where the cement is still wet. You can still change things here."

It wasn't about the mountains, glaciers or wild things; it was about shaping our destiny. In a few words, he summarized why I love this place.

As proud as we are of our landscapes, it's our history and the people who have stood up to power or dedicated themselves to making a better Alaska that define this place.

In 1922, a Tlingit chief named Charlie Jones was jailed for voting. His protest helped Native Alaskans get the right to vote two years before Native Americans. In 1944, Roberta Schenck, a Native woman, refused to budge from her seat in the "White's Only" section of a Nome movie theater. She was dragged out and jailed. She was Alaska's Rosa Parks.

Because of her bravery and the moving testimony of Elizabeth Peratrovich, on Feb. 16, 1945, Territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening signed an anti-discrimination law for Alaska.

We decriminalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade. Our privacy laws are the strongest in the country. A man told me he moved here after studying the Alaska Constitution at law school; it could have been Section 22, the privacy provision that gave Alaskans the right to possess marijuana.

The truth is, we're what America used to be. We're Lewis and Clark with a GPS, Sacagawea with a snowmachine, Yellowstone on steroids.

Alaskans have catalyzed change for the country. Democrat Bob Bartlett, one of our first U.S. senators, passed more legislation than any other lawmaker. Among those laws was a mandate that public buildings be accessible to the disabled. That landmark legislation became known as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Gruening, in his time as a Democratic U.S. senator from Alaska, helped establish the nationwide 911 emergency number and was one of only two votes against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the fraud that launched the Vietnam War.

Democrat Mike Gravel risked jail time by reading the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record, and in doing so arguably helped end the Vietnam War.

As a Republican secretary of the interior, former Gov. Wally Hickel helped establish Earth Day.

I know this sounds like a pep talk, but we don't remind ourselves enough that Alaska's greatest resource is the spirit of its people.

If you want to talk to an Alaskan Thomas Jefferson, you only need bump into Vic Fischer. He still testifies at Anchorage Assembly meetings. Alaskans can rub shoulders with and be on a first-name basis with state and local lawmakers. We're not as socially stratified as other places in the country. It doesn't always feel like it, but the cement of government in Alaska is still wet.

We ought to be the trailblazers and forgers of our own destiny. An old sourdough Alaskan saying sums it up: "We don't care how they do it Outside!"

Lately, I've been hearing more Alaskans calling on us to look "South to the Future," to North Dakota for ideas and solutions and leadership. Seriously? Do they really think a state with an income tax, no dividend and displaced cows is a model for our future?

North Dakota is being pummeled with an ad campaign saying the state needs to "fix the tax" or the oil companies will move to Wyoming or Montana. Alaskans already know that game. Those companies won't be happy until we're paying them to haul away our resources.

I'm waiting for the same lawmakers and pundits who salivate over North Dakota's fracking rush to talk about how "they do it Outside" when it comes to resource extraction disasters.

(Crickets.)

The removal of mountain tops in West Virginia wasn't brought up as a model during discussions of coal mining on the Chuit River or Wishbone Hill. I guess we can count on the track record of a state with no salmon to demonstrate the safety of Alaska salmon.

Maybe we should repeat the mistakes of Montana. The Blackfoot River, immortalized by the film "A River Runs Through It," was once a fly-fishing bonanza. Now, in part of that river, nothing runs through it because of the toxic tailings from a mining spill. Montanas used a ballot initiative to ban cyanide gold mining and now require any open pit mines to fill in the hole when they're finished.

Our governor is suing the Lake and Peninsula Borough for voting to hold the Pebble mine to a standard high enough to protect local people's way of life. That might earn him a few photo ops in a hard hat and some campaign "contributions," but it's not good for Alaska.

By contrast, we have a rich history of leaders who were ahead of their time and the rest of the country in making Alaska a better place for those of us who wouldn't live anywhere else.

My friend was right. Not only is the cement still wet, most of it hasn't been poured yet.

Shannyn Moore can be heard weekdays from 11 to 2 p.m. on KOAN 1020AM/95.5FM radio. Her weekly TV show can be seen on KYUR Channel 13 on Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m.


SHANNYN MOORE
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